Food without memory is just digestion

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Le Clos Montmartre - Worth further investigation!

Only an unfortunate rapscallion like your Humble Correspondent would find himself with a teetotaller in a Kagurazaka bistro like Le Clos Montmatre that had been established by renowned French sommelier Jannic Durand. Hard to fathom really. Considerable lack of foresight, and world-class lack of planning.

At the same time, the recommendation of my vinetarius Eric the Cork was too good to pass up, Gentle Reader, especially when one was journeying to Suidobashi anyhow. Lavish praise is due to Eric, for this is indeed a splendid little spot! To my mind, the most accurate and concise description of Le Clos is provided by our erudite and amazingly informed friends at Pig Out Diary who described it as "authentic". Pig Out Diary is one of the best Tokyo food blogs we have encountered, Gentle Reader, although sadly it doesn't link to this Humble collection of mutterings.

"Authentic!", it is (note the added exclamation mark). Le Clos Montmatre prides itself on refusing to Japonicize its food and service style. Your Humble Correspondent likes this approach - the food is prepared and delivered with an eye more to quality and taste than sugoi-ness or performance.

We sampled a variety of dishes - pretty little quiches, meaty terrines, comfortable confits, a splendid little salad, and some quite remarkable seafood. The single terrible disappointment was that one was reduced to drinking apple juice (although there was a slight indulgence in a pleasant little pinot which appeared to one's left, and deserved a modicum of attention). The service was attentive yet non-intruding, and M. Durand's steady control of proceedings was evident despite the homme himself being rather retiring.

M. Durand believes that there are many wonderful wines to be discovered in the space between the grand chateau and 2-shilling plonk. He is of course correct. His goal is to - bless him - sacrifice himself on our behalfby finding these wines. One has to admire his dedication, for the wines on offer are amazingly varied and remarkably well-chosen. This chap is a bit of a globe-trotter, and after a stint at a Paris 2-star babysitting 28,000 bottles representing about 3,000 labels he was sommelier at Belle Epoche at the Hotel Okura for 8 years. He opened Le Clos in 1998.

Finding information on this restaurant is almost as difficult as finding the place itself - to achieve the latter, intrepid travellers should walk up Waseda-dori from Sotobori-dori to the Royal Host. Without entering that house of pain, turn right and then take the next right down the alleyway.

Your Humble Correspondent will be visiting Le Clos Montmatre again soon. You will be able to identify me through the conspicuous lack of apple juice on the table. Cast a weather eye over the clientele, Gentle Reader, and should you glimpse a likely and furtive rapscallion you might consider sending over a glass of said juice. For which you would earn my undying enmity ...

Le Clos Montmatre [Map]: Ryo1 Kagurazaka Bldg. 1F, 2-12 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku Ward. t: 03-5228-6478 [Closed Sunday]
Rating: Food: 7/10; Apple Juice: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Price-Performance: 7/10. Total: 35/50

Daikichi - A Stroke of Luck!

It was with melancholy tread, Gentle Reader, that we wound our way to Daikichi in Daikanyama [No web site, but this summary in Japanese] [Map] to bid adieu to dear Lady Piffle and Lord Schatzie. The Once and Future Blonde had arranged to meet this delightful couple during the very hectic lead-up to their departure from these fair shores, and finding himself at a loose end your Humble Correspondent toodled along as well. Schatzie himself had promised that this was an entirely admirable yakitori restaurant, and so the evening promised much enjoyment despite the impending sadness.

Most casual observers would assume that yakitori is a firmly traditional Japanese addition to gastronomy, although in cheaper establishments it perhaps is more often pabulum than delicacy. Truth be told, Gentle Reader, yakitori is a relatively recent addition to the galaxy of Japanese food styles. It is rather a surprise that the food took the generic name yakitori, because most skewered dishes in the Edo period (1603-1868) were in fact oden and tofu treats. Gradually, street hawkers began to grill a range of fowl (but not chicken) as well.

Japanese in general did not really start eating meat until the Meiji Period (1868 - 1912), and chicken meat was actually more of a luxury then than beef. Sukiyaki also raised its pretty head at this time (Sidestep: suki is a hoe or spade, and yaki means "to broil". This was predominately a fish dish until about 1900), as well as meat-based donburi like gyudon.

Chicken yakitori made with Cochin chicken achieved some measure of favour with the more well-heeled during the Taisho Period (1912 - 1926) but the style really only enjoyed wider popularity from the 1960's when broiler chickens from the United States started to be imported in appropriate quantities. Indeed, if one opts for the non-chicken varieties one will closer to the roots of this cuisine than one might imagine. For a more "authentic" selection, try pork with the tare sauce or the very rare venues that still offer historically accurate but perhaps kawaiso-challenged skewered fowl like Japanese pheasant, quail, duck, geese, sparrows, bulbuls, and lark. Or not, as is your wont.

Your Humble Correspondent is quite the fan of good yakitori, and on this measure Daikichi is a skewer above its competitors. Those in the know advise that Daikichi buys produce on a daily basis, depending on quality and likely number of diners. That means ingredients are not frozen or otherwise culinarily abused, and it shows in the wonderful flavours that the restaurant turns out. Service is cheerful and prompt, despite the fact that Daikichi is a family affair (Father, Mother, Daughter) and often gets quite hectic.

We tried (in no particular order) hatsu chicken heart, rebā liver, tsukune chicken meatballs, kawa chicken skin, tebasaki chicken wing, negiwa chicken and scallions, and nankotsu chicken cartilage as well as a scrumptious salad and the to-die-for yaki-onigiri grilled rice cakes. Brau Meister beer from Kirin is on tap, and there is a reasonable selection of sake on offer.

Try Daikichi with friends (only). And spare a thought for Piffle and Schatzie, who will sadly be sans yakitori in Berlin only too soon. It's enough to make a man weep, dear Friends. Until the next course comes ... Irrashaimase!

[Note: I am still to visit Serata in Nishi-Azabu, which I am reliably informed is the best yakitori in the world. Hmmmm ... we'll see!]

Dai Kichi [Map]: B1F, 12-18 Daikanyama, Shibuya Ward. t: 03-3496-9222 [Closed Wednesday]
Rating: Tori: 7/10; Sake: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Skew: 7/10; Price-Performance: 7/10. Total: 35/50

Friday, 9 April 2010

Aux Gourmands - Entirely Apt!

If Aux Gourmands [Map] (Japanese only, review here) was in any other city in the world, Gentle Reader, it would be championed and feted with considerable passion. And it would be impossible to get a reservation for one of the 12 table seats or 5 counter stools. Despite the fact that it is deliberately location-disadvantaged down a laneway in Azabudai ... But with blessed happen-stance, it competes for attention in Tokyo - so that mere mortals like your Humble Correspondent get to savour its superb eccentricities and sharply-focused commitment to quality.

It had been some time, Gentle Reader, since my last chance to dine with Sir James. At his suggestion, we repaired to Aux Gourmands on a cold winter's evening for the serendipitous reason that neither of us had ever been there before. My delightfully Oxbridge companion was not at his best, having joined an Indian business partner singing Beatles songs at karaoke until slightly before 6:00 a.m. Despite that, he had bravely chosen to honor our engagement and was determined to battle on.

It would be false of me, Gentle Reader, not to admit to having getting no little thrill out of the mere name of this establishment. "How entirely apt for an erudite couple like Sir James and moi", I thought. Perhaps he had deliberately chosen this restaurant as some sort of subtle compliment. Perhaps, oh happy thought, he had finally recognized your Humble Correspondent's finer side. No, it was just coincidence he advised, neatly pricking the bubble of ego.

Chef Yokosaki has wended a different road to most chefs. You should know, Gentle Reader, that he boasts a ten year career as a professional boxer prior to starting in the world of gastronomy. This information is offered in your best interests, so that you might avoid overt criticism of the meal. After time studying in France, he was chef at Bistro Mars for four years before opening Aux Gourmands some six years ago.

Our meal was just before your Humble Correspondent's Lenten observance, so we agreed that we would 'omakase' and leave the food up to Chef. Wherein, we were presented with some wonderful small plates of oysters, boudin, and a splendid mousse. You will recall, Gentle Reader, that one doesn't share at table, so this approach by the floor staff seemed appropriate and, well, apt. In terms of libations, Sir James had chosen the Morey St Denis Domaine Paulot 2001 ... thereby demonstrating considerable skill and a certain understanding of my predelictions on the wine front.

Then came some startling courses - firstly a brave Game Terrine followed by a stellar Fois Gras and Truffle risotto and then a simply delightful Porc Couchon. Since my earliest times breasting the table (these days, more like 'belly-ing' the table!), your Humble Correspondent has delighted in carefully prepared crackling as the only proper accompaniment to pork - and Aux Gourmands produces a version that would have the staunchest of friends fighting to the death for the last piece. We finished with a selection of cheeses.

This is a restaurant that deserves your custom, Gentle Reader, as both its name and its food are entirely apt. Suited to people like you, ... and me. You should dine there with friends and colleagues rather than visitors, given the tight seating arrangements. But should you happen to notice a rather noxious individual hunting for crackling in a sort of "Precious" ring-seeker fashion, be kind and look the other way!

Aux Gourmands [Map]: 3-4-14 Azabudai, Minato Ward. t: 03-5114-0195
Rating: Food: 7/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Aptness: 7/10; Price-Performance: 7/10. Total: 35/50

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Restaurant Hiromichi - Elegance emerges in Meguro

There is little that has previously commended itself, Gentle Reader, to the tiresome thoroughfare between Ebisu and Meguro that parallels the railroad tracks. It has been consigned to a dreary existence since it was the scene of some discombobulation by your Humble Correspondent many years back when he tumbled from a motor-scooter and tore the seat out of a new suit. Regardless of the heroics. Regardless, again, of the children thereby saved from perfidy.

But that has all changed now that Restaurant Hiromichi [Map] has landed, as if from some gastronomic Elysium. Or more precisely, now that Chef Hiromichi Kodama has landed from the 1-star Chemins in Akasaka. While it still has some way to go before becoming a gourmands' mecca - after all, there is only one place worth visiting and this is it - there is suddenly a reason to wander lonely as a cloud along this very carriageway. At which your Humble Correspondent is somewhat of an expert.

Chef Kodama aims to produce "jitsuryoku-ha" French cuisine. He succeeds, brilliantly. The Japanese word jitsuryoku is normally translated as capable and effective, but it also has a feeling of "the power behind the throne" in certain uses.

This is more than "capable" cooking; it is a mastery that expresses itself in food that is quietly confident and an unrepentant expression of sublime virtuosity. Chef Kodama represents the younger generation of highly experienced French chefs in Tokyo, the presence of which group goes a long way to explaining the continuing rise of this fair city in the gastronomic halls of fame.

Your Humble Correspondent first ventured there sometime back to meet The Duchess in a vain effort to convince here to add her considerable skills to the burgeoning team in Yokohama. Got my just desserts, actually, because one should never mix business with pleasure - particularly when the pleasure component is as Xanadific as Restaurant Hiromichi.

For entrees, we enjoyed Les Bonbons de boudin noir et pommes de terre croustillantes (nuggets of boudin noir wrapped in crispy potato with a caramel and apple reduction) and Bien fait des mer du printemps,montagnes,et de nature (Goodness, how poetic ... Blessings of the Oceans, Mountains, and Fields, or much more mundanely 'spring salad'). Oh the decadence, oh the delicacy! Delightfully prepared, and each dish a feast for the all the five senses.

Our main courses were Ballottine de "Shamo Kawamata" parfum de romarin (Ballotine of Kawamata gamecock fragranced with Rosemary) and Canard challandaise rôti et Crème de confit de canard (Roasted Challandaise duckling with Cream of Duck Thighs). A coarser scribe might tend to a rampantly sexual description but I shall forbear, except to say that it was better.

Restaurant Hiromichi has over 200 French wines for your enjoyment, although your Humble Correspondent has to admit to not trying them all (yet). The Sancerre we enjoyed was delightfully laced with the minerality of the terroir with a fresh acidic finish, and expressing all of the full character of the fruit.

Enjoy Restaurant Hiromichi with someone special, someone very special indeed. This is one of a handful of restaurants that will be best enjoyed as an occasional extravagance, rather than a casual stop-gap. Try not to visit more than, say, once a week.

And raise a coupe de champagne to the Shadow at the window. After all, The Shadows knows ...

Restaurant Hiromichi [Map]: Mita 1-12-24, Meguro Ward. t: 03-5768-0722
Rating: Food: 8/10; Wine: 8/10; Service: 7/10; Capability: 8/10; Price-Performance: 7/10. Total: 38/50

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Ten ways to ensure a successful dining experience!

Following on from my eccentric and perhaps pompous view of restaurants to avoid, Gentle Reader, it strikes me that one should make some suggestions about how you can ensure that your excursion will be successful. Of course, one could simply offer the observation that you should follow the advice in this blog - but that might be too self-promoting. Instead, permit me to proffer instead the following 10 point guide:

1. Planning Any decent dining experience demands planning. It may sound rather obvious, but one is always surprised at the number of people who start with location, and then consider what restaurant options might be available and who might be invited. Actually, your Humble Correspondent is not without guilt in this respect although I hasten to add that my location "frame" is generally only 'inside the Yamanote Line'. In my view, the hacks have it right when they run through the "Who, What, When, Where, and Why" routine. Take this approach and you'll find that the whole thing falls neatly into place.

2. Reservation Always make a reservation. Any restaurant that does not take reservations does evil at two levels - firstly, by not affording its patrons the appropriate degree of respect by ensuring that they won't be disappointed; and secondly by failing to understand that regular customers are much more valuable than fly-by-night-ers. If the venue does not take reservations, it is a sure sign that it is either it is far too busy for a quiet luncheon or dinner, or not busy enough to require them (and thus you should flee!). If curiosity is still nibbling at your mind, go by yourself and determine which of these alternatives is true!

3. Preferences Do your utmost to determine whether your companions have any dislikes or allergies - this should not impact your restaurant choice, as you are the host and by now you have already determined a venue. However it is important to make sure that you advise the Maitre d' or Chef if any special needs should be addressed. This is appropriately polite towards both your guests and the restaurant, and is simply a matter of good manners.

4. Directions One recalls with some fond nostalgia the days of formal invitations - which often came with a dress code, a set of directions, and occasionally even a map to the designated venue. In these more electronic days, this is sadly no longer a very frequent occurrence. But let this not deter you, Gentle Reader, from doing your guests the courtesy of providing advice and directions ... in a language with which they are both familiar and comfortable! This should include some indication of how formally or informally you will be dressed ... to quote the Bard, clothes maketh man and Hell hath no fury like a woman under-dressed!

5. Welcome While your Humble Correspondent is often guilty in the breach, one should refrain from long-winded speeches and scholarly dissertations at any gathering. It is tedious and - frankly - boorish. But at the same time, it is important to welcome people warmly to an event and introduce them to one another if necessary. It helps to establish the right relationships between people, provides boundaries for new relationships, and confirms one's own status as host ... and referee.

6. Menu Choices It is the height of impoliteness, Gentle Reader, to choose courses on behalf of your guests unless you have advised in advance that it is a set course menu (and you have followed my advice in 3 above!). However, when dining a la carte you have every right as host to share your experience (briefly! See 5 above) of both Chef's precocity and peccadilloes -and you should! After all, people are at the restaurant at your suggestion. At the same time, avoid discoursing about your preferences.

7. Wine The safest course when confronted with choosing wine is to rely on the sommelier, unless you have pre-arranged a selection matched to the food and you have advised your guests appropriately. Or when you have arranged the event to feature the wine ... and even then you should make sure the sommelier knows which wines will be served in which order. If guests are providing wine (always a splendid idea in my humble estimation), it is good form to ask for a brief introduction and an indication if and where other guests may acquire some of the same.

8. Witty Conversation Your primary function at this event, Gentle Reader, is to act as host - it is therefore important to maintain at least a facade of sobriety and to gently guide conversation both towards and away from entertaining topics of conversation. Your contributions should thus be engaging rather than definitive, and you should take pains to ensure that all parties at least have an equal opportunity to participate. Above all, be tasteful and witty - and avoid the loud "parade ground" volume that is a feature of your Humble Correspondent's vocal range.

9. The Account Some may call me stuffy, Gentle Reader, but it is only polite that you meet the costs of the feast unless you have a pre-arrangement with your guests or you have advised them of the approximate cost beforehand. This helps avoid the embarrassing shuffling of credit cards at the conclusion of the meal, or a look of surprised consternation when you ask for a king's ransom to pay for your extravagant choices at 6 and 7 above!

10. Thank You's Regardless of how you assess the success or failure of the event, it is obligatory to thank a number of parties. First and foremost, your guests - not only does this indicate the respect and esteem in which you hold them, but it also has the salubrious effect of providing a demure and sensitive way to bring proceedings to a close. Do not fail to thank the chef and the restaurant staff (in that order), as well as any individual that may have made a notable contribution to the evening.

One hopes that these suggestions help you ensure your next excursion is a success. If so, then it is solely due to my efforts. If not, then - on the contrary - it is solely due to your own desultory performance.

Pip Pip!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Bonne Femme - A little saucy for some!

One begins to intimately understand the fancies and foibles of friends, Gentle Reader, when one is engaged in this foodie blogging thing. Some like it hot, some like it slow, others prefer gentle, and still others look for urbanity and sophistication. While there's no accounting for it, people's tastes really are quite varied. And in the humble opinion of this Casual Observer, there is not much profit in trying to satisfy all.

We ventured as 16 brave souls of the Tokyo Darkside recently to Bistro Bonne Femme in Tameike [Map]. It had come strongly recommended by none other than Gourmand Eric Dahler [Eric's Wine Prosperite] as a venue particularly suited to our formidable gathering of illuminati, and we were all looking forward to re-visiting this bastion of diplomatic dining located as it is so conveniently to the Embassy quarter.

Your Humble Correspondent was very pleasantly surprised by the technique and flair demonstrated by the kitchen at Bonne Femme. It is no mean feat to serve cuisine classique to 16 diners simultaneously. The five courses (Amuse, two entree, a main course, and dessert) served to the Darkside were all turned out neatly with the highest standard of presentation. The sauces were a feature of the meal (note this point for later reference). The ingredients were excellent, definitely not like the variety served below stairs that one would expect at the price (Y5,000).

The house wines which we enjoyed in considerable volume are also exceedingly well-priced (Y3,500) given the above-average quality. Combined with friendly and accommodating service, this makes Bonne Femme a good choice for events between 12-16 ne'er-do-wells as well as an appealing venue for quieter tetes-a-tete.

So you can imagine my surprise, Gentle Reader, when I received a post-dated comment from someone we shall just call 'Joe' to preserve anonymity: Chef could "do just as well cooking in a Massachusetts roadside diner ...", and calling for a chef whose "idea of French Food isn't sauce, sauce, sauce.....". A quick survey of other attendees indicates that 'Joe' is rather in the minority on this, and that many Massachusetts roadside diners could definitely benefit from this sort of improvement.

Oh, and cuisine classique is my favorite style of French, based on the work of Escoffier and made famous in the legendary restaurants of Europe like the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo and the Savoy in London. We have it on good authority, Gentle Reader, that Escoffier never visited Massachusetts. Unless it was Massachusetts, Monaco.

This revolution in the kitchen with the introduction of chef de cuisine brought about the replacement of service à la française (serving all dishes at once) with service à la russe (serving meals in courses), as well as the formalization of the preparation of both sauces (Bigod! Fancy that ...) and complex dishes based on Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire.

For your Humble Correspondent it defines the pinnacle of haute cuisine: sinfully and delightfully distinct from cuisine bourgeoise, the quick and working-class cuisine of bistros [the word bistro likely comes from the Russian быстро bystro meaning "quickly"], and the (blessedly!) bafflingly delicious array of French provincial cuisines.

Cuisine classique has been criticized for heavy sauces, silly names for dishes, and very involved preparation. Yet cuisine as an art form needs a formal component, and a chef who has mastered the disciplines of cuisine classique is better equipped thereby to venture other pathways.

Sadly, more restaurants today focus on nouvelle cuisine and cuisine du terroir which offer better margin performance for the wretchedly money-minded restaurateur. Suitable perhaps for San Francisco, which is not in Monte Carlo either. Mind you, neither is Tameike come to think of it but it is close to a palace.

But cuisine classique is - well - classic. And therefore suited to fat boys, and unrepentant followers of la belle epoch. Just the thing for the more saucy among us. Like moi... but not 'Joe'.

Bonne Femme [Map]: Akasaka 1-3-13, Tameike Suzuki Bldg. 1F. t: 03-3582-0200
Rating: Food: 7/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Sauciness: 7/10; Price-Performance: 7/10.
Total: 35/50

Saturday, 3 April 2010

La Terrace, Hong Kong

It is a little far to travel, one supposes, to Hong Kong to visit a neighbourhood French restaurant. Surely more appropriate to enjoy the splendid Chinese cuisine on offer, what ho! And we had, at a splendid Yum Cha luncheon washed down by a refreshing quaff of Australian Sauvignon Blanc (one wonders if that should be Sauvignon Blanche). It was also Spring, when a fat man's thoughts turn to ... well, food.

Your Humble Correspondent was indeed in the Pearl City for other reasons, but ever vigilant in pursuit of your dining pleasure we visited La Terrasse in Soho for a splendid meal at the suggestion of the redoubtable Colin. In the time-honoured tradition of this random collection of mutterings, Colin is not Colin's real name but it is remarkably easy to remember and one in which he seems to revel. He also has a well-developed love for good wine, which is a singularly endearing characteristic. Surprisingly, Colin is sans wine-pimp and relies on the normally unreliable off-licenses which in true HK fashion are perfectly reliable. Hmm, seems like an opportunity for an enterprising young man ...

The Soho area in the Mid-Levels of Hong Kong is probably one of your more favourite haunts, dear Gentle and Well-Travelled Reader, but for your Humble Correspondent and The Once and Future Blonde it was a revelation. Colin informs me that there is often more mediocrity on offer than mastery, often exacerbated by an influx of restaurant entrepreneurs perhaps more focused on margins than on the dining experience. But happily this is not the case at La Terrasse, which has delighted patrons for many years and relies exclusively on word-of-mouth rather than crass publicity.

You will no doubt be surprised to learn that we were seated on the very pleasant terrace at the rear of the restaurant. This showed estimable foresight by Chef Rene, as it meant that we were located in such a way as to feel suitably honored yet at the same time we were unable to frighten away any other potential patrons.

A word to the wise - avoid pastis as a pre-dinner drink. More accurately, avoid a surfeit of pastis as pre-dinner drinks. Actually, avoid very large quantities of pastis (think barrique).

It was scrumptious, mais oui, but left one considerably light-headed and with a resounding after-taste of aniseed. Of course this effect could possibly be put down to quantity rather than quality, but one was en vacance after all! In fact, it is now apparent to me why so many French bohemians became ... ah, bohemian. Pastis could quite likely induce aberrant behaviour in even the most-level headed of Correspondents.

But we digress. With The Don and Bride, we let ourselves be gently guided by Colin and Mrs Colin into a selection of entree and main courses that would test most kitchens. Do try the roasted heritage tomatoes topped with fresh mozzarella - a very interesting and successful variation on Caprese. The Sea Bass and Scallops was delicious, and was sauced prettily with a magical combination of butter and chives. Entrecote is somewhat of a speciality at La Terrasse, and given the satisfied faces of my companions you can safely assume it was entirely up to scratch. Do not give in to the siren call of the house-made bread ... well, at least try to avoid over-indulging.

Chef Badu is passionate about sourcing quality produce, which virtue results in a focus on precision in preparation and an admirable lack of fuss in presentation. La Terrasse is good at simplicity, and offers the visitor a guarantee of quality dining without the trappings of celebrity status.

The wine list at La Terrasse is more than adequate, with an above-average range of vintage and chateau at reasonable prices. While this is no doubt due to the enlightened move by Government to remove the tax on wine, it also encourages experimentation and indulgence - qualities that are your Humble Correspondent's forte. We sampled a Sancerre and two vintages of a sterling Bordeaux, and despite a slight tang of aniseed (see above) these quickly evaporated by the glassful in the pleasant Hong King spring weather. As did my memory of their labels. However, my companions assure me that I enjoyed them immensely. And the champagne ... Champagne? We had Champagne?

The floor team at La Terrasse are both efficient and friendly, a combination that seems strangely rare in Hong Kong. All of this makes for a very pleasant dining experience, for which we are all suitably grateful to Simon ... oops, Colin.

La Terrasse is such a pleasant combination of all of the things that go to make a "keeper" that it comes as somewhat of a surprise that it is on such a cruelly steep hill. Surely Rene could have managed it better! Thighs ache and chests heave if you approach from Staunton Street. The cost of the Sherpa team can be prohibitive. But follow the second option in the directions below and you should find it relatively easy.

Visit La Terrasse with friends and locals you wish to impress, but whose company you intend to enjoy. Like Colin. And smile sweetly at the fat boy in the back with the oxygen mask; after all, I'm the one who recommended the place!

La Terrasse [Directions]: 19 Old Bailey Street, Mid-levels, Central, Hong Kong. t:(852) 2147 2225
Rating: Food: 7/10; Wine: 8/10; Service: 7/10; Terrace-ness: 7/10; Price-Performance: 7/10.
Total: 36/50.

Oak Door - Something Amiss in Happy Land

It has been difficult to resist the temptation to write about The Oak Door [Map] at Roppongi Hills. This has not been for a lack of material, having visited it more than twenty times. No, the problems arises from wildly erratic performance. So let's step out of Humble Correspondent character for a bit to go over my irritations. Comments would be welcome.

There have been times when the food has been very good indeed, and times went it has been very average. Truthfully, on the average side of average. There have been occasions when the house specialities were whisked over to the table with a flair and a finesse that delivered on the menu copy, and occasions when these have not been available (huh?). Or instances when the floor staff have gladly fetched the wine list from the French Kitchen, and other instances when they have insisted this was impossible and that I must drink Californian wine. Not with their lips! [Disclosure: Actually, I'm a bit of a fan of some Napa wine].

On its good days, The Oak Door delivers well-prepared dishes that are both delicious and satisfying. The menu is a haven for comfort food for travellers - as a hotel restaurant, this is completely understandable and perfectly acceptable. One might quibble at the prices, which seem a little higher than other similar style restaurants in the Roppongi Hills complex. But there is little doubt that - on its day - the kitchen has a firm grasp on technique and finesse.

The establishment has a very pleasant aspect, and generally the ambiance is good. Summer outside is a joy. There are times when one feels that the lighting inside is a little too subdued, and on cloudy days it can get a little dark. The floor staff are generally polite and well-briefed, except when we are engaging in a wine list "conversation".

On its not-so-good days, The Oak Door finds it difficult to decide whether it is a bar or a restaurant. The strange juxtaposition of these two roles is unusual in Tokyo, particularly with so little differentiation between the two spaces. More particularly when the hotel actually has a bar (Maduro) on the 4th floor. But whatever the purpose, dividing the 6th floor space with the mesh curtain somehow just doesn't make the grade.

And perhaps that's it. Perhaps it's the schizophrenia of the dual purpose space, and the effort to reach up and down to two different categories of clientele. Perhaps it's just me, and I've just become too fussy. Up to you to decide.

I think that something is askew at The Oak Door. Not sure entirely what it is. It may well be the restaurant equivalent of A Beautiful Mind. But something is amiss. Let's not embarrass each other with a rating.

The Oak Door [Map] @ Grand Hyatt Roppongi Hills
6F, 6-10-3 Roppongi, Minato Ward t:03-4333-1234

Tanger - Mediterranean Merriment

One seems to be making a habit, Gentle Reader, of navigational odysseys into suburban Tokyo with geographically challenged Texans. Your Humble Correspondent believes, of course, that any time spent with a frontiersman will be amply rewarded - most especially when the frontiers thus confronted are intellectual rather than topographical. And this was certainly the case when we recently visited Tanger [Map] in Takanawa at Jim's suggestion.

Tanger describes itself as a Mediterranean restaurant with a French base and Moroccan influences. It is certainly that, in a remarkably eclectic way, yet manages to present well-fashioned food at reasonable prices with considerable flair and eclat. One notes the review by the lithesome Dominic [here] - a little harsh methinks, and perhaps written with a dash more more bile than guile.

Your Humble Correspondent was still deep into a Lenten observance when we visited, but the menu is robust and pleasingly simple with a single page of selections enhanced by a daily specials chalkboard. Tanger lacks pretentiousness, which fact is reflected in its friendly and knowledgable floor team and the pleasant ambient noise level. The sound of fellow-customers enjoying themselves should be taken as a positive, Gentle Reader, and Tanger succeeds well in having patrons relax and engage without imposing themselves on others.

We worked our way through Grilled Vegetables with anchovy dressing - light and delicious even for this anti-anchovy activist - and very toothsome Italian salad with Strawberries and Parmesan, before moving on to Salmon Quiche and a Lamb Tangine. My Texan companion fulsomely praised this last offering, suggesting that the spices were subtle and tasty without dominating. Chef seems to be comfortable in his metier here at Tanger, and the deft finish he applies to the food provides an interesting counterpoint to more classic French establishments that seems to dominate your Humble Correspondent's appointment book.

A word on the wine list - good, without the facile decorative effect of high-cost / high-maintenance tired wines that put more emphasis on chateau rather than terroir. Pricing is surprisingly good, and we were able to enjoy a Premiere Cru Meursault (?) for Y6,000 and some excellent Alsace Riesling by the glass for Y800. For those looking for a decadent dalliance, pair this wine with the Tree of Life date and chocolate cake or the nougat glace confectionaries.

Taxi drivers and Texans seem to find Tanger difficult to locate, but a quick glance at the map should be enough for more resourceful types. Aim for the Peacock supermarket at the foot of Gyoranzaka, and tootle off down the laneway at the rear to arrive at Tanger on your left. Do have a quick look around for caftan-ed roues, and if you see through my disguise - perhaps you'd be good enough to send over a glass of that lovely Riesling!

Tanger [Map]: 1-5-8 Takanawa, Shinagawa Ward. t: 03-3449-4166
Rating: Food: 7/10; Wine: 7/10 (cheap!!); Service: 8/10; Morocco-isity: 6/10; Price-Performance: 7/10. Total: 35/50.