Food without memory is just digestion

Friday, 27 June 2008

Glassy-Eyed with Delight - Glass Brasserie

As an Australian, Gentle Reader, your Humble Correspondent is sometimes asked about cuisine and fine dining in Oz. After the Four Bruces jokes and the tedious remarks about oxymorons, I remind people that great chefs abound Down Under and generally recommend places like Tetsuya's (Tetsuya Wakuda), Rockpool (Neil Perry), and Grange (Chong Liew) among others. And I still will, but now there's a place I'll be talking about before all those others. I refer, of course, to Glass Brasserie (Luke Mangan).

Oh my very very Goodness! Imagine if you will, Gentle Reader, a venue so stunningly transparent and well-lit that the full color and energy of the shared dining experience seems to spread bonhomie and good cheer from table to table. Yet by some wizardry I'm yet to understand, each table seems so intensely private and gloriously quiet that one feels as if one were at home.

The menu has been created with a deft sense of exploration and tradition, with few signs of the false passion some establishments seem to have for food trends. No molecular gastronomy here - great "real" food turned out by a disciplined kitchen that shows its confidence at every step.

The first sign of the joy to follow was the exquisite Amuse Bouche of a Balmain/Rozelle spiced seared tuna with pickled ginger and an eschallot dressing. Pickled ginger indeed! Elegant yet inviting, this little jewel succeeded where most Amuse fail - it hinted at the journey ahead, but didn't intrude.

My companion, the effervescent Tim, chose a Terrine of smoked hock rabbit, foie gras and celeriac to start. Your Humble Correspondent upped the ante with a Pithivier of quail and foie gras. Both these dishes were outstanding, and excellently matched with the 2006 Batasolio Gavi di Gavu Granee white wine.

Our mains were Riverina NSW peppered lamb rum which Tim pronounced as "sublime" and my Glenroth pheasant breast - pheasant can be dreadfully tricky to cook as it dries out easily, but this version was succulent, mouthwateringly delicious, and sufficiently decadent to satisy even the most demanding of my Old Bastard friends. We went for a merlot from Petaluma (2004) which started very big - to the point of feeling like a Cabernet, but quickly mellowed to match the mood of the two tubbies at the table.

Rounded out with some Brique d'Affinois double cream brie, Comte de gruyere, and Woodside Pompeii - this was an excellent, excellent meal that will go down as one of the most sumptuous repasts I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. And imagine, with Tim!

If business or whimsy takes you to Sydney, I urge - no, demand - you try Glass. You won't be disappointed!

Glass Brasserie, 2F Sydney Hilton, 488 George St.
Rating: Food: 9; Wine: 8; Service: 8; Ambience: 9; Price: 8 ($$$). Total 42/50

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Cut to the Chase ... La Chasse

I imagine, Gentle Reader, that you have by now come across the remarkable Dean & DeLuca franchise here in Tokyo in one or more of its manifestations. A splendid addition to the cause, and bouquets to the brave souls who started this phenomenon 5 years ago off the back off a successful apparel business in the catalog channel. Time to slap oneself around the ears for not coming up with the idea personally, particularly once one hears the entry price was only a pitiful $1 million.

I am party to some of the secrets of D&D, but I had often wondered who was the genius behind some of the food. I beg to report, Gentle Reader, that you'll find him in the kitchen at La Chasse [Map] in Roppongi's 3-Chome. Chef, who trained in Japan before working at the 1-star L'Esplanade in France, opened this gem (eclectic, but a gem) of a restaurant almost 2 years ago.

La Chasse is French for the hunt, so it comes as no surprise that the menu here features plenty of game - with the added je ne sais quoi that, often, Chef has actually been the one doing the hunting. Check out his blog on the website, and you'll find a rich tapestry of stories that trace the tale of his romance with food.

We feasted on the Assortment of Appetizers including an extra serving of the stunning Duck and Foie Gras Pate, and fell with delight into the Suckling Boar as our main course. I will update this post with the details of our meal once I'm safely back in Japan, but your Humble Correspondent recommends you gather together all of the appropriate accroutrements and ride off to La Chasse in the very near future. This is good cooking set in a very traditional philosophy of seasonality and the bounty of nature, and an excellent addition to the Tokyo dining scene.

I was partnered in this glorious little journey into the French forests by Sir James - an elegant summary of our experience would be his final words as we left La Chasse: "I'll be back". So will I, Gentle Reader, and I hope you'll take the time to nod at the fat bearded groupie in the corner. I'll be touched ...

La Chasse [Map]: Roppongi 3-5-7 1F; Tel: 03-3505-6144
Rating: Food: 8; Wine: 7; Service: 8; Ambience: 8; Price: 7 ($$). Total 38/50

Old, but not faded ... Toyama OB's

You will have read here, Gentle Reader, about that merry band of miscreants that goes by the title of the Tokyo Darkside. A gathering of like-minded souls, it serves to celebrate the notion of friendship in a bustling and frenetic Tokyo, where networking can sometimes take the place of genuine companionship and sensible conversation.

But I don't think I have ever paused to pass on the details of another, more exclusive gathering known only to that most pernicious of fringe-dweller: yes, Gentle Reader, I refer to the amateur cook. Were this a documentary, one might insert here a warning about "scenes that are likely to offend" or "do not try this at home". The sad reality is that the Old Bastards is a group founded on the premise that things should be tried at home, and should be done in the company of others.

I confess immediately to being a member of this fraternity. The group aims to meet 3 to 4 times a year at a suitable venue where all can share in the Joy of Cooking, properly hidden from the eyes of strangers. As a general rule, the men cook (except where there is a better suggestion or the slightest hint of talent on the part of the ladies). It is a solemn principle that the wine be both tempting and available in a sort of slatternly alcoholic way, and all must remain dressed for dinner. Spouses are an adornment to the table, and not to be trifled with in any fashion.

The most recent installment of this decadence was 14 June at the home of bon vivant Richard Cohen and his lovely wife Yoshiko in sunny Takaoka, Toyama. I drove down, fully intending to take the Child Bride, but unfortunately leaving her at Narita en route to a date with grandbabies in Brisbane. Regrettable, and quite forgetful of me really!

The meal was a hand-made and self-realized triumph, even if I do say so myself, and testament to the powers of the amateur cook. Could I tempt you, Gentle Reader, into a selection of Italian salami and hams, mightily matched by a freshly made terrine set in pork aspic? Might I follow it with baigai shellfish, treated in a French butter and garlic sauce reminiscent of escargot? What about a cream soup of freshly harvested asparagus, with the tips cooked for just 3 minutes and then set - iced - in the steaming broth? Or wagyu beef, slowly roasted at 150 degrees for just 80 minutes and served with roasted roots and potatoes Hasselbach. And dessert - take fresh figs, poach them in a sugar syrup made from equal parts of water and Sauternes, then treat boysenberries and raspberries similarly in the syrup, and finally allow the luscious liquid to form a natural jelly. Serve in a shortcake basket, and top with cinnamon cream.

The star of the evening was the 1986 Grange, although the Premier Cru Chablis served with the shellfish was a worthy partner and the Rose Champagne up front was a wonderful conversation starter as well.

It's more a perversion than a habit, this little gathering, but one your Humble Correspondent feels bound to uphold and defend so long as life allows. It appears, Gentle Reader, that - after all - I am an Old Bastard and shall very likely die one. Pity really (the dying part) ...

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Osteria Nakamura has moved!

You may recall, Gentle Reader, that I praised Osteria Nakamura to the rafters (40/50) in a posting in 2006. It has moved to 7-6-5 Roppongi. Enjoy!

In Vinum Veritas - Les Vinum

One of the joys of being Australian, Gentle Reader, is that we have at least 2 chefs in the world's Top 10 (Q: who gets to choose that list, how do they judge, and will they consider me?). One of those is the food wizard Tetsuya Wakuda. Yes, that name may sound Japanese, but Tetsuya moved to Australia from Hamamatsu in 1982 and learnt all his magic in Sydney starting his cooking career with Tony Bilson.
And getting to the point, I have it on good advice from NHK-7 (Melanie) that Les Vinum [Map] is Tetsuya's favorite restaurant in Tokyo. Whether the redoubtable Ms. M knew this when she booked me in for 3 is doubtful, but I shall bathe in the splendour of the serendipity.
Les Vinum is difficult to find, and a simple location to remember once you have enjoyed the subtle combination of Japanese and French cooking styles complemented by an excellent by eccentric wine list. Superb ingredients treated with sweet Japanese sensitivity is what drives the Les Vinum view of fusion, and I for one am an enthusiastic convert. There is something about Japanese charcoal broiling (sumibi-yaki) that adds extra dimensions and diversions to a dish, and little gems like Curry Rice that speak to comfort and sensibility.
I visited with the Child Bride and NHK-7 to be seated at the counter - a party of 12 was booked for the evening and things were expected to get busy. Les Vinum seats about 16 in the dining area and 8 at the counter, and has a quiet and purposeful demeanour which promises delight and diversion. While there is a set menu, the obvious choice is to go with the 15 or more daily specials that grace the large blackboard above the kitchen counter.
I advise sampling the excellent regional meats sourced from around Japan, and teaming these with the vegetables straight off the grill. Don't look for salads and mash at Les Vinum - it revels in its charcoal grill and I'm convinced that Chef would not sully his hands with lettuce or rocket.
We tried the Seafood Frites, Grilled Vegetables with Sakura Shrimp Sauce, Iberico Pork and Fois Gras Tsukune, and the Homemade Lamb Sausage for our starters. Once the self-satisfied giggling subsided (as we congratulated ourselves on our brilliant selections), we moved on to Australian Angus Beef, Chiba Pork, and French Duck Breasts. Oh happy day!
We watched both a Poilly Fuisse and a Nuits St George evaporate before our very eyes all the while being wonderfully well looked after by the excellent staff. Visit Les Vinum with friends and visitors - it's an excellent way to introduce Japanese cooking without the additional challenge of unfamiliar ingredients. Still, if you're looking for a quiet evening it's best to check that NHK-7 and the Child Bride are not booked for that night!
Les Vinum [Map]: Nishi-Azabu 4-5-8 1F; Tel: 03-5466-8607
Rating: Food: 7; Wine: 7; Service: 8; Ambience: 8; Price: 7 ($$$). Total 37/50

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Azabu Haus - Interesting ...

My friend the Expatriate is not particularly talented at choosing restaurants. Far be it from me, Gentle Reader, to call out any specific incidents except for the disastrous foray into Mexican cuisine at Midtown. Or the time at the ... pshaw. Unkind, and unworthy of your Humble Correspondent.

So you could imagine my trepidation when he suggested we join our newest colleague the HR Guru at Azabu Haus for dinner. Images of Dutch sausages and insipid lager danced in my head. What was I letting myself in for, I wondered, as he strode off purposefully into the drizzle.

I am delighted to advise, Gentle Reader, that Azabu Haus (no web site I'm afraid) is a worthy addition to your little black book. I imagine there's no surprise that its guiding principle is to be just like some-one's house, where the dining is elegant but casual and where there is a complete lack of pressure. Azabu Haus is open very late (to about 0700), closes for about an hour for a quick sprucing up, and opens very early.

Once the Expat veered away from the Fois Gras for the healthier salad, I had no choice but to forge bravely into the breach. It was delightful, prompting more than a pang of jealousy from my companions who opted for the Haus Caprese. The mozzarella was fresh and real buffalo, although I must admit to being a little surprised by the volume of the salad my friends were served.

Our main courses (Wagyu Stew for the Expat, Porc for the Guru, and Hyuga Chicken for me) were similarly well-prepared, excellently plated, and served with enthusiasm. While Azabu Haus is advertised as Italian, my view is that it is closer to bistro French. Chef knows his stuff, the decor is stunning, and the location is sufficiently out of the way to engender a sense of adventure and exploration in the normally tacky Juban area.

We enjoyed a Brunello di Montalcino 2004, which I felt was a little over-priced at Y15,000 but which drank well and opened up delightfully.

This is a restaurant for lovers, and the patrons were mostly younger than the three gaijin in the front room. Makes one pine for a flopsy really, and I shall enjoy Azabu Haus with the Child Bride on the earliest possible occasion.

Azabu Juban [Map] 2-7-14, azabu275 Building, 1F; Tel: 03-5439-6671
Rating: Food: 7; Wine: 7; Service: 7; Ambience: 8; Price: 7 ($$$). Total 36/50