Saturday, 5 December 2009

Brasserie Manoir - Calm Sophistication

It can be tedious, Gentle Reader, to visit restaurants that have already been blogged by the nibbling crowds ... it can be so difficult to find something new to say, or a new way to say something. At the same time, there is such enormous variety and variation that I suppose one must struggle manfully through despite the mundane cacophony of varying opinions.

Your Humble Correspondent had wandered off the Brasserie Manoir in Ebisu with The Once and Future Blonde looking for a brief moment of culinary respite. Frankly, one gets the distinct feeling that many establishments are cutting costs a little too deeply and while we are not likely to return to the days of Chicken Kiev and Veal Cordon Bleu, many menus in Tokyo recently seem to trend to a vague beige jumble of low-cost, high-return winter-ish dishes. I swear I shall go a violent shade of purple if I am offered even one more haricot bean or ragout.

Manoir, happily, fell into none of these gastronomic cliches. I started with an excellent plate of seasonal vegetables which is somewhat of a speciality of the house, with good reason. Well presented, each of the offerings was delightfully tooth-ish and flavorsome. The Blonde was in raptures over a fois gras with a fig garnish, and our Sancerre Domaine du Nozay 2007 was a subtle partner for the flavors of both dishes.

Those of you who know your Humble Correspondent are aware of his predilection for all things porcine - so you can imagine how tickled I was to be offered a charcuturie of hand-made meats representing almost the entire anatomy of the noble swine. House-prepared ham, bacon, and sausage: all splendidly piggish. For Madame, a Beef Bourgogne that showed excellent balance between the meat and the accompaniments which is too often lacking when prepared by less experienced chefs.

Brasserie Manoir is an elegant and sophisticated venue, where attention to detail is obvious and the service is both professional and friendly. Toddle along there, Gentle Reader, when you're looking for culinary relief from the pressing hordes. And should you spy a strange creature in the corner strangely resembling a pig-man, toss a crust!

Brasserie Manoir [Map]: Hiroo 1-10-6; t: 03-3446-8288
Rating: Food 7/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 8/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Value: 7/10. Total: 36/50

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Back to the Grindstone

There has been considerable chatter lately, Gentle Reader, on the part of the nibbling masses suggesting that your Humble Correspondent had not been seen on these pages for some period of time. Pourquoi, they murmured - perhaps a medical emergency or an extended absence? Not an ounce of jealousy that they had visited exotic sites like El Bulli and Les Halles. Not an ounce ... but perhaps a kilogram or two.

The truth of the matter is that a combination of geographic difficulty (with one's place of trade now based in Yokohama) and the shuddering slowdown of the dining industry here in Tokyo has meant that journeys into new culinary adventures have been significantly curtailed. At a time when many establishments are finding things difficult, The Once and Future Blonde and I believe it's important to support the old favorites ... giving our meagre custom to those places which have gone out of their way to please us in the past, and promise to continue doing so in the future.

At the same time, we have enjoyed a few venues new at least to us. So I beg your pardon and forbearance while I catch up with the reportage with places like Manoir, Les Enfants Gates, Cujorl, Cero and others.

But at the same time - spare a thought for struggling restaurateurs and take the time to visit the "old" places. And if you see a red-faced foreigner who is counting out the change to pay the account, toss in a tenner or so!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Chez Tomo - A Pilgrimage

Continuing a tradition of plagiarism that began with The Mysterious Affair at Provinage, we turn to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales:

When June with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of May has pierced unto the root
And bathed each glass with liquor that has power
To generate therein, so sweet words flower;

... And many little bloggers make prosody
That dine through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to praise and rage)
-Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,

... And specially from every divers end
of Japan they to restaurants wend,
The blessed tasty victuals there to seek
Which sustained them when they sat so lorn and weak

Befell that, in that season, on a day
In Mita, near Roppongi, as I lay
Ready to start upon my pilgrimage
To Shirogane, full of devout homage,

Fortunate indeed I was, Gentle Reader, to join with fellow Eaters-Out-in-Tokyo Dominic and Jon on a visit to Chez Tomo, the Michelin 1-star in Shirokane that has attracted plenty of attention. Both of my fellow correspondents, neither of them Humble, have already posted (here and here) about our experience at the hands of Chef Tomoji Ichikawa. I shan't bore you with mundane details, the telling of which they are far more suited to than your Humble Correspondent.

What both comforts and confuses me is, on the other hand, how our palates get jaded here in the Michelin-City of Tokyo. My two companions on this pilgrimage damned Chez Tomo with faint (feint?) praise - splendid venue, superb service, great attention to detail ... what ho! But just a tad disappointed with the fare were my erudite friends. Pshaw! I say to them. The food is creative and highly focused around the highest quality ingredients. Imagination and presentation are at least the grade of many an establishment garnished with 2 stars. And the fact that the main dish was not to our taste may reflect, I fear, more on the diners than the kitchen.

What your Humble Correspondent begs to submit, milords and gentle ladies, is that our collective expectations around haute cuisine in Tokyo perhaps exceeds the reality that surrounds us. Perhaps, indeed, we are all a tad spoiled. For me, Chez Tomo is an elegant and enjoyable addition to both this fair city and the Guide. Remember, one star means "worth a visit if in the area" - not "expect the stars". Visit Chez Tomo when you visit Shirogane, and when you seek to impress rather than entertain. And your Humble Correspondent? He'll blog on ...

But none the less, whilst I have time and space,
Before yet farther in this life I pace,
It seems to me accordant with good manners true
To inform you of the state of every culinary venue!!!

Chez Tomo: 5-15-5 Shirokane, Minato Ward. t: 03-5789-7731
Rating: Food: 8/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 8/10; Ambience: 7/10; Value: ($) 8/10. Total: 38/50

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Che Pacchia - I pray a benison!

Gentle Reader, I crave a benison (I nearly wrote benefice, which I also crave in its second meaning). Actually, a step beyond a benison to a favor, a benignity. I beg of you to support a little restaurant of my acquaintance, in the hope that our collective custom can sustain its presence within a ten minute stroll of your Humble Correspondent's even humbler home.

Azabu Juban is named thus because historically it was the tenth station on an Edo-period canal system and had verdant fields of flax. More recently, it was also the home of Sailor Moon and her friends - creator Naoko Takeuchi lived there for a time as did your Humble Correspondent. It certainly does not mean "home of many tens of good restaurants". There are some, indeed a veritable concentration of Michelin notables, but a palpable lack of "regular" neighbourhood eateries that aim any higher than the milling date-ers or the chilling crowds of fast-fooders.

Enter Che Pacchia - an Italian establishment that takes its name from its desire to create an atmosphere of quiet calm and serenity where a dining couple might relax, and enjoy. An inaccurate translation might be "What a bed of roses!". I journeyed there recently with the Child Bride, henceforth to be known as The Once and Future Blonde. To forestall tedious correspondence, this new nomen arises from the T.H. White (sadly, no relation) novel Once and Future King rather than any reference to the warehouse of hair products and colorings to be found at Chez Hellhole.

What a spiffing little addition to the neighborhood! Awkwardly located on the 4th floor above a horrid soy drink emporium, Che Pacchia opened during Golden Week 2009 and has built a small coterie of supporters attracted to its simplicity, and superb delivery on the Italian food aesthetic. Chef shows a dab hand at both mainstream and regional cuisines, and despite being open only a short time, Che Pacchia is willing to meet the needs and requests of even its most demanding patrons.

We paired the excellent home-made breads that came out on arrival with some Moretti beer (bless his name!), and chose a very reasonably priced Gavi di communa di Gavi to accompany the meal. Attentive and knowledgeable staff made light of my many foibles, and went to great lengths to ensure we were well looked after during the meal and after.

We enjoyed a delightful artichoke and seafood salad for her, and asparagus risotto pour moi ... Your Humble Correspondent actually has a niggling dislike for those like Chef who can prepare risotto well, having failed in the effort himself an extraordinary number of times. This was followed by Saltimbucco Romagna for the lady, and a pretty little breaded veal cutlet with a lovely butter sauce that I asked to be accompanied by a juicy lemon. A small triumph, given that our last Italian excursion in the vicinity had more in common with packaged pasta than flavor or finesse.

Che Pacchia should be enjoyed with friends and boisterous colleagues rather than first-time acquaintances, but it should be enjoyed. So again, I beg those of you within wan mi-ta- (one turn of the taxi meter or Y780) to join me in patronizing this charming addition to Azabu. Its fate is in our hands, I fear. That is a serious responsibility that I feel sure you will see fit to assume. Who knows, I may never have to leave the area again!

Sadly, there is no web site to point you at.

Che Pacchia [Map]: 4th Floor Manivia Bldg, 2-5-1 Azabu Juban, Minato Ward. t: 03-6438-1185 Rating: Food: 7/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 8/10; Ambience: 7/10; Value: ($) 8/10. Total: 37/50

Monday, 15 June 2009

Special Event at Brin de Muguet

Gentle Reader, you may recall that I recently gushed effusively about Brin de Muguet in Ogikubo. Splendid place, really, if a little removed from the hubbub and crush of areas closer to town (and the Hellhole). Delighted to let you know that there are still some seats available for a very special wine tasting this Friday at said venue for the miserly sum of Y12,600 . The menu sounds scrumptious:

Tartare and white asparagus toast (Feste lente)
Marinated Bonito, black olive sauce (Hmm?)
Snails profitroles, parsley cream sauce (persile...)
Toulouse sausage with two kinds of mustards (Oh my!!)
Pan fried french duck filet devil sauce (Be quiet my groaning scales!)
Pineapple crumble (I shall)

All of this is matched with some special wines from Wine Prosperite:

Cristian Senez Champagne brut rose
Le blanc de Lynch Bages Bordeaux 2005
Domaine de Baron'Arques Limoux 2004
Domaine la Cabotte Chateauneuf du Pape Rhone 2005

Your Humble Correspondent shall definitely be there to bore all and sundry. For a seat, e-mail Wine Prosperite. But hasten, for with only some 11 places left it will be first-in-best-dressed. I promise to sit at the far end of the room, and speak only in a small voice. E-mail Wine Prosperite for a place at the board!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Le Petit Courageux - a little brave indeed!

The more faithful of you, Gentle Reader, will likely be aware that your Humble Correspondent rarely takes advice on restaurants. This unpleasant character flaw is the unfortunate result of too much time around those who believe that nachos constitute food, and that Budweiser stands for beer. There has also been little willingness to lend an ear to those from the Old Dart, on the assumption that there is even less likelihood of sensible conversations about food, for reasons that should be obvious. [Disclaimer: There are a number of you from the UK and USA whom I obviously listen to avidly. Please ignore the claptrap above. You know who you are...]

So you can imagine my consternation when a British acquaintance suggested recently that we dine at a "little place" he had noticed. My pulse rate climbed when he mentioned that he had never eaten there, and I was almost quivering with fear after he told me that said restaurant had pushed a flier under his door some time ago entitling him to a 10% discount.

What a horrid man I am! How dare I doubt a man obviously seized with a passion to impress! What detestable arrogance! The restaurant, Le Petit Courageux, is two streets behind the main Motomachi shopping area in a residential area and might be a little difficult to find. But on entering, one is struck by a sense of simplicity and quiet elegance. A glance at the menu was enough to quieten my restless spirit and quicken the appetite. We were in for a treat!

Chef spent a considerable time at the famous Michelin 2-star Restaurant Richard & Christopher Coutanceau at La Rochelle in Poitou-Charentes. La Rochelle is one of the more beautiful towns in France, and the port has an extraordinary history from the time of Eleanor of Acquitaine all the way through to the present day.

The influence of the Coutanceau father and son combination flows through the menu. There is a very commendable effort at authenticity, and one can readily appreciate the classique approach once the well-crafted dishes begin to arrive. The wine list is simple yet well thought through (some of which is supplied by the omnipresent Eric Dahler - my goodness, that man gets around!), and though my dinner companion was a self-imposed teetotaller I was able to enjoy a nice Macon by the glass.

The menu, which also has an a la carte option, features four courses - a light option at Y2,500, a 3 course option at Y 3,800, and a premium menu at Y8,000 where the diner conspires with Chef to develop a special one-off haute couture menu. Your Humble Correspondent was both intrigued and delighted by a special Yokohama 150 Year Anniversary menu at Y5,800 which features dishes from historically important identities or facilities over that 150 years. So impressed, in fact, that he plans a return visit within days to enjoy this wonderful opportunity together with the Child Bride!

Gentle Reader, this restaurant is a discovery! You simply must keep it in mind when looking for something out-of-the ordinary to impress friends and lovers, particularly those resident in distant Kanagawa. While Yokohama seems a trifle distant from the spires of Roppongi or Nishi-Azabu, the Shinjuku-Shonan Liner takes a mere 23 minutes from Ebisu to Yokohama station and from there it is a mere hop to Ishikawa-cho. Or couple a visit to this restaurant with an overnight stay in Minato-Mirai.

But whatever you do, find an opportunity to visit this interesting and satisfying venue. I am sure you'll come away both impressed and satisfied. And should you come across a obviously sated and happy garden gnome sitting on the roadside, do him a favor and help him to his feet. Otherwise I might miss the train!

Le Petit Courageux: 5-211-20 Motomachi, Naka Ward, Yokohama. t: 045-681-2665
Rating: Food: 7/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 8/10; Ambience: 7/10; Price: ($) 7/10. Total: 36/50

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Le Pre Verre - Something different

Omotesando strikes this casual observer as a cacophony of trends and trendies, something that does not quite fit well with the demeanor of your Humble Correspondent. Too many fashionistas, Gentle Reader, and too much strain on the neck as one swivels to and fro observing the constant ebb and flow of young pretties all seeking to out-do one another.

But when faced with the need to choose a restaurant that was both within reach and sufficiently sophisticated to dine with two long-term colleagues of the female persuasion, Le Pre Verre seemed a sensible yet affordable answer. I wanted to have a sensible business conversation with people who know the beauty and people business deeply - the fact that a corner table looked out of floor-to-ceiling windows meant that our chatter would be somewhat private. So putting on my best "crowd" face, I determined to push through the milling hordes of date-ers and date-ees and be a genial dinner companion despite the location.

Now, I should first register considerable surprise that the restaurant was not full - in fact, we were perhaps one of four or five tables for the entire evening. While that meant that we received excellent service, it was also slightly disconcerting. Was there something I had missed? Had some hapless Harajuku harpie cursed this fine establishment? Was the financial crisis extending its fickle finger so far?

Let me reassure you all (well, the two of you who read this blog) that your Humble Correspondent is completely baffled by this strange happenstance - Le Pre Verre (trans: The Glass Meadow??) is a good contemporary French bistro located in a fashionable and eminently visitable part of Tokyo. In fact, methinks this provides an excellent opportunity to enjoy good food at a reasonable price (Y4,800) and a very respectable carte des vin without the cat's chorus of out-of-place OLs interrupting gentile conversation.

Our entrees covered the entire pallette - we chose an excellent Bresse chicken and fois gras terrine, Tomato farcie, and a superb chilled cucumber and mint soup (YHC) and considerable debate ensued as to who "won" this round. I, of course, was in no doubt and as a very reluctant sharer refused my two companions even a teaspoon of this elixir.

The plats were even better - my veal cheeks were served with a vanilla custard that was both inspired and delicious, an often too rare combination. A red bream dish looked and tasted good, and the duck lived up to expectations by being moist and rich with a delightful lingering aftertaste.

Le Pre Verre bills itself as providing cuisine et vins d'auteurs which defies sensible translation, but delivers on a promise of creativity and fun. The restaurant would be better served by being full of mature diners, of course, but despite the somewhat "empty" feeling this is a very comfortable venue. It also represents excellent value-for-money and value-for-time-invested.

So take my advice, Gentle Reader, and stroll down the faux Parisien avenues of Harajuku to Le Pre Verre. Not only is getting a reservation straightforward, but you'll be able to enjoy both a little civility and a delightful meal at one stroke. And if you see a chap bibbed and lolling in the corner, have pity ... and be generous!

Le Pre Verre: 4th Floor, 5-10-1 Jingumae, Shibuya Ward. t: 03-3486-1603
Rating: Food: 7/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Ambience: 7/10; Price: ($) 7/10. Total: 35/50

Friday, 5 June 2009

Antonio's - the quintessential Italian institution!

Some may have noticed, Gentle Reader, that your Humble Correspondent rarely reviews the grand dining institutions that grace this fair city. There be dragons there, I fear, because people have strong views about these culinary icons. There is also the worry that one might be institutionalized oneself, having crossed the stile of middle age and started down the steep slope of decrepitude. So I have always refrained from discussing Petit Point (still my favorite restaurant in Tokyo), Les Saisons, and others. But, as Lewis Carroll wrote in The Walrus and The Carpenter:

"The time has come," the Walrus said,"To talk of many things".
Antonio's is, verily, an institution having been in continuous operation in various locations around Japan for more than sixty (yes, 60!) years. The main branch, in Minami Aoyama, is redolent with that tradition and boasts many happy regulars (Japanese: 常連 jouren) who both sustain and celebrate the Cancemi heritage. Said Antonio (see this history) chose Japan to ply his trade after Italy's surrender in 1943, having happened to be here at the time. Over the years, Antonio built a burgeoning culinary empire and the family continues to be deeply involved in operations.
With the Child Bride engaged in trade nearby, it was obvious that I should remedy an omission of near 20 years by magnanimously offering to escort her to dinner ... hoping my lack of readies would be overlooked in her surprise at such an invitation. We were greeted by the fair Ms Cancemi - surely the grand-daughter or great-grand-daughter of the gallant Antonio - and whisked off to a table that allowed us to enjoy a view of the main dining room and its curios without seeming to intrude on the dining pleasures of other guests.
Your Humble Correspondent(s) dined sumptuously, although she had the temerity to order the Cotoletta Milanese despite the fact that I wanted it. Ever your ready servant, Gentle Reader, I am always loathe to order the same dish as another at table - so I suffered through a wonderfully delicious Cotoletta Parmesano with that sad pout and quivering lip that so endears me to dining companions. We had both tried some frighteningly fresh salad before this, toasting the occasion with some fine Italian beer served in chilled tall glasses before moving on to a luscious Soave Classico that - while a little over-priced - matched the strong flavors of the food to perfection.
Antonio's is a very, very good example of traditional Italian cuisine backed by a noble record of success over three generations - all of this in one of the most difficult "foodie" cities in the world. I, for one, will use it as the yardstick by which I shall measure other Italian venues in Tokyo. It deserves your respect, Gentle Reader, but it also deserves your custom. Too good to waste on flitsome corporate fly-by-nights, take friends and colleagues to Antonio's.
And cast an eye around for a portly gent obviously escaped from an institution. I shall, no doubt, wink knowingly!
Antonio's [Map]: 7-3-6 Minami Aoyama, Minato Ward. t: 03-3797-0388
Rating: Food: 8/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 8/10; Antonio-ness: 7/10; Price: ($$) 7/10. Total: 37/50

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Sens - A little faux

A life on the gin-and-tonic front lines of business, Gentle Reader, leaves one somewhat gnarled and immune to the blandishments of luxury brands and "bling". A gentleman nevers pays attention to decoration, but rather focuses on companions and the purpose at hand. He certainly never takes price into account, preferring quality to fashion.

This is rather difficult to achieve at Sens, given the omnipresent and overwhelming effort that has been put into paying homage to Louis XIV style magnificence and gild. To get some idea of what confronted your Humble Correspondent on a recent visit to Sens, suspend disbelief and click on this link.

The French word "sens" can mean the physical senses like sight, touch, taste, and scent. I would counsel the operators of Sens that they may have gone a little overboard with the "sight" element, and perhaps a little under-board with the "taste" element at sister establishment Ginger's Beach in the Bay Quarter area of Yokohama. It's odd really - Sens serves reasonable food but the decoration lacks "taste"; and Ginger's Beach is light on the ocular senses, but the food lacks "taste". Ginger is apparently a Hawaiian chap, so perhaps there's more logic to this than your Humble Correspondent imagines. But I digress (again).

The menu at Sens is what one might expect - inspired by both French and Italian cuisine, there's little that can be poor, and less that might be excellent. My terrine was passing pleasant, and the beef fillet was better than most at this price. The menu feels like it was designed to be both sophisticated and approachable for less experienced punters, rather than reflecting Chef's particular preferences or peccadilloes. The wine list is similarly predictable and affordable. (Note the lack of the adjective "imaginative" in the previous sentence.)

But a word of warning - Sens is without doubt a "date spot", where the ganging (Scot: to go or walk [Old English: gangan]) hordes of nearly-30's and professional singles gather to mutually gauge matrimonial suitability. [Thought: Perhaps the feckless Jon may want to visit ...]

The decor should have been a siren warning to me, I admit. But at the same time, this restaurant is a (slight) cut above most of its colleagues in the Azabu Juban and the B1 dining area is less gaudy than the opulent ground floor... which is like saying that The Winter Palace in St Petersburg is less gaudy than Versailles.

I wouldn't recommend a special trip to Sens by any stretch of the imagination, but should you find yourself in the vicinity and wanting something more than yakiniku or pale imitations of Spanish tapas you could do worse than drop in.

But perhaps you might want to make sure the RayBan's are in ready reach. After a visit to Sens, the Taj Mahal will seem like a sensory deprivation experience!

Sens: 4-3-1 Azabu-Juban, Minato Ward. t: 03-3453-6515
Rating: Food: 6/10; Wine: 6/10; Service: 6/10; Bling: 7/10; Price: ($$) 7/10. Total: 32/50

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Wolfgang Puck - Enough Already!

I'm told, Gentle Reader, that Wolfgang Puck is a chef of some renown in the United States. But so, for that matter, is Colonel Sanders. There are excellent chefs in the USA. There are excellent restaurants as well. There are elements of Californian cuisine, and the passion of its foodies for quality ingredients, that thrill me. I have eaten well in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Monica and many other places.

But in my limited dining experience in that fine country, outside the more famous dining venues, finesse and consistency often run a very sad second to imagination and innovation. Except in New York, which seems strangely blessed with a bevy of fine dining establishments. Perhaps it's some esoteric influence of the Statue of Liberty, holding up her hand lighting the way to epicurean enjoyment. Or perhaps not ...

For most of us, Puck is a character in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream - the "shrewd and knavish sprite" and "merry wanderer of the night", officially Jester to the Fairy King Oberon. Which might explain the fact that most of Wolfgang's food is insubstantial, ephemeral to the point of being tasteless, and presented as if the magic is to be found in the mouth rather than the eyes. But I digress ...

Your Humble Correspondent has now braved four of Mr Puck's venues here in Japan, and two in the United States. All have been unmitigated culinary disasters. My first experience, in SoCal, was after a 22 hour flight from Sydney so I thought my taste buds were jet-lagged. My most recent sortie in Yokohama was only redeemed by a charming gentleman companion, sweet service from the dedicated staff, and a bottomless 7-Up on a warm day.

The salad was salad-y, the bread was doughy, and the olive oil was oily. But these were a tempting fairy illusion, Gentle Readers, compared with the noxious pap that presented as Herb Chicken. One fears Mr Puck is on an economy drive, as the pan was obviously not hot enough to give the chicken any body or toothiness. The skin may have been browned with a blowtorch, but it was not crisped unless one's definition of "crisp" is something south of the wrinkles on the late George Burns' face.

All of which is a great pity, because the location calls for something a little better. Forewarned is forearmed, Gentle Reader, so don't go looking for your Humble Correspondent in one of Mr Puck's establishments. And keep your friends and children away, for fear they'll come to think that this is American or Californian cuisine.

Wolfgang Puck: Various locations with maps on the website, should one be curious enough to want them
Rating: Food: 2/10; 7-Up: 7/10; Service: 6/10; Ambiance: 3/10; Price: 2/10 (it was free, and represented poor value for money). Total: 20/50

Friday, 29 May 2009

Va Tout - No risk!

People more intelligent than I, Gentle Reader, tell me that "va-tout" means to risk everything in French. A colloquial translation - rather rough I admit - might be "go for broke". Apropos of nothing really, save that your Humble Correspondent recently had the pleasure of a risk-free assignation with the Child Bride at Brasserie Va Tout [Map] which decorates rather festively the front of the Axis Building in Roppongi.

I had also touted this venue - much like a guilty secret, perhaps - to El Presidente, vouchsafing that it was not a "fancy" place and that, yes Virginia, lots of Americans ate there too. Lord Jim had introduced me to said restaurant with the promise that it served the best fries in Tokyo, and being converted, your Humble Correspondent is currently on a Belushi-esque "mission from God" to share the secret with as many people as possible.

Va Tout is the sort of comfortable and friendly restaurant that hotels should offer, and never do. Little fuss, and quiet professionalism mean that the dining public can simply relax and enjoy the fulsome array of options that the menu provides. Some time examining the chalkboard for the daily speciality dishes will almost always be rewarded with the discovery of a little gem - the Child Bride's Croustillade de Langoustine being an excellent example on our last visit. The wine list is also worth a close perusal, and you will most often be presented with a small sample before making your final decision. This too is a habit many other establishments should emulate.

But for your Humble Correspondent, the beauty of Va Tout is that it offers simple yet delicious French "comfort food", often a life line for a palate jaded by so much exploration and experimentation on behalf of the multitude of Gentle Readers looking to enjoy the delights of the world's greatest food city. The fries are indeed the best in Tokyo, and my habitual omelet never fails to delight. Or a Croque Monsieur, expertly turned out yet not requiring a second mortgage like some others (think Grand and Roppongi in the same breath) on offer in the neighbourhood. Simple yet delicious meat dishes, and seasonal vegetables and salads round out the palette of flavours.

Va Tout is also pleasantly inexpensive - certainly well under Y20K for two with wine - and excellent value-for-money, a fact that in itself recommends it to your Penurious Correspondent. Perhaps a little too much bric-a-brac, but not so much that one feels like one's in a tourist center.

So I recommend toddling along with friends and familial visitors rather than one's superiors. Light on the palate, light on the fussiness, and light on the purse. And should you happen to see someone resembling the Michelin Man wolfing down an omelet, do pop over for a little chin wag, won't you?

Va Tout [Map] : AXIS Building, 5-17-1 Roppongi, Minato Ward. t: 03-3568-2080
Rating: Food: 7/10; Wine: 6/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Value ($$): 7/10. Total: 34/50

Thursday, 28 May 2009

La Cometa - Stellar!

You may have noticed, Gentle Reader, a certain predilection on the part of your Humble Correspondent for French and Italian cuisine. Which is not in itself a bad thing, but which can sometimes lead to monotony. One is always on the search for new venues, with a high likelihood of disappointment.

So imagine my delight when introduced to a "new" establishment within a gentle stroll from the Hellhole - La Cometa [no website, but Tabelog entry here] is in Azabu Juban just below Toriizaka, on the second floor up a gentle set of stairs. "New" is rather an odd choice of words in this case, for La Cometa has been delighting customers for more than 25 years ... and despite the fact that your Humble Correspondent has been disturbing the good burghers of that fine village for the best part of 15 of those years, I had never taken the opportunity to try the fare.

So in the company of the gentle friends of the Tokyo Darkside, I made forth to repair this oversight with the Child Bride. Young Joseph had negotiated a seemly menu with Chef, which more than satisfied for a very reasonable price (Y6,000). He had also been shopping for some wine in the Italian section of Nissen (may their praises be sung for generations!), and had come up with a mouth-watering Gavi de Gavi white wine, and a choice of Chianti Classico or Montepulciano reds.

Make no mistake - the food here is good, wholesome, and thoughtful. While La Cometa is not likely to win a Michelin Star or Silver Spoon any time soon, such a goal is likely the furtherest thing from the proprietors' minds. Full marks to them for focusing on quality and imagination, rather than being all skirt and no knickers like some other "hussies" doing the rounds in Tokyo.

While we welcomed a number of new Darkside participants, this venue is small enough to feel comfortable and large enough to accomodate around 20 punters. I like the clean and uncomplicated atmosphere - far too many restaurants that have been running for some time tend to collect more bric-a-brac than the Antique Roadshow (it seems to me that many of these are Italian restaurants ... maybe it's something in the parmesano?).

Service here is happy and bustling, much like one would expect in a rural osteria, and La Cometa has a patina of friendliness that I for one enjoy above all else. Your Humble Correspondent fully expects to become a regular customer of this fine hostelerie, which fact may convince some to stay well clear!

Visit La Cometa with family and friends, and expect to share a variety of well-prepared Italian classics dusted with the occasional dash of magic. Look out for the portly and vaguely familar figure in the corner - he's sure to raise a glass ... and have it added to your account!

La Cometa [Map]: 2nd Floor, 1-7-2 Azabu Juban, Minato Ward. t: 03-3470-5105
Rating: Food: 7/10; Friendliness: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Value ($$): 7/10. Total: 35/50

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Harmonie - Bistro de Paris en Nishi-Azabu

Three's a treat, they say, and Harmonie is the third venue operated by Chef Jitsuhiro Yamada of Cogito and Marche aux Vins fame. Your Humble Correspondent is ever vigilant on your behalf, Gentle Reader, and it had not escaped my attention that it remained firmly in the "Must Visit" column of my mental notebook. So, with considerable aplomb and much anticipation, I bobbed off to Nishi Azabu to catch up with my former right-hand girl the redoubtable Ms Motonaga.

A word of advice about the maps on most English language sites who list this venue - do not even try to use them without an Ancient Sumerian Cuneiform dictionary. One needs the luck of Howard Carter's waterboy or the tenacity of Heinrich Schliemann to find the blessed place! Use this one in Japanese from Tabelog, or find a Google or Yahoo variant.

The restaurant has all the charm of a rustic French restaurant and is decorated with antiques personally chosen by Chef Yamada. When I last spoke to Chef, he explained that he established Harmonie to create the sort of place he himself would like to visit once the day's work was done. If so, he has excellent taste. The atmosphere at Harmonie is elegant yet friendly, and the service is exemplary.

Our meal (we both chose the "two plate" option with one entree and one main dish) fitted well with the venue - sophisticated, well-presented, and showing a dab hand in balancing flavor with fashion. I particularly recommend the duck here, as well as the excellent terrine which vanished off my plate in a nano-second (Ms Motonaga? Moto-second?). The servings are generous without being scales-smashing. The floor staff keeps a weather eye on the progress at each table, and dishes are delivered on time at optimal temperature.

We shared a bottle of Graves that was reasonably priced and precisely chilled. A range of excellent wines are available by the glass, and the bar downstairs is small yet comfortable.

Visit Harmonie with friends and lovers, or for a romantic proposal [there is actually a small curtained booth that seems perfect for an assignation, although perhaps a little small for the whole bended knee thing]. Your Humble Correspondent shall certainly be visiting again soon with the Child Bride - this excellent little restaurant is both close by and reasonably priced.

In the culinary desert of this part of Nishi-Azabu, Harmonie is a God-send. Do visit, and be a good chap (chap-ette) by generously adding that you read the blog. Either that, or pick up the tab for the fat boy with the soup bowl eyes ...

Harmonie: Nishi-Azabu 4-2-15, Minato Ward. t: 03-5466-6655
Rating: Food: 7/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 8/10; Ambiance: 8/10; Value ($$): 8/10. Total: 38/50

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Brin de Muguet - Veni, Vidi, Epuli

Among the coterie that makes up my nearest and dearest, Gentle Reader, Cost Center #3 has always been a little fey. Nice girl and all, but a little fey. Fey enough to have discovered a love for ancient Greek and Latin well towards the end of a degree in Economics. Fey enough to imagine that others are interested in feminine declensions in the votive etc etc. Fey enough, indeed, to actually want to visit 108 temples during a recent Grand Tour of the Ancient World.

Which came to mind - somewhat haphazardly I'll admit - when the Child Bride and your Humble Correspondent travelled to Ogikubo recently for a wine tasting hosted by the genial Eric Dahler at Brin de Muguet. Ogikubo is quite a journey from the more civilized areas your Humble Correspondent typically haunts, and the good man we engaged to deliver us to the restaurant confessed little more than a passing knowledge of the area apart from the railway station. Truth to tell, I felt a little like Julius Caesar conquering the Gauls. Or Hannibal crossing the Alps, although our mode of transport only resembled an elephant in the same way that a banana resembles an Airbus.
Brin de Muguet has been adding a different face to Ogikubo for more than 10 years as the first of Richard Rodot's culinary enterprises in Japan, joined later by four branches of Le Jardin de Gaulois. One senses the revenge of Asterix in all of this, but with successful establishments in the Shin-Maru Building and Printemps in Ginza there can be little doubt that Richard has hit on a successful model.
There is little of the rustic about the menu - on our visit, YHC and the Child Bride particularly enjoyed the Mousse de carotte et son consomme de homard en gelee, a delicate Gratin de fruit de mer a la creme safranee, and a very well-prepared Daube de boeuf au vin rouge au parfum d'orange. Considering Chef was cooking for around 20, the kitchen did a fine job.
Eric's wine, as ever, were a highlight of the evening. I was impressed with the 2006 Pessac-Leognan and the 2005 Margaux Chateau d'Arsac. At Eric's mostly reasonable prices, you can do little harm, Gentle Reader, by ordering these for your next dinner party or soiree.
Were one ever to consider crossing the Yamanote barrier again, Brin de Muguet would be high on my list of potential destinations. This is a good restaurant with a professional floor crew matched by a very competent kitchen team and I suspect - given a little encouragement - the menu de jour could be well worth exploring. There seems a sense of play and experimentation, or perhaps confidence, that is missing in most surburban French establishment in Tokyo. I should not be surprised if it might rise to 4 forks.
Brin de Muguet is a restaurant to enjoy with friends and lovers. And should you visit, please consider a small donation to the Cost Center #3 Relief Fund whereby we shall do our very best to rescue said fey Child from the fairies. Or at least buy a bottle of La Grande Dame to enjoy with The Child Bride, and toast eccentricity!
Brin de Muguet: 5-14-4 Ogikubo, Suginami Ward. t: 03-3220-5448
Rating: Food: 7/10; Gallic-ness: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 8/10; Price ($$): 8/10. Total: 37/50

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Obika - Bravo Signor Ursini!

One does not often find, Gentle Reader, a happy fusion when meeting a western food tradition built around a neo-Japanese concept. On the contrary, one generally finds con-fusion... as evidenced by such abominations like California Roll sushi or Teriyaki Chicken pizza. On the other hand, your Humble Correspondent is the first to admit that Tokyo may well be the weird "capital" of the world.

Enter Obika, snuggled into the unfashionable side of Roppongi Hills and being the Nipponica variant of the global phenomenon of Grupa Obika. This contagious (epidemic?) outbreak of mozzarella eateries is the brainchild of Signor Silvio Ursini of Bulgari fame. An ardent fan of Japan and a dedicated devourer of sushi, he was one day struck by the brilliant thought that it would be a good idea to serve his beloved mozzarella similarly presented with delicacy and wonder. One's mind boggles at just what said S. Ursini was doing at the time this particular thought struck, and how bears are related to buffaloes.

Obika is brought to us by the omnipresent Wondertable restaurant and bar company. With more than 20 establishments (all seemingly with different thematic thrusts), one "wonders" how they remember what to serve every day and how they judge performance and quality. Would that I had the providor contract!

The Roppongi version of Obika is pleasant and airy, well laid out around a service platform and sushi-esque counter that at least pays tribute to S. Ursini's original inspiration. It seems that perhaps Japanese - especially the bevy of young women who were dining at Obika when I visited with the Child Bride - are not perhaps as taken with the romance of sushi as the Italian gentleman because they overwhelmingly preferred the stylish cafe tables to the counter.

Now I need to warn you, Gentle Reader, to be prepared to be Office-Lady'ed to death when you visit Obika. During my visit, the entire male population of the restaurant would not have filled a five-urinal rest room, and the air was rent with giggles, Waa-ahs, and sugoi's. The tables have clever hooks designed to hold Gucci or Bulgari handbags and to auto-eject anything from a French brand (actually, that's not true). There are plenty of mirrors, and a broad selection of desserts which strangely do not feature mozzarella. Wine seems more decorative than consumed, perhaps a pity given the Napoli background of S Ursini.

In short, exactly right for Roppongi Hills which is perhaps a 21st century Japanese version of a vestal virgin House or a medieval nunnery... which would explain the prevelance of Ophelia-like long dark tresses and pale complexions.

All of that said, Obika is well worth a brief dalliance. It is significantly better than the other food outlets in Roppongi Hills, with the exception of Joel's Atelier. The food is well prepared, and the Ricotta and Spinach ravioli I enjoyed was a real stand-out. Of course, the mozzarella tasting dish (3 varieties from sweet to smoky to firm) also deserves your attention and the salads are both elegant and green. A daily pasta dish adds variety to an otherwise mundane menu.

The Obika site also has an online reservations function for the technologically gifted, and an offline telephone reservations function for the vocally gifted.

And should you spy a little round man being a little too metriculous with the Balsamic and the double-virgin olive oil, do please offer to pay the chit. It would help me meet the monthly payments on the handbags.

Obika: 6-10-2 Roppongi, Roppongi Hills (Keyakizaka-side) B1F t: 03-5786-6400
Rating: Food: 7/10; Girly-ness: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 6/10; Price ($$): 8/10. Total: 35/50

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Leeuwin Estate Concert - What an experience!

Before the wretched Jon gets to be able to post on his upcoming visit to El Bulli (Wikipedia; Restaurant), I am sure you'll agree with me, Gentle Reader, that it is entirely seemly that your Humble Correspondent should report on his recent expedition to the Leeuwin Estate Concert.

The Child Bride and I have oft been invited to this spectacular in the rolling hills of the wine country of Margaret River - but sadly, have never before been able to take up the opportunity. So, suddenly alone together with the Princess departed off to university, we threw caution to the winds and sallied forth per Singapore Airlines (Oh, may their name be praised!) to Perth via the Island-City.

Your Humble Correspondent has often regaled audiences with the story of Leeuwin's founding (see the sanitized version here) at the urging (and scratching, but that's another story!) of Robert Moldavi. All very jolly, but there was always an aching pain / pang in our conjugal hearts that we had not hobnobbed with the creme de la creme at the Concert.

Gentle Reader, this is something you simply have to do. The Concert takes place in an extraordinary natural amphitheatre, set among the gums and gardens of one of Australia's premier destinations. Chris Isaak was a wonderful performer, although a little too pink for your Humble Correspondent's taste. The stars burned brightly under the Great Southern skies, and the picnic basket provided by Leeuwin was gnawsome and fitting both to the setting and its guests.

Prepare to salivate:

Estate made chicken liver pate
Baguette
Estate made pork and duck terrine
Organic wafers
Pear paste
Wild olives
Black pig prosciutto
Chicken galantine, sage & apricot stuffing
Yarra Valley smoked salmon
Honey cured leg ham
Estate made chutney
Fresh salad, Vinaigrette
Maffra cloth wrapped cheddar
Pear and frangipani tart
washed down of course with premier Leeuwin Estate Art Series wines (Your Humble Correspondent prised an extra bottle of the awesome Riesling out of the Estate!). The Child Bride even got to wiggle (she terms it 'dancing') with some friends. What a marvelous event, and a highlight of life on the gourmet front lines braved on your behalf by your Humble Correspondent).
Special thanks to Dennis and Helen for the invite, and the Hills clan extended for their company.
Top that, Jon!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Delizioso Italia - bene, bene!

I venture, Gentle Reader, to suggest that Ebisu has a strangely Italian feel to it. Not the station area, of course, which is frenetically and savagely commuter-esque. But in the narrow side streets one feels a patina of casual enjoyment and genuine social interaction that reminds one of a piazza rather than a chome.

And so it is with Delizioso Italia. Feeling a little like a lordling on The Grand Tour, your Humble Correspondent dragged his portly frame to Ebisu 4-Chome to enjoy a meal with The Guru. As a historical aside, the sumptuous Biftek so much a part of contemporary Florentine cuisine was actually developed in Florence to accomodate these 17th and 18th Century English tourists who would spend one or two months among the Italo-English priviliged classes of Florence before heading on to Rome and points beyond. They needed beef, and lots of it.

This little trattoria had been recommended by Nick, of Wall Street fame, and I thought to humor him by taking a colleague there rather than someone important. Dear me! How fey of me ... how dismissive; how very, very poor form! Abject apologies and copious beers for Nick on our next assignation!

This is a splendid establishment with a bustling sense of busyness tending to mild panic that thrills the gastronome and invites exploration. Many of the guests are couples, deep in conversation with one another instead of the audience, and seriously trying to enjoy the evening. The restaurant "buzzes", with a sense of pleasure and an electricity that gradually draws you under its spell.

The Guru and I enjoyed three dishes each (yes, thus "portly"), all prepared with vigor and passion by a potentially superior chef, and delivered to table by an engaged and informed floor team. TG's Antipasto Mista might have fed a small barbarian horde, and my salad showed an excellent balance of texture and taste. The pastas were excellent, and the kitchen listened patiently to my peccadilloes about veal cutlet Limone before delivering a dish way beyond my expectations.

We also enjoyed a lovely bottle of San Gimignano Verdecchio that sang of the Tuscan spring, and some Italian beer that was appropriately chilled and served in small glasses rather than pint buckets [Note: English beers and ales should be drunk in larger glasses, but chilled beer tends to warm too quickly in tankards!].

I recommend taking a friend or lover to Delizioso Italia, or a colleague who understands your eccentricities. And should you see a Grand Tourist in the corner, Gentle Reader, raise a glass to toast the benefits of a classical education and a generous sponsor (yes, he paid!). I shall undoubtedly return the compliment!

Delizioso Italia: 1st Floor Lupinas Bldg, Ebisu 4-27-17, Shibuya Ward. t: 03-3440-5510
Rating: Food: 7/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Price ($$): 7/10. Total: 35/50

Sabado Sabadete - Dali-esque Dalliance!

Have you ever hankered, Gentle Reader, after a Spanish fling? An Iberian tryst, robust and energetic, yet never crossing over the chasm to romance? The Knights of the Tokyo Darkside group recently sallied forth to Sabado Sabadete in Shirokanedai for just such an opportunity, and came away both satiated and entertained.

Your Humble Correspondent first visited this unassuming establishment for a tasting of some magnificent Spanish Rioja wine with the effervescent Eric from Wine Prosperite. A grand evening it was, with plenty of good campesino food and a splendid performance by the Chef and Master with drinking beer out of a ceremonial decanter. Said chef, Gentle Reader, models himself on Salvadore Dali and has a penchant for those silly little red hats. But he is a jewellery designer by vocation, so perhaps forgiveness is more virtuous than aspersion.

So back we went with the Darkside, and filled this small restaurant. A good selection of Iberico cold meats and filling salads, along with Catalan meatballs (and achingly good quaffables from dear Eric!). Paella is prepared in a massive dish in the center of the small kitchen, and presented to the assembled multitude - at which point the performance begins. I'm told Sabado Sabadete uses beer and soda water instead of the customary red wine out of deference to its guests' attire, but the raucous hand-clapping and rambunctious challenges make this a quaint yet engaging exercise taking this aging rake back to his university drinking game days.

The point of Sabado Sabadete is its atmosphere and energy, and it is a welcome alternative in the fuss and bother that is European dining in Tokyo. This is a venue that excites with its broad smile and deep bosom of friendship, but is never going to get too committed. In short, Gentle Reader, it is a flirtation best visited on occasion and never with serious intentions.

Take your friends in some numbers rather than anyone you're trying to impress, and leave everything up to M. Dali. It will be light on the wallet and on the mind. And if someone steals into your group when the free beer is passing around in the decanter, you should smile knowingly and toast your Humble Correspondent's complete lack of pride.
Sabado Sabadete: 2nd Floor, Genteel Shirokanedai, 5-3-2 Shirokanedai, Minato Ward. t: 03-3445-9353
Rating: Food: 6/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 6/10; Ambiance: 8/10; Price: 7/10. Total: 34/50

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Two Rooms, Aoyama

There are some restaurants, Gentle Reader, that one wants to like as soon as one walks in. Your Humble Correspondent really wants to like Two Rooms ... I really do. Opening in the froth and bubble of Spring 2009 in trendy Aoyama (one might better say Nishi Omotesando), Two Rooms is an eloquent idea that is most of the way towards realization. "Two Rooms" refers to the separate restaurant and bar areas, nicely separated by a stylish glass walkway.

Another reason I wanted to like it was that it was introduced to me by the Child Bride, who accompanied me on this visit with The Don and The Duchess. The ladies of Chicken & Chablis had terrorized Two Rooms just a week before, and they had come away announcing the dawn of a new star on the Tokyo dining scene. The Child Bride believes I have a set against any restaurant she likes - a shameful accusation with little substance but the cause of some friction.

And like it I did! Your Humble correspondent was deeply impressed with both the service and the decor - we visited only some three weeks after opening, and the ex-Hyatt team that own Two Rooms showed a wonderful sense of both presence and place, while running a pleasantly tight ship on the floor and in the kitchen.

One might churlishly wonder if a little can be done with fabric or plants to soften the angles and reduce the echo. The booth seats along the floor-to-ceiling windows might be a little too warm or cool depending on the season, and the balcony area cries out for a little greenery or a curiosity of some nature to match the design sense of the infinity pool and the wonderful views. One might also suggest there is a need to lower the noise level in the Bar with some soft furnishings or fabric room dressings if the proprietors intend to have some punters dine out there. But these are personal preferences, and perhaps your Humble Correspondent is a little old-fashioned when it comes to preferring to hear a dinner conversation.

The menu promises excellent seasonality, and I for one admire the tight concentration on regional produce. Somehow food tastes better if one can place it in a certain geographical framework, and Two Rooms excels at balancing local sourcing with imported ingredients. A little work needs to be done on the wine beef to bring it up to the standard of the other dishes - this might comfortably be achieved by perhaps slicing it a little thicker and letting the delicate grape seed flavors resonate through the cut.

Two Rooms has a serviceable and affordable wine list, although they failed us on the Stellenbosch - either another look needs to be had at cellar quantities, or this wine has proved so remarkably popular as to sell out in three weeks. Again, service is discreet and informed - a welcome relief to the worrying trend towards star sommeliers at some other venues.

We happened to bump into The Canuck during our visit - not so hard to achieve, as he was sitting at the next table. Allow me to leave the last word to him: Two Rooms gives all the impressions of a rising star. The fear is that in the turmoil of fine dining in Tokyo and the flaccid economic environment, it might become a shooting star. Here's hoping he's just a pessimist.

Visit Two Rooms (make sure you do!) with both colleagues and friends. And if you see a strange little boy holding forth on the delights of Meredith Goats Cheese, do send over a bottle of some bubbles like a good chap!

Two Rooms [Map on the website]: 5F AO Building, 3-11-7 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku. t: (03) 3498-0002; e: contact@tworooms.jp
Rating: Food: 7/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 8/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Price: 7/10. Total: 36/50

Monday, 30 March 2009

It's still Bon, Monsieur.

The trouble with restaurants, Gentle Reader, is that one gets to - well - "like" certain establishments and to visit them on a reasonably frequent basis. This is your Humble Correspondent's preference. The trouble with blogs, on the other hand, is that one should endeavour to visit as many restaurants as possible in order to please the madding crowd. That would appear to be Jon's preference.

With one's reputation on the line escorting a VIB (very important Boss) around Our Fair City, your Humble Correspondent decided to fall back on Osteria Nakamura now removed to the back streets of Roppongi. This is in my view among the best Italian restaurants in the world, without the frills and frippery of the starry crowd, yet honest and earthy with a touch of brilliance that comes from Chef's overwhelming passion for good food. Oh the shame ... it was full, without even bench space for your portly correspondent and the VIB. Turned away, red-faced!
Nothing for it, then, but to repair to Bon Monsieur. It was (thankfully) vacant of all but a few counter patrons, and Chef Konno had that little glint in his eye that meant we were in for a treat. With the Tokyo Marathon on the agenda (Oh shame on you, Gentle Reader. Not I, for heaven's sake! The VIB...), we opted for fish over red meat and the Y6,000 o-makase to get the appropriate number of calories.
Oh brave Konno-san! Oh noble Konno-san! Your Humble Correspondent's tattered reputation was restored, mouthful by mouthful, much like Eliza Doolittle's was by the erudite Henry Higgins in Shaw's Pygmalion. Just how he manages it, with no staff and a steady stream of customers, is beyond my comprehension. But manage it he does, and I for one am gushingly grateful.
Note to the papparazzi: One notices an increasing cast of thespians gracing Bon Monsieur, including that chap with the glittering attire who grunts and grimaces in all those infomercials for cameras and car navigation systems on cable television. I assure you he is no different in the flesh.
Visit Bon Monsieur with friends, lovers and VIBs. Konno-san needs the business, and I need my savaged reputation restored.
Bon Monsieur: Roppongi 7-12-15, Minato Ward . t: 03-3475-6612
Rating: Food: 8; Wine: 7; Service: 8; Ambiance: 8; Price: 8 ($$). Total 39/50

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Mysterious Affair at Provinage

[With abject apologies, Gentle Reader, to the Estate of the late Agatha Christie... a blatant parody of "The Mysterious Affair at Styles".] Text in italics is virgin Cristie, in blue Your Humble Correspondent.


"The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known at the time as "The Provinage Post" has now somewhat subsided. Nevertheless, in view of the world-wide notoriety which attended it, I have been asked, both by my friend Jon and the restaurant themselves, to write an account of the whole episode. This, we trust, will effectually silence the sensational rumours which still persist.

I will therefore flippantly set down the circumstances which led to my being connected with the affair.

I had been invalided out from my previous company; and, after spending some months in a rather depressing period of rehabilitation, was given a month's dining leave. Having no wealthy relations or friends who might see their way clear to funding a little dinner, I was trying to make up my mind what to do, when I ran across Jon from Eating Out in Tokyo with Jon. I had seen very little of him for some months. Indeed, I had never known him particularly well. He was a good fifteen years my junior, for one thing, though he hardly looked his thirty-five years. As a habit, though, I had often eaten in Roppongi, his former haunt in Tokyo.

We had a good yarn about old times, and it ended in his agreeing to join me down in Roppongi to spend an evening there at Provinage with Dominic.

"Chef will be delighted to see you -- you've never been?" he asked.

"No" was my simple response. "Dominic keeps well?" I asked.

"Oh, yes. I suppose you know that he has posted again?"

I am afraid I showed my surprise rather plainly. Dominic, who had been blogging on Tokyo food before Jon, had been a handsome man of middling weight as I remembered him. He certainly could not be a kilo less than seventy now. I recalled him as an energetic, effervescent personality, somewhat inclined to charitable and social notoriety, with a fondness for fine food and playing the Lord Bountiful. He was a most generous man, and possessed a considerable credit card debt of his own.

The country-place, Roppongi , had been much explored by Jon early in his dining life. We had all been completely under Jon's ascendancy, so much so that, on his leaving for Otemachi, he left further exploration to us for posterity, as well as the larger part of his restaurant index; an arrangement that was distinctly unfair to us - his two lesser imitators. Jon, however, had always been most generous; indeed, we were so inexperienced at the time of Jon's burst onto the blogosphere that we always thought of him as our mentor...
"

********************************************************************
Breaking away from the Christie for a moment, Gentle Reader, Your Humble Correspondent must confess to not having an inkling of why he took this occasion to parody the Grande Dame of Crime. However, my two previous sorties (Artichaut and Le Remois) with Jon had proved somewhat disappointing and I was initially attracted to the idea of Styles and dear Captain Hastings as a metaphor for my "Eating Out in Tokyo" dinners. Like Hastings, I thought I would miss out on the "girl". This time, I managed to get both Jon and Dominic to the table and Provinage was more than equal to the test.

The dinner with those two erstwhile eaters passed uneventfully and Machine Gun (fingers) Jon has already posted with [sigh] photographs. Provinage is a splendid venue, with helpful service and that slight edge of innovation that makes a meal interesting as well as satisfying. Go there with friends rather than clients, but do go. As Jon says, it will be well worth your while.
********************************************************************


"...
Dominic at that moment passed the door.

"Eh! Monsieur Dominic," called Jon. "We must congratulate you, is it not so? You are satisified, no?"

Dominc blushed, and then smiled awkwardly. A man sated is a sorry spectacle.

I sighed.

"What is it, mon ami?"

"Nothing," I said sadly. "The others were two delightful restaurants! Thank you for introducing me to them."

"And neither of them is for you?" finished Jon. "Never mind. Console yourself, my friend. Provinage was bon, n'est pas? We may hunt together again, who knows? And then----"

Provinage: Koyama Bldg. 202, 3-1-19 Nishiazabu, Minato Ward . t: 03-5772-7272
Rating: Food: 7; Wine: 8; Service: 8; Ambiance: 8; Price: 7 ($$). Total 38/50

Friday, 27 February 2009

I Sentieri - A Collaboration

Some of you will recall the Tokyo Dining Group I started called "Tokyo Darkside" (post a comment if you'd like an invitation). The goals of the group, Gentle Reader, are to spend time with friends once a month, enjoy some good food and wine, and to do all of this for under Y10,000 each. Froth and bubble, I know, but we all wander around networking and/or high society events and rarely put aside an hour or two for friendship. Which is a sorely needed commodity in these troubled times.

Accompanied by The Child Bride and ten of our brave Darkside companions, we set off in search of the Holy Grail and a shrubbery ... no, in search of amusement and social intercourse ... to i Sentieri [Map] in Nishi Azabu. The map is directionally useless, Gentle Reader, so stroll in a sedate and gentile manner from Hobsons towards Shibuya, turn left at the first street (you're now heading towards Hiroo), walk approximately 50 paces and look for an illegible sign about the size of one of Their Majesty's Royal Mail stamps, and fix upon the concrete left-handed spiral staircase on your left going up to the 2nd floor with some imposing metallic doors. That is i Sentieri.

Mario Frittoli has enjoyed a frantic and peripatetic career in Japan and is a star of television and print. He is also a cook of some talent, so we were looking forward to great things in his Collaboration with Chef Yasuji Morizumi of Chabu-Ya and Mist. The affable Eric of Wine Prosperite had sent along some excellent wines (at a good price!), and all was in readiness for frivolity.

The menu was well considered: Sea Bream in Fish Broth, Handkerchief Noodles, Roasted Vegetables with Tuscany Oil, Quail Ragout Risotto, Coffee-scented Roast Lamb with Foie Gras, Lamb and Quail Chabuya Ramen, and dessert. Mario certainly shows great promise, and we all know that Morizumi is a ramen genius. The staff are excellent, and the atmosphere warm and welcoming. Layout and design are endowed with Mario's elegant sense of aesthetic. The map is, for those who may have missed Your Humble Correspondent's earlier vitriol, a navigational nightmare.

Unfortunately it didn't all come together exactly right; similar I imagine to Shakespeare's plays before rehearsals came into fashion. Serving that many, with seven courses, from a small kitchen, is no easy task. Perhaps a trial run with helpful friends (pick me, my Captain!) would assist.

That said, I'm actually prepared to recommend i Sentieri as a relaxing yet elegant venue for time with friends and lovers. There are nooks and crannies, as well as well-lit open spaces. Mario has always been an adventurous and skillful chef, and his innate Italian-ness means that you're treated almost as a family friend.

So wander along like a good chap and tell Mario I sent you. That should mean we both benefit. And if you see a tubby chubby sitting at the bar drinking Peroni, offer to pick up the account!

i Sentieri [Map]: Conforia Nishi Azabu 4-1-10 Nishi Azabu, Minato-ku t: 03 6418 7072 e: info@mario-frittoli.com
Rating: Food: 6; Wine: 8; Service: 7; Ambiance: 8; Price: 7 ($$). Total 36/50

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

L'EMBELLIR - Perplexing Pleasure [Updated with Glenn's comment]

Deepest bowing and shrill embarrassment come with this missive, Gentle Reader. I have been engaged 'in trade', forced to cast my lot with those in the unmentionable corners of society as I adjust to "employment" as a fulltime lifestyle option. To be frank, I'm working. Oh, the shame!

However, much like Lord Lucan or Princess Margaret down on their luck, I can sometimes rely on the benevolence of friends to provide the briefest glimpse of what life used to be like before I was cast into penal servitude down in Yokohama. So it was that the Child Bride and I ventured to L'EMBELLIR (why must people shout?) at the kind invitation of the munificent Sir James and Lady Ina for a wine-makers dinner featuring Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru Les Saint-Georges from Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair.

Young Master Liger-Belair is quite the new star of Nuits St-Georges, having burst onto the scene in 2002 and producing some spectacular wines that find their peak in the 2003, although I must admit to agreeing with Sir James that the 2005 is also quite toothsome with an interesting mineralization.

Chef Naoto Kishimoto opened this restaurant (which I believe is in the former Danish Embassy) in 2006, and was rewarded with a Michelin star in 2008 and 2009. There is no doubt he deserves this honour - the food is excellent, the service superb, the wine list thrilling, and the prices reasonable. This particular evening we had Galantine de gibiers Fondante d'Aubergine, Tarte Fine d'Anpo Kaki bien mur etc, Pied de porc farce de homard et Chevreuil saute au champignon, and Fraises et Fromage frais. Excellent, considering this was served a la russe to 40 diners at once.

Yet I retired from the table perplexed. I had dined here earlier with Charles and Nicole from super-trendy FivebyFifty in the week after the first Michelin star but had not posted. Why? Something is missing at L'Embellir, something almost spectral and ectoplasmic. Perhaps the ghosts of previous Danish ambassadors walk the halls, or even perhaps Danish princes.

For the life of me, Gentle Reader, I can not tell you what it is. But this restaurant somehow leaves you expecting more, but failing to deliver. Were this a more crass and tasteless blog, this would be the perfect place for some schoolboy sexual innuendo but your Humble Correspondent shall refrain. UPDATE: Glenn, who was also at the dinner, suggests that the room somehow lacks intimacy [See Comments] . I agree, and that could be it. Cuisine Classique served in a harsh post-modern Scandinavian room is pretty soulless.

I sincerely recommend you go to L'Embellir ... this is fine and elegant dining at its third-best, and I am sure you won't blame me if something is missing. But just in case, make sure you're dining on the company's sovereign and that you venture downstairs with ladies in the group. They'll love it. And maybe you can tell me what I'm missing.

L'EMBELLIR [Map]: 4-17-33 B1F Minami-Aoyama, Minato-Ku. t: 03-3423-0131
Rating: Food: 7; Wine: 7; Service: 7; Ambiance: 7; Price: 7 ($$). Total 35/50