Sometimes, Gentle Reader, I think it's unfair that I'm required to eat out in Tokyo. Every now and again I find a food-geek gem, a refuge from Denny's and Yoshinoya that keeps the smile on the face and the pressure on the waistline. Quelle domage! Ape Reine, my friends, is one of those places... without an English website, I'm afraid.
Ape Reine is found down a little laneway in Omote Sando, set back from the road and with a side entrance that can be difficult to find. Battle on, Gentle Reader, battle on to the door of this wonderful Schezuan-Fusion restaurant in the vain hope that our humble custom can keep Chef Saito serving his wonderful translation of what can be a difficult genre into fine dining.
I ventured here with the Designer, an English "friend" (hush, wash your rugby-loving mouth out!) who has been in Tokyo for many years living in the holo-deck that Aoyama represents. We both are huge fans of Asian food from the Chinese flavor-stream, and I confess to a little nervousness about introducing him to Ape Reine.
Such fears were brushed aside once we started on devouring the menu. Maitre d' Akira Sugata and the energetic staff soon had us on the exit side of some pre-dinner drinks, speaking knowledgably about the food and the wine, and inviting us in to a food journey to Schezuan that promised so very, very much. And, Gentle Reader, delivered on that promise.
I have to admit here that I neglected to notice what my companion ordered and enjoyed. There is a reason for that - I was way too involved in my side of the table, and it took some time before I remembered I was not alone. Let this post serve as my apology!
I started with a Snapper (真鯛) and Jelly Fish Carpaccio with a leaf salad. This was one of the day's special items, and it was a pleasant luxury that set me to thinking that this meal was going to be memorable! Light and delicious, there was a pleasant mix of textures and delicate flavors that made me reach deep into memory for a comparison.
My vegetable dish was a stir-fry of hakusai and dried shellfish. What struck me here was the delightful crispness of the vegetable in comparison to the mouth-melting shellfish. It's hard to keep delicate flavors alive in stir-fries, but Chef Saito was equal to the task. I'm not a huge fan of too much spice, but this was a lesson in balance and a deep understanding of how to enhance a dish rather than dominate it.
Oh dear! Maestro Saito - bring on the meat! And he did - a stir-fry of Sangenton Pork and Cabbage with Miso. Japan and China meet here in a unique dance of flavors, textures and fragrances that ensures I'll be getting back to Ape Reine very soon. Deep, deep flavors ... a dish that delights all five senses ... a touch of brilliance by a young chef who seems ready to make a big impact on Tokyo's food scene.
My Shrimp and Mozzerella Cheese Fried Rice was, similarly, outstanding. I think Gordon sustained not a few wounds as we battled for this simple luxury. Forgive me, Gentle Reader, for perhaps injuring such a lovely man as Gordon - but I've told you I'm not good at sharing. Take my advice and order two servings rather than risk bloodshed.
We enjoyed a Cote de Nuits Village Louis Latour (2003 I think) that served to set off this wonderful meal to a tee.
Get to this restaurant as soon as you can - it's a real treat and this chef has plenty to offer people from almost any background. Take a lover rather than a business acquaintance, for this place is far too good for working dinners. The cuisine demands and deserves attention, and I promise you won't be disappointed. And I avoided making any cheap puns about apes or monkeys ... sheesh! I can't resist ... I'm bananas about Ape Reine!
Rating: Food: 8/10; Service: 8/10 ; Wine: 7/10; Ambiance: 8/10; Price: 8/10; Total 39/50 (3 Forks)
Ape Reine Tokyo: Jingu Mae 5-16-13; tel: 03-5774-1521 (Closed Mondays); Map