• Tania Koppens

Hisako Umi

Japanese Restaurant-Ernest and Jun

Delicious and beautiful. Welcome to Hisako Umi. Set in the private courtyard of a summer beach home, don’t let the modest appearance of this gem fool you. The visionaries behind the scenes are Ernest-Dai Fibla Takahashi, running the business, and Jun Fukuyama, master of his kitchen and art. Ernest describes the restaurant as traditional but with contemporary personalized touches. Jun, who stands out in how he deflects attention from himself, is one of those individuals who care more about his craft than self-promotion.

The restaurant is named after Ernest’s Grandmother Hisako who grew up primarily in Osaka. His mother and father, Keiko and Jordi, met in London where they were both students. Ernest was born and raised in Barcelona but spent his summers in Osaka. Growing up in two worlds, Ernest felt like a citizen of the world more than a citizen of any one country. Being from a culturally diverse family in Barcelona in the 80s wasn’t as common as it might be today. Sometimes there was a feeling of standing out amongst his peers. When he got older it became clear that his differences were a gift and an asset. He now appreciates how lucky he is to speak many languages, to call two seemingly different worlds home, and to have been exposed to Japanese culture and cuisine. Ernest straddles the two worlds with grace. He is very grateful for his multi-cultural experiences and the richness it has brought to his life.

Jun Fukuyama comes from Hiroshima. He arrived in Spain in 2009 to study French cuisine. He was working with the Yamashita group, a culinary group focused on bringing traditional Japanese kitchens to Barcelona. During his culinary training, Jun worked with other outstanding and renowned Chefs. Jun is a culinary artist in the truest sense of the word. While he excels in many styles, he especially enjoys the tedious work of making pastries. His creativity extends beyond the kitchen. His thirst for the creative process also includes painting and drawing (He will often even sketch out his culinary inspirations before even entering the kitchen). He is highly respected for his culinary skills and work ethic, so finding success may have been bolstered by connecting to people who managed the other aspects of running a restaurant. This is why Ernest heads the business and public aspect and Jun can focus on his kitchen in solitude-exactly the way he prefers. The freshness and high quality of every dish on their menu is a top priority for both of them. They even order the same cuts of fish that go to the Michelin star restaurants in Barcelona, even though they pay a higher price for buying smaller quantities. They will never sacrifice the standard of their product.

In his twenties, Ernest spent some time working in New York City where he fell in love with the culinary scene. He recalls with fondness his job biking Japanese food around the city and interacting with the South American staff. After returning to Barcelona Ernest found himself working as a waiter in the same restaurant, Cinc plats (now closed) where Jun was a chef. The two immediately had a connection. Ernest recognized Jun’s skill when it seemed others overlooked his culinary talents. He admired the chef’s precision, creativity, and imagination when it came to preparing dishes. Ernest promised Jun, perhaps without much intention at the time, that if he ever opened a restaurant, he would hire Jun as the chef.

With the help of a loan from a friend and lots of planning, Ernest and Jun opened Hisako in Barcelona in 2014. Things were going well but they felt limited by the small tavern (Izakaya in Japanese) location on Calle Londres. They also found that the pace of a bigger city prevented them from creating a community of regulars that connected with their product. They decided to upgrade and move Hisako to the beach of Castelldefels, where the restaurant became Hisako Umi (Umi means sea in Japanese). This was also a gamble- would people be willing to pay for fine dining style Japanese food? Despite early obstacles, they eventually built up a base of regulars who appreciate their ethos.

Ernest and Jun didn’t invest in much publicity when they opened Hisako Umi in Castelldefels. There wasn’t even a visible sign with the name of the restaurant for years. Ernest claims that word-of-mouth marketing worked best for them. Then in 2020 when Coronavirus hit, things felt heavy-especially with concerns for his staff and growing debt. There is little job security in the restaurant industry and things can go in any direction at any time, but this level of uncertainty amid a pandemic was especially daunting. He briefly took out a Google ad to try to attract more clients but then almost immediately took it down realizing it wasn’t attracting the diners that appreciated Hisako Umi's charm.

I asked Ernest what advice he would give tol his younger self before opening a restaurant. He replied, “I would tell myself to take it easier. Don’t get so stressed. But I also think that is impossible, it’s like a football match, you just can’t help but play the game once you are in it.” He also discussed the joy he gets from his work. “You put out a plate, it comes back empty. But it's so much more than just that.”

A restaurant with a great story is a more satisfying dining experience. Hisako is recommended for those looking for a Japanese restaurant with something extra to offer. They boast a high-quality variety of the classics: sushi, nigiri, and sashimi but also many innovative dishes that seem to blend Mediterranean and Japanese flavors as elegant and original as the owner himself (my personal favorite has to be the canape of foie with a quail egg). I asked Ernest what the future holds for Hisako. He says he wants to do exactly what he is doing right now, just with more time and space in his life to enjoy it. Getting started was the most difficult part and now he looks forward to being more present in his day-to-day routine. Ernest does have another idea up his sleeve for a Japanese meat venue. I’m sure I speak for the whole Hisako Umi Fan club when I say- Castelldefels can’t wait!

Final 4

1. What was your favorite childhood food?

Spaghetti Bolognese

2. What is the strangest thing you ever ate?

Warm cod roe (eggs) in Japan

3. The dish I eat the night I don’t want to cook is…

Crepes stuffed with meat.

4. Describe a regular moment in your daily life that brings you joy.

I love to open a good bottle of wine with my partner to relax after a busy day of work.

Website: https://restauranthisako.com/hisako-umi/

Location: Passeig de la Marina 209 Castelldefels 08860

Phone number: 655 597 948

Facebook: @hisakorestaurant

Instagram: @hisakorestaurant

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