Food without memory is just digestion

Monday, 11 February 2008

A Place for Lost Boys

Twice recently I've had the pleasure of eating at Le garcon de la vigne in Hiroo. A little out of the way, but trust me ... the result is well worth the journey of discovery (Map). Head down from the subway station all the way past Smash Hits to the end of the Hiroo shopping street, and turn left. It's less than 100 meters down on the left side with a large wine cask outside.

The restaurant name translates as "the boy of the vines", a reference to Front-of-House Iino-san's soujourn in France after serving as sommelier at Marche aux Vin Yamada in Minami Aoyama. It seems Iino-san was led to some sort of inspiration by this experience, and Le garcon de la vigne is the result. Watanabe-san is the chef at this eclectic little jewel, creating great food from the ever-changing materials sent by the contract farmers.

Forgive me for being a little flippant, but these two remind me of Peter Pan's lost boys, forever playing at adventure and not worrying about the world slipping by. And it's a grand result - at any time I expected Robin Williams to bounce out from behind the bar to start a food fight. don't get me wrong - I love it. After all, my kids have twice given me Christmas gifts of marbles and a box to keep them in! I am definitely a lost boy playing at Neverland in Tokyo.

The deal here, Gentle Reader, is that Iino-san and Watanabe-san are completely committed to "natural" cuisine - organic where possible, with free-range/wild catch meats and fish - and it shows through. The farmers and suppliers are trusted to send whatever is in season and at its peak. What a breathe of fresh air, and what a result!

I've journeyed there for pleasure and for business, and while Iino-san can seem a little eccentric at times, the meal and the atmosphere have been outstanding. You'll need to know your French organic wines to sort your way through the wine list - or like me, you can leave it to Iino-san.

I've really enjoyed the warm vegetables served here as an entree, as well as Roast Pork cutlet and the Veal filet with truffle sauce as main dishes. You can opt for cheese instead of dessert, and they serve herb teas post-prandially. There are 2 course options for dinner at Y3,800 and Y6,000 which represent great value for money. Do yourself a favor and make this place one of your regular haunts - you'll be supporting a brave adventure by Messrs Iino and Watanabe, and maybe you could become a lost boy too!

Food: 7/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Price: 7/10 ($). Total: 35/50
Le garcon de la vigne: Hiroo 5-17-11-1F 03-3445-6626

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Le Marche Shines Through!

You may recall, Gentle Reader, that I introduced Le Marche aux Puces (LMaP) in November as a pleasant spot for a Sunday brunch, coming with the recommendation of a friend well-connected to the French Embassy. Intrigued by that encounter, I recently sallied forth with my dubious group of evening diners (Tokyo Darkside) to test the dinner options.

Oh joy! Oh bliss! Not only did the fleas behave themselves, but the 11 brave Knights of the Darkside agreed that we had found ourselves one of Tokyo's hidden secrets at a simply unbelievable price.

Serving 11 is never easy, particularly when there is plenty to interest the punters on the bill of fare. LMaP managed this feat with no fuss, plenty of friendly cross-lingual banter, and lashings of quiet efficiency. From among the entree (starter) on the menu, people variously chose Warmed Lobster en Croute, Marinated Salmon with Dill Sauce, Boudin en Croute, Salad Nicoise, Terrine de Foie Gras, and Pate de Canard (your humble correspondent!). Each and every punter reported a great start to the meal, ably lubricated with numerous examples of Chablis and Sancerre white wines at very reasonable prices.

Les Plats that were enjoyed by the madding crowd of Darksiders included Sirloin of Vension in Red Wine Pepper sauce, Thigh of Duck Challandais confit, Coquilles St Jacques Provencal, Lamb Chops in thyme sauce, Fresh fish of the day and Scallops in lobster sauce, Roast Pigeon, Sausgae Andouillete on Lentils. I had the pleasure of the last on this list, and it was magnificent! King Arthur chose a round little Burgundy to go with the dinner.

The rustic campagne cooking at LMaP is among the best in Tokyo, and that's saying something! And here's the kicker - dinner runs to Y3,200 per head for 3 courses, and the wine is very reasonably well-priced. That's an incredible deal, and even with the very thirsty Darksiders imbibing at their best full steam ahead, the whole dinner only came to Y9,000 per head.

I'm now prepared to enjoy LMaP with colleagues and with lovers, friends and scaly mates.

Food: 8/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Price: 8/10 ($). Total: 37/50
LMaP: Ebisu 2-5-8, Shibuya-Ku (03) 5420-3691 (Map)

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Little Twin Stars - L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

Well it's been a while, Gentle Reader, but that absence has been driven by a lack of material rather than a shortage of will. Over the next few days, I'll add some posts on the 4 decent places I've enjoyed since December.

But this post celebrates a recent visit to the 2-star L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon (Map) at Roppongi Hills. We were with "Elliott", as the wonderful sommelier Diego shouted across the busy crowd as we were arriving. The Don must have done something to mark himself in Diego's memory, but discretion is always the better part of valour in dealing with someone as closely connected to the bee consciousness as Don.

Suffice to say, Gentle Reader, that I now understand why the Tokyo restaurant is the only one of the six-odd L'Atelier spread around the world to rate a second star from Michelin. We initially counted ourselves fortunate to score a table (the redoubtable Diego calling The Don on his mobile at 18:00 to confirm the same splash of luck), but on reflection there may be more theatre on display at the counter.

We (Don and I) indulged in the degustation menu, and we agreed that this is a tribute to great food, fashioned by the ateliers [lit. studio in French] of Robuchon in Paris as a way to take diners on a journey lit by flashes of brilliance and precocity. Only one of the 8 courses (Fish: Hata) was not worthy of a 2-Star - but it would have been quite at home in any of the other 1-stars in Michelin's recently released Tokyo edition.

Diego's wine selections were quite the thing as well, drilling in on an interesting Foret Chablis for the early going and navigating seamlessly to a Chateauneuf-de-Pape Beaucastel. Excellent!

Menus change often, and a reservation can sometime be difficult but I recommend that you find an excuse to get yourself along to L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon with a lover or a foodie as soon as you can!

Food: 9/10; Wine: 8/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 9/10; Price: 8/10 ($$$). Total: 43/50

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon (Map): Roppongi Hills, Hillside 220. Open 11am-10pm (LO) daily. Tel: 5772-7500.