2 Chome-26-4 Nishiazabu
Minato Ward, Tokyo
Tokyo Prefecture 106-0031
+81 3 5766 9500
In a country where delicious AND TRADITIONAL food can literally be found in every second corner, why did I choose to book lunch for one at a French restaurant? And more specifically, a restaurant whose name I could barely pronounce?
Well, folks, L’Effervescence happens to be a Tokyo up-and-comer. Its head chef Shinobu Namae trained under culinary greats Michel Bras and Heston Blumenthal and it debuted at a very respectably #25 in San Pellegrino’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2015 list. Not a bad effort, hey. Given its accolades, getting a dinner booking at L’Effervescence can be difficult but I had no issues with getting a table for lunch.
L’Effervescence is a bit of a walk from Roppongi station and it’s not on a main road. You’re required to meander along a few residential streets, which is actually a fun exercise in itself.
Some of the houses on my little walk were all prepped up for Halloween. I’m not a big Halloween person but I did find it cute.
You could be fooled into thinking that the restaurant was just another house on the street. It’s very nondescript, save for a neat tile installation in front as well as a sign displaying the day’s menu. As soon as you walk in though, its plush floors, team of smartly dressed waiters and very wealthy clientele is a sign that you’re, well, in the right place.
I was led by the English-speaking French maître-d to my table by the window, a lovely spot to enjoy a sip of wine and watch the calming light autumn rain.
L’Effervescence’s menu is all about modern French cuisine using native Japanese ingredients and a liberal dose of whimsical touches, which makes it stand out from Tokyo’s other French restaurants. There are a few options for those who want to do lunch at L’Effervescence. They start from the four-course ‘through the pathway’ menu at ¥5000 which is approximately AUD50, not a bad deal but then you also need to include taxes and service charges – and wine because as if you wouldn’t. The options then get a bit longer and as tempting as it was to go for the longer and more extravagant options, I decided to go (relatively) simple by ordering the ‘through the pathway’ menu. After all, I had dinner to go to that night.
The lunch began with an amuse bouche. The green thing on the left is an olive oil emulsion filled with kawahagi fish (liver and all) while the glass on the right holds little liquid nitrogen bits of Japanese apple and beer to cleanse one’s palate – after all, that metallic aftertaste you get after eating liver can be unpleasant.
That’s a lovely buttered baguette and rye with a nice pat of French butter, embossed circles and all, yo.
My first course was the grilled sanma, a mackerel-like fish that was, as the menu so eloquently stated, served with ‘its guts.’ The guts were dried, then powdered and sprinkled on top of the potato cubes (underneath the fish) to give the dish a slightly bitter kick. I wasn’t sure if I like that kick, but whatever.
Meanwhile, the garlic soup was made with garlic cooked in cold water that was then brought to the boil. This process was repeated about four or five times, a labour intensive process to get rid of the pungent garlic smell and taste. The result was a lovely silky soup with a sweet, mild flavour accentuated by the slightly earthy matsutake mushrooms which the maître-d said were the most expensive (presumably non-drug) mushrooms you can find in Japan.
The next course was simply called ‘vegetable plate’. Today, I received a kabu turnip that had been cooked in low heat for four hours. It is the only dish at L’Effervescence that is served all year round, however the turnip’s taste changes according to the season. For example, the turnip I got was juicy and sweet thanks to the massive amount of rain the area gets during the autumn months. Other times, you may get a turnip that’s crunchier or even bitter (screw that, I thought).
For the final savoury course, I was allowed to pick my own olive wood knife. I don’t normally care about the shade of my knife handle but I have to admit that being able to choose was pretty boss.
L’Effervescence’s famous apple pie dish features heavily on this menu, though the filling changes according to what’s in season. This rendition of the apple pie dish was the fourteenth one in Namae’s very impressive repertoire. Stuffed with a hearty filling of wild boar cheek, neck and sweetbread along with lotus root, foie gras langoustine, fig, confit onion and wild grape sauce, the pie was insanely rich as it was delicious. If I had any doubt that I’d walk away full after my subsequent courses, this dish flicked those doubts away. And what of the little garden surrounding the pie? Why, it was salad made with 47 different ingredients – and no, I’m not going to list them all for you.
Dessert was a deconstructed cake, a nod to Namae’s time as pastry chef at Fat Duck. There were alternating bits of Cognac-soaked butternut squash and dandelion root angel food cake with blobs of lime gel to balance out all the sweetness. The little bits on top are dehydrated maple syrup ‘hailstones,’ tying each element of the dish neatly.
At this point in time, the maître-d came and had a chat with me. He said that he did a Google search my name (which he got from when I emailed them to book), saw my LinkedIn profile (and that I worked in the food and travel industry) and had a quick look at my blog. Initially, I was a bit creeped out that a stranger would ADMIT TO looking me up on Google but that feeling didn’t last long – the next minute, the maître-d brought Chef Shinobu Namae to the table where we had a lovely chat about the direction of his restaurant and whether he’ll visit Australia one day (‘of course, and Melbourne is the first on my list!’).
A fairly mediocre coffee was served with a very impressive plate of petit fours featuring: a coiled up raspberry and lychee ‘Roll Up’, passionfruit caramel with edible rice paper wrapper and a ‘reverse chocolate ball’ where the chocolate was inside a crème anglaise coating. Leaning awkwardly in the glass was a ‘Chupa Cup’ – and the waiter refused to tell me what was inside.
But holy wow, it was an explosion (literally) of popping candy, raisins, maize and chocolate. Yup, the ultimate party in my mouth (oi, get yer mind out of the gutter).
I may have happily paid the bill shortly after (I don’t remember how much it was but after all the taxes, service charges and wine, it was still less than AUD100) but the party didn’t stop there. No, I was given a moist spiced pumpkin cake to take home with me – which I ate for supper later that night.
I guess the moral of this story is: sure, eat lots of Japanese food in Japan. That is a no-brainer. But it pays to steer away from Japanese food for one meal if you can afford to (time and cost-wise) because you may be pleasantly surprised.