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The Michelin Guide has consistently awarded more stars to Tokyo dining establishments than any other city in the world. I created this blog as my personal Tokyo restaurant guide, but I hope you will also enjoy reading it. If you have been to any of the same places feel free to leave some comments about your own experiences.

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Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Cache Cache, Yotsuya メゾン・カシュカシュ 四ツ谷

I recently discovered that the superb Alladin has a little sister in Yotsuya called Cache Cache. The dining room is charming, decorated in a traditional French style with stucco and exposed wooden beams and featuring some eclectic pictures and ornaments.

The food at Cache Cache is not as luxurious as it is at Alladin, but it is nevertheless very polished, and the staff could not be more obliging. For a recent lunch, I chose to supplement the "standard" 2,500 yen, three course lunch menu by ordering the lobster which was offered as a special of the day for an extra 1,500 yen if I shared it with my dining partner.

Lunch kicked off with a lovely glass of sparkling wine. They didn't show me what I was drinking, but it did not seem to be French, in line with the more modest theme of this restaurant. Then we were served a hot, wholemeal roll with a delicious, salty rillette. I still remember the rillette from Alladin, and the effort at Cache Cache was no disappointment. For my entree I ordered a trout and cauliflower salad, which was light and pleasant. For the main course the lobster came out in two separate dishes. For the first, they placed the claw meat with a tomato sauce on some white asparagus. The "miso" (brains etc) with a hint of anise was served grilled on the shell. For the second dish the body of the lobster was cut in the shell and served with green asparagus, some scrunchy morels and basil oil. Luckily I have pictures so you can see what it was like, much better than I can describe it.

Dessert was a "Diplomate," which is like rum and custard trifle with candied fruits, and a vanilla bean ice cream.

All in all the lunch was thoroughly enjoyable and I would highly recommend this place for a quiet business or social meal where you have the time to linger. The speed of service is sedate so go when you have enough time to enjoy what these true lovers of fine food have to offer you.
Tel: 03-5363-5263

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Mushroom, Ebisu マッシュルーム  恵比寿

If you don't like mushrooms you shouldn't go to this restaurant. I, however, am very partial to these delicious fungi so I was in heaven when I recently visited Mushroom for Sunday lunch. The restaurant is situated not far from the "five ways" at Ebisu, quite close to the excellent Jeu de L'assiette. The dining room is small, cozy and intimate and as we sat down were greeted with a serviette folded in the shape of a dinner jacket. Cute. For 4,000 yen including tax and service you can order a menu featuring an entree, a fish, a main and a dessert and coffee. I started my lunch with a delicious glass of Bruno Paillard Brut Champagne.

For my entree I ordered a fish carpaccio with mushroom and salad leaves, which was light and tasty. My dining partner ordered a much more substantial sausage dish, which was very powerful in flavour in comparison to mine. This was followed by a suzuki, topped with a clam in a green lobster sauce with some interesting gelatinous mushrooms here and there. Accompanying this, I was served a glass of "Nikolaihof" a fresh and delicate organic Austrian white wine. The main course was a piece of duck breast with cabbage, pepper, cream sauce and an amazing, earthy mushroom. Dessert was an excellent marzipan tart with vanilla bean and dark chocolate ice cream. During dessert the next table was presented with a music box that was fed a music sheet playing "Happy Birthday". Cute x2. All our dishes were very competently prepared and the manner in which they were served was very pleasant. It's no wonder that this restaurant has been going for 15 years now, and I would recommend this establishment to anyone looking for a pleasant business or social meal.
Tel: 03-5489-1346

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

La Table de Joel Robuchon, Ebisu ラ ターブル ドゥ ジョエル・ロブション 恵比寿

La Table De Joel Robuchon is the Michelin one-star rated restaurant situated in the famous Chateau at Ebisu Garden Place. Above it you will find the fancier Joel Robuchon which was awarded three stars. Recently I had the chance to eat lunch at La Table and came away strangely underwhelmed. The ambience of the first floor is lovely with its fashionably purple walls and glassware (or was it mauve? - I remember almost being laughed out of a business meeting for asking the same question out loud about a new shampoo package).

The presentation of the food is also very attractive and the staff are well trained. However, important though the ambience of a restaurant may be, it is the food that I really look forward to. For lunch you can order a 2,900 yen menu formule (with dessert for an extra 800 yen) which initially struck me as quite modest for such a distinguished luncheon establishment. I ordered a scallop carpaccio with endive for the starter, foie gras with parmesan on risotto for the main and a grapefruit terrine for dessert. Tasty, fresh bread is provided throughout the meal.

I am really sorry to report that, although it looked great, the scallop carpaccio did not taste like anything in particular. Perhaps I am spoiled but the scallops I recently had at Luke Mangan's Glass in Sydney put this dish in the shade. My dining partner ordered a salmon mousse which looked beautiful, but which he described as "dense" and I had to agree had a stodgy quality to it. The foie gras with risotto was a little sloppy in consistency though moderately tasty. Actually the best course was the grapefruit terrine which was fresh and colourful and came with a delicious mint ice-cream.

La Table would do no harm to your image if you used it for a business lunch, and is a nice place to catch up with friends for something a bit more special than usual. I am sorry to say that I don't think that the food is quite up to the pretensions of the establishment; the cutting edge of lunch in Tokyo is probably elsewhere. I would take a pinch of Salt for lunch over La Table which, as an admirer of Le Maître Robuchon, gives me no pleasure to write.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Liaison, Hatagaya リエゾン 幡ヶ谷

One of my loyal readers pointed out to me the other day that, in a manner of boring consistency, I only seem to write about French restaurants. Alors ma chère Midori, I agree that these fantastic establishments are hogging my attention but I can only let up when all these brilliantly trained chefs stop a) opening up new restaurants and b) being so brilliant. I know that my fellow gourmand Monsieur Terry White, who has been kind enough to mention my blog on his, and who has been so encouraging will come to my defence! So here's yet another...

This little gem is to be found in a maze of backstreets in Hatagaya, near Shinjuku. I guess it's not that hard to find but you will need a map if you decide to make the trek out there and do not get hopelessly lost like I did. It's in the basement of a modern concrete building but you can still see outside and there is plenty of light - it will be very pleasant once it gets warmer. Recently for lunch I ordered a 2,300 yen menu and received just about the best value meal I have had in a while. The menu consisted of an hors d'oeuvre of two pieces of "kochi" (a type of flathead fish) one coated in sesame and deep fried and the other coated and fried in almond. These were served with seaweed and lemon, spinach and a broadbean. An anti-pasto style entree plate followed featuring chicken heart, terrine of foie gras, pickled radish, baby squid, smoked salmon and pickled onion with blue cheese. Both the kochi and the entree plate were very unique in that they were uncompromisingly Japanese in character with a very clear bias to the bitter in their flavours, which is something I rarely experience. The taste was interesting more than I would say it was delicious, but worth trying nonetheless. The starters were followed by a pleasant turnip and celery cream potage. The main course was a tasty pork cheek served in a tomato and orange cream sauce with bamboo shoots, steamed vegetables and rice. The caraway seeds in the sauce again lent an interesting hint of bitterness (actually my mother makes a pork dish that uses caraway and tastes very much like this). The main course was followed by not one but two desserts, the first being a granita of fresh tomato and watermelon which was not really sweet at all, and the second being a more traditional gateau au chocolat with crème. The meal was topped with an espresso and my dining partner got a pot of lychee tea, which I used to refill my espresso cup a few times (I think to the bemusement of our waiter).

Liaison really does provide a (sometimes dangerous) liaison of Japanese and French flavours. It is not your typical Tokyo French restaurant that re-creates what one might find in France. Rather, they have taken a more adventurous course, being truly Japanese and truly informed by French influences. I don't think the flavours work all the time for my palate, but I think they deserve great credit for their work and would highly recommend you take a visit. At these amazing prices what have you to lose?
Tel: 03-5454-2373

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Artichaut, Ebisu アーティショー 恵比寿

Artichaut is probably just the right size of restaurant to allow one to enjoy the benefit of the personal touch. This establishment, located in Ebisu just up the street from Marche aux Puces, is a delightful modern French restaurant serving an altogether more refined cuisine, which is not at all to downgrade in any way Marche's hearty bistro food. I had an opportunity to sample the fare at Artichaut recently for Sunday lunch.

The menu offered was a 2,300 yen set which included a soup, entree, main and dessert. It is very good value for money especially if you are not tempted to order any of the dishes that require a supplement (I was and did). My only criticism on the value for money is the 1,500 yen I found on the bill at the end for the coupe de champagne. Is it just me or is that expensive when you consider that it is more than half of the cost of the entire standard set?

All the food was refined yet assertive in its flavour. The soup was a potato potage with lardons which had been almost imperceptibly blended with wholemeal bread. I had ordered the foie gras (which was an extra 1,000 yen) for my entree and this came nicely pan fried on a fried croute with baby white asparagus. On the edge of the plate was a small dollop of rose confiture. This was like a tiny explosion of flower power which married very nicely with the grease of the foie gras. The main dish was a pan seared white fish served with vegetables. The picture tells part of the story (even if it does not do justice to the vibrant colours of the dish), but the cheese sauce which included a little pistou was delicious and went very well with the fish which was perfectly cooked. For dessert we were served a nutty nougat glace served with strawberry puree which topped off the meal very elegantly.

All in all, the service was good (the waiter was competent in English and French) and the food was excellent. I have just a couple of little gripes. I suspect that the dishes and glasses are being washed in a very strong smelling (to me at least) cleanser that smells of chlorine. I hate to say it but I could get strong hints of it in the water, in the foie gras and in the beans. There was also no napkin at all at the table so we had to eat "commando". I really wanted to tell them about it but to ruin a pleasant meal with criticism seemed a bit churlish. To tell or not to tell...?
Tel: 03-3446-9747

Monday, 7 April 2008

Sens et Saveurs, Marunouchi サンスエサヴール 丸の内

On a recent visit to the well-known (and, these days, well-worn) Sens et Saveurs I was able to take in a large and leisurely Sunday lunch. After having spent the morning watching a documentary about dieting, size zero models and anorexia, I felt it was my duty to counter this odious trend. And what a place to do good for oneself and society! The view from the 35th floor of the Marunouchi Building is nothing short of breathtaking. I have to say however that I am always on my guard about restaurants that have great views as it often seems to detract somehow from their observance of the laws of good food and service. There also seems to be a perverse law in that the level of service must be inversely proportional to the number of service staff. Without being too harsh on the staff, who are quite pleasant, it must have been a long time since someone who really knows what they are doing was in charge.

I would find it hard to imagine that in one of their establishments in France, the first thing you would see on the tables is an application form to the frequent diners club. Just one more gripe before I get onto the food. Apart from the fact that I had to ask for the wine list and was then left sitting with it for about 10 minutes, I had to ask again so that I could see another wine list that featured "demi-bouteilles", then settle in for another long wait (I also had to beg for water). On the list of half bottles there was nothing there under 12,000 yen (for a half bottle!). The glass of Pommery that I had while waiting for the table cost 1,800 yen, which I find a little on the pricey side for a run-of-the-mill Champagne. After a bit of negotiation where I also had to explain to the waiter what a Rose is, I discovered they had a cart of wines that you could order by the glass, which suited us as we did not want to get too slaughtered at lunch. Each glass of wine that we had with the meal (a rather pleasant, honey-hinted Pouilly-Fuissé Burgundy) was also 1,800 yen. The glasses were huge for a white wine but even so I would describe the amount of wine served as a splash, even considering the size of the glass.

They were kind enough to offer a little canape of a cube of crumbed fried fish as I was sipping my Champagne. This was nice enough, although slightly reminiscent of the fried food section at my local supermarket. I was starting to get worried. However when the food started arriving in proper, my fears were allayed. The food is good. My dining partner and I ordered the "Menu Sens et Emotions" which costs 8,400 yen. It is more expensive than the "Sens et Couleurs", and I ordered it the dearer menu not because I wanted more food but because the dishes appeared much more interesting. As an amuse bouche we were served a small pea foam with a hint of mint on top. Eating this provided an amazing sensation of air and pea and made for an interesting start. This was followed by one of the juiciest prawns I have had for a while, wrapped in spring roll pastry and placed on top of a soup of pureed chick peas. On the side was placed a Chinese soup spoon with a scoop of mixed raw white fish with a little piece of bacon on top. I mixed it all up in the soup and the effect was very interesting, with lot of different flavours. This was followed by a little piece of suzuki (Japanese seabass) served on a ravioli base with a creamy artichoke foam. Very pleasant. The main dish was lamb cutlets served with a fried shoulder meat samosa on a tiny bed of risotto with tiny raisins. There was a small scoop of celeriac and another of tomato. Together with the all spice sauce this made for lots of different flavours. We did not let the cheese cart go by and I partook of some mimolette, chevre and Roquefort. Dessert was a "minestrone" of chopped fresh strawberries and white cheese sorbet served with a small sprig of thyme. Again, this was a very successful marriage of flavours. I topped it off with an espresso and, for some unknown reason, we were asked if we wanted our petit fours in a box as we were leaving.

To sum up, I think there is definitely evidence of creative influences in the cooking. Clearly the dishes are designed to combine flavours in unexpected and sometimes exciting ways. I really appreciate this, and would love to see more of it. However the amateurish service is not equal to the pretensions of the overall establishment. On top of this, the place looks like it needs a facelift. Perhaps this is less of an issue if you come for dinner where you can't see the dirty carpet, chipped walls and stained seats. Nevertheless, I think it's time for a visit from les frères Pourcel to ensure that their franchise in Tokyo is not resting on its laurels.
Tel: 03-5220-2701

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Glass, Sydney, Australia

I know the title of this blog is about eating out in Tokyo, but I am occasionally allowed out of Japan and I still need to eat! The latest jaunt was to my hometown of Sydney, Australia for the Easter break where I sampled the food of chef/starlet Luke Mangan's new(ish) restaurant in the Sydney Hilton, Glass. If you are a regular reader you will recall his Tokyo venture, "Salt" - a restaurant that I consider to be one of the more interesting in Tokyo. The 40 storey Sydney Hilton was built in the 70s and for many years, while a well-known Sydney landmark, was considered to be an architectural disaster, with no proper entrance onto George Street (Sydney's main street) and a dreadful concrete car ramp running up on the other side from Pitt Street (Sydney's second street). A couple of years ago they decided to almost start again from scratch, stripping out the guts of the building for a complete refit which included a proper street level driveway. I don't think the new ground floor lobby is impressive (with its Gloria Jean's style cafe and shared entrance with the office building next door), but the car access is a definite improvement.

Back to the food. I had heard some mixed reviews about Glass. One good friend told me of an amazing wagyu steak she had there (it is, by the way, my mission to get Australians to pronounce "wagyu" correctly...); while others had told me about some disappointing experiences. Determined to draw my own conclusions, I dragged my parents away from their shopping and sat them down with me in Glass' amazing dining room. The ceilings in the contemporary dining room which looks onto George Street and the Queen Victoria Building are super-high giving a real sense of space and are covered in mirrors. Everything in the restaurant seems super-sized, from the amazingly tall glass wine refrigerators to the huge modern painting above the bar. Despite the mixed reviews, we found the food to be wonderful. Being lunch I didn't want to go too heavy-on, especially as I was booked to go out for dinner the same day. I ordered scallops for my starter. The scallops came out as sliced sashimi served on little cubes of potato confit and served with coriander, nastursians, rock salt and olive oil. The combination of these ingredients was very successful. My mother is a petite lady who, very helpfully, never finishes any of her courses so I also got to sample some of her oysters. The oysters were served six ways. I can't remember all six but they did include tempura, red fish roe, black caviar and sour cream. I do not remember tasting a fresher oyster! For the main I ordered Moreton Bay bugs. These are ugly little native Australian crustaceans that yield very yummy meat. Mine were shelled and served with a sweet carrot ravioli, pine nuts and little currants. The combination of the salty bugs (maybe a touch too salty) and the sweetness of the currants and the carrot ravioli was excellent. This was washed down very nicely with a glass of the "Mangan" sauvignon blanc. And if you're wondering, my mother, father (and I!) had the zucchini flower tempura stuffed with goat cheese. Very nice. There was no room for dessert I am afraid.

If you're in Sydney you should not fail to wander in to Glass. I need to warn you that the prices are much higher for lunch than they are in Tokyo (a sign of the times in a booming Pompeii?), but given the dearth of good restaurants in the centre of Sydney I would definitely try it for business or pleasure.

Tel: 61 2 9265 6068