Friday, 30 January 2009

Le Lion ... Lyons dans L'Orient

There are times, Gentle Reader, when I think that the flitsome Jon would blog a visit to a convenience store. Kua'aina indeed! Not so your Humble Correspondent, who would rather quality rather than quantity of post. After all, your time is valuable and your dining pleasure my entire desire.

So it was with this solemn intent that I ventured to Le Lion in Ebisu [Map] with an English friend to try this recommendation of dear Dominic's. He rates it at 3 stars, which is perhaps a little harsh but perfectly understandable. Unfortunately, said hostelry does not appear to have a web site although it does have wireless access on the patio. Quelle dommage! Je suis desolee ...

As Dominic suggests, this is a "bouchon" in the Lyonnais style. The menu reflects this, as does the service which indeed is convivial and personal. According to Le petit Robert, this name derives from the Middle French expression for a bunch of twisted straw. For some reason, which I will leave to your fertile imagination Gentle Reader, this came to be associated with eating establishments in Lyons. As Lyons was a through point for silk workers, I prefer to think it meant "bedding" or inn. The word "restaurant" came into the language a little later in Paris, and really means a place serving a hearty soup which would restore one (Fr. restaurer).

The decor here is all timber and red leather, without a coconut tree or surfboard in sight. Thank goodness for taste, I say, and more power to this little spot that has been going from strength to strength since opening in 2006. Waiting for my Companion, I enjoyed a selections of French regional beers that deserve closer attention on my - or indeed, your - next visit. My Companion arrived, and we tutted and tettered our way through the delightful chalkboard menu.

Your Humble Correspondent tucked into the signature Terrine de Fois Gras with great relish and more enjoyment, while my companion launched into battle with some French Onion Soup that was delightfully rural yet toothsome at the same time. A nice little White Burgundy was wetting the whistle and the Radio France broadcast in the background provided at least the illusion that we were transported to la belle France!

He polished off the soup, and the plates were no sooner whisked off the table than we were presented with Confit de Canard (YHC) and Market Fish (Companion). Strange to relate, Gentle Reader, but the volume and frequency of conversation seemed to drop all of a sudden - as a serial duck fiend, I found Le Lion's version truly amongst the best I have enjoyed in fair Tokyo. Succulent, and full of flavour that shows a deft hand in preparation and patience in the slow roasting. I believe that the fish dish was also delicious, although I must admit to not paying too much attention.

Gentle Reader, this is a food experience you should make an effort to enjoy. With far too many faux-French establishments focusing on Parisian cuisine, Le Lion offers the chance to take a different perspective on comfortable and relaxed dining in a pleasant and oddly refreshing way. Make a reservation and tootle off down to Ebisu - if you see a grinning duck fiend in the corner, toss me a bone!

Le Lion [Map]: 1-21-16 Ebisu, Shibuya-Ku. t: 03-3445-8131
Rating: Food: 7; Drinks: 7; Service: 7; Ambiance: 7; Price: 7 ($$). Total 35/50

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Le Remois ... Branding Rules!

Gentle Reader, I've been distracted of late with a four-letter word ("W**K") and not up to my usual habit of correspondence with you. Fey, I know, but a sad reflection of these troubled times. Fancy, my patron (employer) requiring some return on the meager allowance (salary) - a mere pittance! - that he provides. What is the world coming to?

Your Humble Correspondent did indeed dine with Jon recently, and a jolly repast it was too. As the poet says, "It is the faire acceptance, Sir, creates The entertainment perfect: not the cates." (c. 1616) For those not familar with Elizabethan English, what Jonson means is that the company is more important than the fare.

A fortuitious happenstance, as Le Remois is perhaps better suited to our less worthy brothers and sisters. The food is reasonable, the wine list unremarkable yet affordable, the service weak, and the decor bland. We both enjoyed the grilled asparagus as a starting dish - after all vegetables are an important part of the food chain although I must confess to preferring mine via some ruminant rather than a la mode.

His Lamb Navarin came interestingly packaged in a splendid cassoulet pan and was suitably bean-y. Navarin is a French ragout of lamb or mutton. I suspect the dish was actually navarin printanier given the added vegetables, but describing it as such would probably be wasted on most of this establishment's patrons. While some say the name "navarin" relates to the 1827 Battle of Navarino, I would fain suggest that because there is plenty of literary reference to the dish before said battle we agree with Larousse that it refers to the traditional turnips -- navet, in French.

My confit de canard was serviceable, although I'm sure connoisseurs would perhaps be a little disappointed. Not Jon - he thought it was quite good but you can never quite trust these foreign types, can you?

The problem with Le Remois is that it is all far too predictable, and entirely consistent with "chef as a brand" rather than creating good food for appreciative customers. Reminiscent of Gordon Ramsay with Plane Food at Heathrow rather than a superb restaurant like Hospital Road. Chef Isaki Yanagidate at Reims Yanagidate is a genius, but Le Remois is not worthy of him.

Le Remois [Map]: 5th Floor, Shinmarunouchi Bldg, 1-5-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-Ku. T: 03-5224-8771
Rating: Food: 6; Drinks: 7; Service: 4; Ambiance: 5; Price: 6 ($$). Total 28/50

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Ogawaken (Daikanyama) - Food Theatre

Friends, Gentle Reader, are one of life's sweetest pleasures. Particularly foodie friends. Especially foodie friends who invite you to dinner at fabulous restaurants. The Professor (a.k.a The Man formerly known as The Ad Guy) is such a friend. Together we have enjoyed all manner of fine fare, and his patient and generous way of dealing with me is a blessing.

At his suggestion, we set off to Ogawaken in Daikanyama (Map). The group that operates this restaurant has a long history - this photograph is from 1905 (Meiji 38), and shows the first Ogawaken in Tameiki. Tetsugoro Ogawa had learnt to cook at an English diplomat's home in Yokohama, and opened his restaurant at the ripe old age of 28. The Ogawa family and the restaurant staff all lived "above the shop" on the second floor. Today the company is better known for the "Raisin-wich" than for fine food, and has a number of retail outlets around Tokyo.

We had asked for the o-makase (ignore the "sushi" focus in the Wikipedia link) menu at the counter, which means you literally sit on the edge of the kitchen and get to watch absolutely everything. Chef Tadasada? (忠貞) Ogawa rules over quite the largest kitchen I have ever seen in Japan outside of a grand hotel, with some of the most amazing appliances one could wish to see. I'm told that one could purchase a Mercedes for the cost of the magnificent steam oven.

We counted seven kitchen staff, and three floor staff. Apart from your Humble Correspondent and The Professor, I think there were 4 other diners. We started with some delicate vegetables accompanied by a Louis Latour Puilly Fusee 2007 chosen by The Professor, and worked our way through eight sublime courses that individually and collectively delighted all five senses.

But what attracted our attention more than anything else was the subtle theatre being played out before our very eyes. There was a subtle dance between all the actors in the kitchen, from Chef Ogawa spending 30-some minutes trimming (yes, trimming!) our wagyu steaks to the young man who guarded the simmering cauldron of stock that had pride of place in the kitchen. Every 15 minutes, he would skim this fragrant liquid gently blowing the fat into a separate bowl.

Or the tossed salad chap - perhaps 50 tosses of the choicest lettuce with a transcendent dressing. Each toss a precise 25 centimeters. Each leaf making two revolutions. Careful attention to ensure nothing was bruised.

Regardez! The dessert course lads, hulling fresh strawberries in tight precision that would do the Japanese Synchronized Swimming team proud! Chef running everything in a tight SILENT precision worthy of a ringmaster.

Let today mark a new page in the noble house of Ogawa. While this restaurant has been a well-kept secret for some years, and a venue at which it has often been difficult to secure a reservation, allow your Humble Correspondent to urge you to get on the telephone and secure a seat. Ask to sit at the counter, where you get to observe a sublime piece of food theatre. And no giggling!


Ogawaken [Map]: 10-13 Daikanyamacho, Shibuya Ward, 03-3463-3809
Rating: Food: 8; Drinks: 8; Service: 8; Ambiance: 9; Price: 8 ($$$). Total 41/50

Saturday, 3 January 2009

HUMiD: It's not just the weather!

Your Humble Correspondent was bereft, Gentle Reader. Invited to a fellow Christmas refugee's beach shack in Noosa for bubbles, we were lamenting the availability of "foodies' food" in the verdant and vibrant playground of Noosa. "Oh, the pain ... the pain" went the chorus from the Child Bride and your piteous scribe. As previously noted, the ingredients are superb and one could not want for better venues. Why can't people turn this into quality fare, instead of pap more worthy of an English grandmother's kitchen?

"Hold on, old chap!" ventured the Canuck. "You should try humid". Poor deluded soul, thought I. After all, I had grown up in this vicinity ... the humidity was remarkably pleasant at 80%, and conducive to champagne consumption in an oddly satisfying fashion. [Note: In the same way that Inuit have an extraordinary number of words for snow, Queenslanders have many (umm, 3?) words for "sticky"]. He was obviously confused. And then he rang the restaurant, and made a booking for me. Oh Happy Day!

Serendipity is a funny thing, Gentle Reader. Horace Walpole coined this remarkable word to describe the curious happenstance where a paraphrasing Correspondent makes "discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which he was not in quest of....".

HUMiD is a discovery worthy of the Three Princes of Serendip. Hidden in the back streets of Noosaville, it is an oasis of quality and friendly service in the wet desert of the Sunshine Coast. Here, at last, a chef in complete control of her kitchen. Here (Oh, felicitious day!) a floor staff that understands quiet and efficient service. Finally a "fusion" or "contemporary" restaurant that carries food service traditions forward, instead of irrevocably departing from them.

HUMiD's website describes the welcome as "arriving at an old friends's home", and I for one concur. This restaurant has all the warmth of an old favorite, yet projects so much vitality and energy that it almost leaves one breathless.

We chose the San Choi Boi and Scallops on Polenta to start - both were excellent and delightfully delicate. 'Ah, this is more like it' we ventured, and while the Child Bride sipped away on a Limoncello and Champagne with Muddled Limes cocktail, we thanked the Heavens for this little slice of Elysium. On, then, to my Assiette of Pork and some Balga Lamb for Her Highness. Oh my very, very goodness! Fine food, real food, delicious food ... Why can't we negotiate to bring this jewel to Tokyo!
My advice to Tokyo residents is to immediately drop all pretence and fly off to Noosa (having previously made a reservation at HUMiD). Take only your closest companions, those you would trust with a deep secret. Sit near the windows to take in the view, with your back to the door if at all possible. We wouldn't want the news to get out - HUMiD is hot!
HuMID: 195 Weyba Road, Noosaville, tel: +61-7-5449-9755
Rating: Food: 8; Drinks: 8; Service: 7; Ambiance: 8; Price: 8 ($$$). Total 39/50