Food without memory is just digestion

Monday, 11 July 2016

L'Alchimiste: A Beautiful Mind

The famous gastronome Brillat-Savarin apparently once said “A chef must be like an alchemist”. Apparently, he was also clairvoyant as he was obviously thinking of Chef Ken'ichi Yamamoto. Sometimes, Gentle Reader, it pays to choose what's behind the lavender door. 

Your Humble Correspondent (YHC) is an occasional visitor to this wonderful playground of a restaurant, run by a delightful husband and wife (chef and sommelier) team together with a sous. The formula for success is simple - he cooks, she serves and pours, you enjoy.

It has the added appeal of not allowing children under twelve, which seems to my feeble mind to significantly improve the dining environment as well as overall safety. It also does not take kashi-kiri bookings, preferring diversity and energy in its guest list rather than drab infections of bland sarariman and over-ebullient brokers.

L'Alchimiste is focused on quality, quality, and then quality. The food is inspired and playful, Gentle Reader, and a carefully considered and interesting wine flight / degustation turns a meal into a journey. Chef describes his food as "pop gastronomy" - which seems unfortunate to YHC - but serves to underline both the reflection of food trends (i.e. "pop"-ular) and the taste explosion in a diner's mouth (where a pop is certainly much to be preferred over a bang).

The illusion is sustained by a menu that only lists the ingredients (or at least did when YHC has dined) from which M. Yamamoto conjures whimsical courses which keep bringing one back to the relationship between the ingredients and the magic. The standard fare is a ten course degustation menu for Y12,000 or Y18,000 with 5 wines (Y20,000 with 7).

The wine list is broader than it is deep, and suffers slightly from a fashionable bias towards bio and organic wines. At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, this trend is more about marketing than oeneology - the best Old World wines have been bio for centuries, and planting and pruning has long been linked to the lunar cycle.

At the risk of not being able to get a table in this 14 seat den of legerdemain for oneself, Gentle Reader, this is foodie heaven and deserves your patronage. It is a place to take fellow gastronomes like Brillat-Savarin or lovers, but never colleagues. Never.

And should you spy YHC in the corner, that means my lavender camouflage has failed and one needs to flee ...

Pip Pip!

L'Alchimiste1-25-26 Shirokane, Minato-ku t: 03-5422-7358 
Rating: Food: 9/10; Lavender-ness: 8/10; Service: 8/10; Ambiance: 8/10; Price-Performance: 8/10.
Total: 41/50 (4 Forks)

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Keisuke Matsushima - Oh. My. Goodness.

It's been some time, Gentle Reader, since Your Humble Correspondent (YHC) bored you with his dribblings and scribblings about food in Tokyo. Been a tad busy really, but what ho! ... Time to get one's nose back to the figurative whetstone.

Keisuke Matsushima is apparently a bit of an enfant terrible in the world of French Cuisine, and it is entirely possible that he might have to have so many restaurants (six, with two cooking schools) in so many places simply to avoid the long arm of the critics. But having recently visited the Tokyo flagship with Lord Timothy of Spazio while M. Matsushima was briefly in town, YHC even more humbly admits to having become a convert to this particular sort of terribleness.

The setting is, of course, magnificent. Not in any sense isolated, but apart. One approaches young Keisuke's temple to the cuisine of southern France along a verdant pathway reminiscent of a medieval alleyway, before entering the hallowed halls from a slightly confusing lateral entrance. Table settings are refreshingly elegant, with almost a belle epoque look and feel along with a grand sense of space and style.

Service is a la russe, as befits the venue and the price point. Should you be concerned about languages, Gentle Reader, rest easy as one may choose between Japanese, English and French at least. People are marvellously attentive, and whims seem to be a speciality of M. Matsushima's particular flavor of epicurean philosophy.

There is a selection of set menus to choose from, refreshingly designed to match the size of one's appetite rather than one's wallet. We enjoyed the Menu degustation "Collection" - not cheap and a little of a stretch for your impecunious correspondent, but exquisite value for money. It would be tedious to go through each course (as well as impossible given the state of YHC's memory), but the word you should remember Gentle Reader is "exquisite". Balanced yet imaginative, original and inquisitive, surprising and still familar. The verbal descriptions which accompany each course are engrossing yet concise, recognizing that - sometimes - diners know almost as much as waiters, and that brevity is the soul of wisdom.

The carte has a modest range of impeccably selected wines, although some are obviously there for light relief at six-figure prices. YHC's bubbles-of-choice Duval Leroy is available by the glass.

Keisuke Matsushima is a venue for foodies and lovers, and should not be wasted on tiresome work colleagues. It is one of a very few venues in Tokyo that you should keep as a closely guarded secret. Because, after all, one's own convenience and ease of getting a reservation should be the highest priority for this sort of destination.

And should you get a glimpse of a forlorn figure on the dish-pig stand, you'll know that YHC's tastes exceeded his budget once again.

Pip Pip!

Keisuke Matsushima: 1-4 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku Reservations: 03-5772-2091 t: 03-5772-2151
Rating: Food: 9/10; Epoque-ness: 8/10; Service: 8/10; Ambiance: 8/10; Price-Performance: 7/10.
Total: 40/50 (4 Forks)