Food without memory is just digestion

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Lauburu: Go Ahead ... make a pig of yourself!

Many of those who scan these rabid scribblings will know, Gentle Reader, that Your Humble Correspondent (YHC) is an irrepressible fan of all things porky, and will often go out of his meandering way to dine on the flesh of the blessed beast.

So when invited recently to a farewell dinner with The Once and Future Blonde at Lauburu for some long-time partners in culinary crime (via Darkside, WineNutz, et al), there was literally milli-seconds 'twixt the offer and the acceptance. For Lauburu, you see, is both a temple to porcine gastronomy and located a short wobble from YHC's remarkably humble abode ... lovingly referred to as 'The Hellhole' by all and sundry.

Peruse the menu, Gentle Reader, and you will see what we're faced with here: a mega-challenge, a knightly quest, perhaps even a mission from God. One imagines that if a pig was to amble its way through the front door, not one skerrick of that animal would be left once Chef had had his delightfully wicked way with it. On the regular menu you will find Oreille (ears), Fromage de tête (head), Graisseron (scratchings, in this case a pate of throat meat and skin), and ventréches (lower abdomen) as well as - of course - pied (feet). The disappointing part is that there are no pig-based desserts (YHC has once dined at a duck restaurant in Osaka, where the only dessert [actually, a sorbet] was ... duck!).

Chef Sakurai Shinichiro has deservedly won a Michelin Star for his efforts here, and Cochonnailles (Fr.: pork products) hardly goes any distance in explaining the treats that are on offer. In the cobwebbed recesses of YHC's mind, andouillette and boudin are the measure of a chef's prowess with pig - both are featured on the menu here, and YHC guiltlessly (although perhaps not guilelessly) proclaims both to be worthy of an Elysian feast.

While ever-so-slightly disappointed that no-one has yet come up with a pig's milk cheese (egads, why is that?), YHC can further report that the warm goats cheese is also worthy of your highest consideration along with the Salade d'endives au roqueforts.

Mains required extraordinary stamina and courage on the part of YHC: the Confit d'échine de porc is stunningly good, as is the Côte de porc grillé. Other less focused individuals tried the fish (God's Blood! Why would one?) and the snails.

Lauburu is a place where one's darkest instincts come to the fore, where bone-gnawing is both permitted and encouraged. Your Humble correspondent has it on good authority that Lauburu has a very passable wine list, but having BYHCO (Brought Your Humble Correspondent's Own) on this particular evening one will leave it to a future visit to pass judgement.

Lauburu is a place to go with friends - good friends who have seen you at your worst before. Do make a reservation as this is quite a popular venue. And if you see a Gollum-like character pitifully wheezing "The Pig, the Pig..." - well, do toss me a bone!

Pip! Pip!

Lauburu: 6-8-18 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-Ku, Tokyo 107-0062
Rating: Food: 7/10; BYHCO: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 9/10; Price-Performance: 8/10. Total: 38/50 (3 Forks)

Wednesday, 12 September 2012


As a long-time denizen of the Tokyo American Club, Gentle Reader, Your Humble Correspondent (YHC) has become rather inured to feeding rather than fine dining (with some notable exceptions).

The American Bar & Grill is pleasant but predictable and pedestrian, Cafe Med only shines with its Deep-Dish Chicago Pizza, and Traders Bar is basic pub food (although this obviously fills a YHC fat-boy weakness). The Rainbow Cafe is populated by mini-people, and YHC doesn't frequent such places. The Winter Garden Happy Hour space is an oasis, though, and deserves your custom.

But the 3rd Floor - where Brian Marcus and his wonderful team have a little more room to manoeuvre - is a joy. It's new, it's energized, and it's more fun than humble correspondents deserve. It's also open to the general public, which means that you, Gentle Reader, can get to sample its delights with relative ease.

Decanter is still finding its way while threatening to be quite good indeed. The novelty of the iPad menus wears off quickly, and for the technologically-challenged presents more of an obstacle than a gastronomic opportunity. The leather butcher aprons worn by the staff reveal a close-to-scandalous almost Lady Gaga-esque relationship with meat, and YHC for one would urge a little more perseverance with alternatives like vegetables and garnishings. 

The Cocktail space is elegant and contemporary, and the perfect place to entertain important friends and clients - this was an inspired re-purposing of the poorly considered and under-utilised Tokyo Dining Bridge. Bouquets to those involved!

However, FLATiRON (sigh! Why the linguistic bastardry?) is a revelation, a triumph, a moment of sprezzatura. It is a Molecular Gastronomy experience that in Your Humble Correspondent's even humbler view justifies a TAC membership and the monthly dues. And on first glance, quite possibly considerably beyond other members of the species like M.Tapas and similar venues. Chef Fujiwara is a pure yet playful genius, and makes excellent use of a difficult space.

A recent foray with The Once and Future Blonde led by the outstanding guide/server Sam had us giggling with delight and overcome with the creativity on show (Menu below). We chose the wine pairing option, which was adventurous and interesting but perhaps a little over-powering. YHC is a delicate little thing, don't you know!

It's likely a fey thing to say, but hindsight suggests that the menu is perhaps one dish (bridge?) too far, and the portions are a little over-generous. Some of the highlights include the imaginative and flavour-full 3 frozen peppers, the stunning flatbreads with burrata cheese (yuba to mozzerella's tofu), a magnificent tomato water, and Breakfast in America: a whimsical rice flour pancake, pancetta, and fois gras combination that is roundly superb. Smoke and Ice Disco is a splendid idea, but one feels it might be a little more balanced by using buri instead of majiki.

3@62 shows off the sous-vide to perfection, and by the time we got to Playing Doctors complete with syringes, we were both sated and dazzled. The dessert Help Me, I'm Melting is playful and supremely rich.

To quibble, as quibbling is such an engaging activity, one might suggest future menu iterations also celebrate regional sourcing and ingredients a tiny touch more. After all, a potato is a spud unless it's a Hokkaido Dan-shaku.

Repair to FLATiRON with friends and lovers, or perhaps that difficult client who needs a nudge into understanding your sensitive side. And if you need a fourth, look no further than YHC ... I promise to remain quiet except for little squeaks and squeals of pleasure!

Pip! Pip!

FLATiRON: 2-1-2 Azabudai Minato-ku Tokyo 106-8649 t: 03-4588-0675

Rating: Food: 9/10; Wine: 8/10; Service: 9/10; Ambiance: 9/10; Price-Performance: 9/10. Total: 44/50 (4 Forks)