Food without memory is just digestion

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Cujorl - Hybrid Trattoria

Some say Life is a journey, Gentle Reader. Others point to the notion of destination as the raison d'etre. For your Humble Correspondent, schooled at culinary forepangs in service to an ever-shrinking readership, it seems that Life is a random sequence of too few excellent dining experiences punctuated by an over-abundance of listless and mundane meals that tend not to lend themselves to an interesting tale.

Cujorl seems to neatly combine all three of these concepts - getting there requires a surprisingly challenging journey from Shibuya [Hint: Do not try to take a taxi from the station. The restaurant is tantalizingly close, but presents navigationally challenged draymen with rather a conundrum because of all the one-way streets.]. Arriving at one's destination is a welcome relief. And the dining experience can sometimes be sublime.

Having now dined there five times, almost always with my Stern friend, I can think of no higher accolade than to say the Cujorl is comfortable ... the food always meets the highest expectations, the sommelier dispenses both advice and wine with consumate ease, the environment is condusive to intelligent converation, and the bill is always reasonable. Cujorl is one of those rare establishments where your Humble Correspondent has never had a mediocre meal.

My personal advice is give into temptation and order the daily specials - typically there are two each of antipasti, primo, and secondi which arrangement seems to lend itself neatly to ordering one of each and splitting them with a companion. [Regular readers: Note the careful use of the verb "split" rather than "share". The intention here is to stipulate that the course arrives at the table already presented on two dishes. Your Humble Correspondent is not good at sharing.]

Part of a wider group of restaurants under the To-Vi umbrella (Review of Kitchen Cero coming soon), Cujorl has seen some slight changes in culinary direction since the feverish reviews of early 2009 but remains on your Humble Correspondent's Top Twenty list because of its combination of energy, flair and passion.

Unfortunately, Cujorl has apparently found its way onto something with the screechingly unambiguous title of Hot List Tables 2009 from Conde-Nast. One imagines this publication is American. Sweet Cujorl deserves our deepest commiserations for this feat - I harbor fears that it will be over-run with rampaging hordes of impecunious tourists staying at the nearby Cerulean Hotel.

But do wend your way along the back streets of Sakura-ga-Oka-Cho just past the 24 hour Cleaners to Cujorl. You'll find it entirely worth the journey. And should you spy a rather geographically confused individual wandering in aimless circles, take my elbow and guide me gently forward. There's a good fellow ...

Cujorl: 22-8 Sakura-ga-Oka-Cho, Shibuya Ward. t: 03-5784-5818
Rating: Food: 7/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 8/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Back-Streetiness: 8/10. Total: 37/50

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Il Mulino - an alien plot?

One wonders, Gentle Reader, what the collective noun might be for a group of waiters (suggestions welcome!). Perhaps a "condescension" or a "scorn" of maitres d', a "distain" or a "sniff" of sommeliers, and certainly a "clatter" of busboys. Maybe an "acquiescence" or an "obeisance" of doormen. But waiters?

A "bustle" of waiters comes to mind for your Humble Correspondent, having recently visited Il Mulino [Map] on Keyakizaka in Roppongi with The Once and Future Blonde. Il Mulino in Tokyo - as this establishment is quaintly and very informatively titled - is operated under license from the famed Manhattan icon and has graced these shores for more than six years. For some obviously dubious reasons which do not come immediately to mind, it had never come to my attention despite the fact that it is located in the adjacent apartment block to one's suitably humble pied-a-terre.

It would only be a slight exaggeration to suggest Il Mulino boasts a battalion of floor staff. Within seconds of being seated, 4 plates of antipasta and a veritable panetteria of breads had been deposited on our table ... none of which had actually been ordered. Truth be told, we were at the point of gently suggesting that they had possibly delivered another table's victuals when two more people popped over with the menu and wine list. Another materialized brandishing a tray of fresh scampi in a slightly threatening yet inviting way, and we nearly broke into applause after the 5 minute "Specials" soliloquy delivered by yet another.

Everything happens at a disconcerting speed. Perhaps this stems from the Pre-Show sitting at the original Il Mulino, but the floor staff are always threatening to break into a trot (but never do) and the dishes are served almost on top of one another. As a habitual (mal)lingerer, Your Humble Correspondent was just a little nonplussed by the whirl of activity.

Make no mistake, Gentle Reader - Il Mulino presents good food and complements that with a stunning wine list (which tends to the expensive side of the price divide). The scampi appetizer was among the best we had ever tasted in many years of service to the dining public. The Florentine soup was amazingly delicate. Our Gavi di Gavi Bava 2007 white wine was flinty and gnawish. The main courses were a little more pedestrian, but this probably had more to do with the speed of delivery than the preparation.

Looking back at the experience, one gets a nagging feeling that Il Mulino may in fact be a terrestrial manifestation of the Borg Collective. Each of the 15 or more floor staff walk but never run, and there is a subtle sub-vocal choreography that defies explanation. The lighting is deliberately low - so low that one needs ocular implants to read the menu. Every member of the team shares all the information about all the guests using some sort of sub-space ether communication not currently known to science.

It is completely obvious to any Star Trek aficionado that they are all cyborgs. Resistance is futile. ... but which one was Seven of Nine?

Il Mulino [Map]: 2F, 6-12-4 Roppongi, Minato-Ku (Keyakizaka). t: 03-5786-0337
Rating: Food: 7; Wine: 7; Service: 8; Ambiance: 5 (too dark); Borginess: 7. Total: 34/50