Wednesday, 23 July 2008

A Tale of Two Pities

Things have been a bit tropical lately, and many people out on "summer break" - I think that means holidays - I've not been as active as normal. Sort of like a dining reptile, I imagine. Sated and sunned. Mad dogs and expatriates, methinks.

Some of my more perspicacious readers will know that I also run an occasional blog called Rude about Food, reserved for less than complimentary comments. But on this occasion, Gentle Reader, I am truly torn between two extremes for not one but two fine establishments here in the food capital of the world. And in that oscillatory frenzy ...

Have you tried the magnificent Peter restaurant at the new Peninsula Tokyo? Or, for that matter, the Hei Fung Terrace in the same temple of luxury? Oh my very goodness! We did a day-long corporate garbouil at The Tokyo Peninsula recently (it was actually the very rare exception in this sort of thing in being both useful and entertaining), and the momento oltimo was a celebratory dinner in the private dining room at Peter. Chef Patrice Martineau presented us with a truly magnificent meal that included a French Foie Gras Terrine with Biwa-Fennel Marmalade, a fish masterpiece of Roasted Amadai, his signature Sendai Beef Brisket Confit in Red Wine with Crushed Smoked Purple Potatoes and Caramelized White Turnips, and a selection of stunning desserts which included an honestly stunning Rhubarb-Cherry Vacherin with Tasmanian Peppercorn and Minted Meringue.

The pity here was that once left with the dubious task of choosing the wine (how do you satisfy four different approaches to wine among seven high-powered people?), your Humble Correspondent failed miserably to match the quality of the food or excite the interest of the sommelier. Too worried about cost, and not enough concern about the substance. Oh, the shame!

My problem at Le Petit Tonneau in Azabu Juban was exactly the opposite. I had blithely invited my Innovation Team to dinner after drinks at chez moi, and arrived with 5 highly expectant punters ready to test Chef Phillipe Baton. The buzz on the street was good. I started by choosing some wine from the excellent regional French selection - nothing too pretentious, most unusual enough to attract attention, and some bargains among an otherwise overly mercenary wine list. So far, so good.

The pity with Le Petit Tonneau is the food - most of what I ate was ordinary and bland, and it would have nice to actually receive what I ordered rather than the random dishes they served to me. It bore no resemblance to what I asked for, but I wanted to avoid embarrassing my team so I failed to ask the waiter to return the dish to the kitchen. I glumly suffered through it - oh, the shame!

The idea of "tapas" size servings is excellent, and should be adopted by more establishments. The thought and originality that has gone into the bill of fare is also very commendable - where else in Tokyo could one sample an eggplant and mozzerella mille feuille or the wonderful Provencal dish pissaladiere [btw, the Wikipedia explanation is completely wrong - it is not a pizza, but a flat open-face tart garnished with onions, olives, anchovies and sometimes tomato. The etymology of the word is from Old French pescion from the Latin piscis. It just looks like a pizza, like a doughnut looks like a truck tire].

But I think Phillippe should spend more time in the kitchen himself. The wine was excellent, but the cook at Azabu Juban is letting down the Petit Tonneau brand just like my wine selection let down the wonderful food at Peter.

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