Food without memory is just digestion

Monday, 6 February 2006

Bon, Monsieur!

6 Feb 2006

One of the delights in living in Tokyo is the wonderful panoply of wonderful restaurants. When Japanese chefs put their mind to creating certain styles of food, they simply do it better than anyone else.

One shining example of this is Bon Monsieur, in the back of Roppongi (Roppongi 7-12-15 opposite Roppongi Park). The first thing that strikes you is that it’s not very hard to get to know the chef - he’s the only person there! Dai Kono is one of those rare breeds of people who get to live their dream. In his case, that dream is to prepare stunning food for a group of very loyal customers.

The fact that Bon Monsieur is not more widely known should come as no surprise - it seats 3 customers at the only table, and another 6 at the counter. A former izakaya, or Japanese traditional bar, it’s literally a “w”hole in the wall that comes to fame in an almost nervous and abashed frame of mind.

My latest visit saw me fleeing Wolfgang Puck Cafe looking for subtle flavors with 2 friends - Kono-san was kind enough to squeeze us into the table, and shift other patrons to the counter. 2 of us decided to leave the menu and the wine to Kono-san via the “Chef’s Choice” option. Depending on your appetite, this costs either Y4000 or Y6000. Our other companion is a self-professed “meat and potatoes” man - with an appetite in exact proportion to his generosity and friendliness. I asked the chef to surprise him...and Kono-san managed this with flair and patience.

My first course was a terrine of fois gras, topped with a dried persimmon and surrounded by the merest hint of honey. If you’ve never tried these flavors together, you’re missing an extraordinary gastronomic insight where 1+1+1 ends up equalling 5. The guest flying solo was dumbstruck to get an organic salad (he’s not much of a fuit-and-veg man) - but he bravely tasted the same, then wrapped his arms around it so nobody else could get some, and pronounced it as the best salad he’s had in a long, long time. Score 1 to the chef!

The braver former Marine and I were then presented with an aji (Sweetfish) carpaccio dressed with a fresh green herb that threatened to be shiso, but matched this sweet freshwater fish exactly! This was such a revelation that I offered to put my body on the line for my Marine buddy and eat it on his behalf. To my deep regret, he declined this generous offer!

Our meat-and-veg man then got presented with a Basque pork chop that might have walked away if it had been given first aid! A known trencherman, he proceeded to devour this delicacy in a style more befitting to a medieval lordling than a Tokyo businessman. But it stopped him in his tracks and he had to surrender - it’s the first time I’ve ever heard him say he was full!
The other two of us also got a taste of this, although smaller portions, and agreed that this was probably the best pork either of us has tasted in many years. 40-love to Kono-san, and only the dessert to come.

I declined, but my two fellow colonists (they forget that America was also a destination for Pommie convicts!) bravely soldiered (Marine-d?) on with a hand-made vanilla bean ice cream and fresh persimmon. The verdict - heavenly! Kono-san had won the day.

For the finest food in a interesting atmosphere, served by one of the most friendly chefs, try Bon Monsieur. I’d advise making a reservation (03-3475-6612).

Rating: Food 9/10 Wine 7/10 Atmosphere 8/10 Service 8/10 Price 9/10 (Y38,000 for 3). Total: 41/50 (4 Forks!)

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