Food without memory is just digestion

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Labyrinthe - Seriously Old School

 One often finds, Gentle Reader, that shifts in food fashions tend to throw out the enfant with the bath water. Your Humble Correspondent enjoys smoke and mirrors as much as anyone else (perhaps more ...), and innovation and experimentation is entirely admirable. Indeed, much of what we have come to see as de rigeur in French and Italian cuisine has been a result of enigmatic strokes of genius or happenstance. What ho, says YHC, and more power to them.

But there is also a place for classic cooking, represented in the French oeuvre as Cuisine Classique. And as practiced with a flourish at Labyrinthe in Shirogane a few lithesome steps in from the Shinohashi intersection on Meiji-dori. The Japanese-only website rather phlegmatically calls this "real" (honkaku-teki) French cooking, and it would be churlish to argue the point.

To the best of YHC's foggy-at-best memory, Labyrinthe has been dancing the classique fantastic for more than 15 years and little has (thankfully) changed in terms of approach and attitude over that considerable period. New items do appear on the menu, which should rather be termed a catalogue given its breadth and complexity. No fewer than 25 entrees ("starters") and 20 main courses ("entrees") covering a veritable menagerie of animals grace the carte.

In light of this, and perhaps emphasized by the somewhat eclectic wine list, one recommends establishing a good relationship with the rather dapper maître d'. A nod every now and then when fresh oysters are in hand, or when Chef is struck by a moment of inspiration, makes for a better experience and the culinary foreplay adds to the anticipation.

The Andouillette here is excellent as an entrée, or should your fancy tend a little more towards seafood try the Crab Flan. Seasonal vegetables are always a good choice. In the main courses, the Duck Confit with Rocket is well executed, and the rabbit or goat will get a conversation going quite apart from being quite delicious.

Labyrinthe seems to have a serious candle obsession, with perhaps a manic focus on wax. But the décor is playful and occasionally naughty, while the lighting and the low ambient noise suit Your Humble Correspondent to a "T". The open kitchen must have been revolutionary when Labyrinthe opened all those many years ago, but speaks to the sincerity of their desire to celebrate food and fine dining. So do the servings, which are generous to a fault.

Make no mistake, Gentle Reader - the cooking is first class yet humbly true to a tradition not often seen in these Noma-ridden days (honestly, ants on sushi?). Younger Gen-Y punters may find Labyrinthe a little faded and predictable, but take them along any way. Count it a duty to show them what byways cooking has followed over the last hundred years, and count it a benison that you get to share in the experience.

Labyrinthe is a place for lovers and friends, for people comfortable in each others' skin and who enjoy long conversations and longer digestifs. And that faint scratching at the window? Don't mind me ...

Pip Pip!
Labyrinthe: 3-2-7 Shirokane, Minato-ku t: 03-5420-3584
Rating: Food: 7/10; Classique-ness: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Price-Performance: 7/10.
Total: 35/50 (3 Forks)

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