On July 17, 2020, Pilar Akaneya opens its doors for the first time, becoming the first sumibiyaki in Madrid and one of the four restaurants in Spain that serves wagyu certified as Kobe Beef. It is also the first establishment in Europe to serve the Japanese Crown Melon muskmelon, the so-called "The Kobe of fruit". This is the cover letter of a story that takes us to its founders, Chiho Murata and Ignasi Elías.
Like its predecessor, the iconic Carlota Akaneya from Barcelona, Pilar Akaneya is a sumibiyaki where each table is a barbecue made of concrete, wood and brick built from the floor. All conceived for the sumi, the charcoal. The grill is carefully placed and removed in each service. "It is possibly the most sacrificed craft that exists in restoration," explains Chiho. But also "the most romantic expression I have ever known."
Nine years have gone by since the opening in Barcelona of the first sumibiyaki in Europe in 2011. Ignasi assures that back then he opened it only with his heart and he paid a high price for it professionally and personally. Almost a decade later, "I had to turn what I learned into a new project."
Part of this learning is owed to his partner, Chiho Murata, a native of Fukuroi. Her childhood memories in Japan include winters by the fire making mochi with her grandmother, and gathering firewood with her grandfather to make their own charcoal. 20 years later, Chiho will become the filter of all the decisions made in a Sumibiyaki in Madrid. "I only know that we are doing well when she does not scowl," confesses Ignasi.
"Pilar Akaneya was called to exist one day," Ignasi responds, referring to Pilar, his mother's name. "I owe it to her," he smiles. This is also seen by Jordi Rivera, director of operations and the main person in charge of the prophecy being fulfilled. "The piece that makes everything work", Ignasi defines him. Jordi was a regular at Carlota Akaneya when Ignasi suggested opening a second restaurant with him. "I wasn't expecting it," explains Jordi. "If what Ignasi was looking for was the heart, he was right because I put my soul into it."
Pilar Akaneya is one of 150 restaurants outside of Japan certified by the Kobe Beef Association, licensed to sell Kobe beef. There is some confusion about the true meaning of wagyū and Kobe Beef. Simplifying a lot, "it is only Kobe if it comes from the Hyōgo prefecture, with the corresponding 'Kobe Beef' certification," Chiho clarifies.
In the case of Pilar Akaneya, we are not only talking about Kobe Beef A5, the most exclusive cut of meat on the planet, but also about pairing with ember. "I never thought I would have to do a charcoal tasting," explains José Luís Fernández, director and chef of Pilar Akaneya. "I had heard of Carlota Akaneya when this project came to me," but I had never realized the importance of the ember "until Chiho told me about the forests of Wakayama."
"We offer the possibility to sublimate Kobe Beef with Kishū Binchōtan from Wakayama", the best charcoal in the world, explains Jordi. “Until now this was something possible only in Japan. Now, also in Chamberí,” he assures. The Kobe-Wakayama binomial is one of the most expensive pleasures in gastronomy, but "the alternative was not to have it."
It is also the first time that Crown Melon can be tasted in our country. National Geographic was a direct witness of this fact with the completion of the splendid report The world’s most expensive melon lands in Madrid, published October 22, 2020.
Crown Melon is one of the D.O. of Japan's most prestigious muskmelon grown in Chiho's city, Fukuroi. “They come directly from farms near my house,” she explains. In Western culture, it is hard to believe that a melon can cost more than 200 euros, which is the usual price of Crown Melon in stores in Tokyo. The melon has strongly taken roots in the Japanese culture of the luxury gift, to the extent that for certain varieties of muskmelon auctioned in 2019, $ 25,000 have been paid.
Ignasi had heard of the Japanese melon from his time in Tokyo, but it was not until visiting Fukuroi with Chiho that he became really interested in this fruit, until he was fascinated by its hundreds of farms striving to create the perfect melon. Its high price and sweet flavor are partly due to the "one tree, one fruit" standard. Halfway through the harvest, the farmer chooses a single melon, the best looking one, for each tree and slaughters the rest. The list of care and controls that this melon receives is only comparable perhaps to the attention that a mother pays to her baby. "They are like a dream in Japan, and now it is shocking to have them here in Madrid."