The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Review: Gansozushi Shibuya Dogenzaka (Tokyo, Japan)

2-29-14 Dogenzaka
Shibuya
Tokyo Prefecture
Japan
+81 3 3462 0400

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It’s so easy to lose yourself among the bold colours and electric vibe of Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s busiest districts.

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Fellow Melburnian Joey and I spent quite some time exploring (almost) every corner of it, from the big flashy department stores on the main drag right down to the seedy sex stores tucked in the little alleyways.

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We also stumbled across a kebab store amongst all the bars and nightclubs, something that I did not expect to see in Shibuya. But hey, I guess post-clubbing kebab cravings are universal after all.

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Working up an appetite (but not for kebabs), we decided to indulge in a bit of sushi train for lunch. They’re very easy to come by in Shibuya – there’s practically one every five or so minutes. We ended up going to the Shibuya branch of Gansozushi, one of the bigger sushi train franchises in Tokyo.

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It wasn’t too busy when we got there, but there was a steady stream of diners coming in and out throughout our meal. We sat at the back, served ourselves some soy sauce, a shitload of ginger and fresh wasabi before getting to work.

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Every now and then, some specials will appear in front of you.

Salmon nigiri

Salmon nigiri

Scallop, salmon roe

Scallop, salmon roe

Prawn nigiri

Prawn nigiri

Salmon nigiri mk 2

Salmon nigiri mk 2

Crab, ginger, salmon roe

Crab, ginger, salmon roe

Each plate was about ADU$3-5 each, which wasn’t too bad at all (and we did double up on a few dishes). All the dishes we tried were generously portioned – I also loved the rice to salmon ratio in the salmon nigiri (i.e. big ass pieces of fish covering little balls of rice). The dishes were also delicious, but my favourite one would have to be the scallop nigiri – I just loved the combination of sweet succulent scallop meat and creamy mayo, punctuated by bursts of salmon roe. I do have to admit though, there was quite a bit of mayo used on a lot of the dishes which led me to think that Gansozushi was the sushi train Maccas equivalent. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed my lunch – even the crab sushi at the end, which turned out to be seafood extender, found a soft spot in my stomach and heart.

The bill was around AUD$35-38 for the two of us (I can’t remember exactly), making it a reasonably priced meal given how happy we both were.

Review: Tatsumiya (Tokyo, Japan)

1-33-5 Asakusa
Taito
Tokyo Prefecture
Japan
+81 3 3842 7373

One of the highlights of my Japan trip was meeting a fellow Australian (thanks Tinder), doing drunken karaoke with a bunch of random Japanese people at a karaoke bar and getting locked out of my hotel in Asakusa. Okay, the last bit wasn’t exactly a highlight but at least it made for a funny story to tell.

Prior to getting our drinking (and Britney Spears singing) on, our night started off relatively quiet. We must have walked around Asakusa for 20 minutes, looking for somewhere cheap and decent to eat before deciding to stop at Tatsumiya. I can’t remember why we chose this place – it was no more remarkable than the other establishments on the same block, not far from where Senso-Ji temple sits. I think we just couldn’t be bothered walking any further.

Sashimi

Sashimi

I wasn’t terribly hungry but I was happy to nibble on some kingfish and squid sashimi. After having super fresh raw fish at Tsukiji a few mornings back, it was hard not to be (unfairly) critical tonight. The fish was fine, but just not OMG WOW FRESH.

Tatsumiya also happened to have whale on the menu; it was the first time I had seen it being advertised on a menu in Japan. I know it’s not something that the Japanese would casually eat on a daily basis but I was expecting to see if featured on more menus – either more and more restaurants stopped serving it due to social pressure or peoples’ tastes are just changing. And I may get crucified on social media for this but I actually did consider ordering a small serving of it just to see what it tasted. In the end though, I didn’t – my companion was giving me the judgey eyes.

Beef hot pot

Beef hot pot

The beef hot pot was generously portioned, the perfect serving size for my 6’0 companion who hadn’t eaten in hours. I didn’t find the hot pot supremely delicious – the stew had too much sweetness and a shitload of soy, making it very overpowering. My companion, however, had no complaints but did say that it was something he wouldn’t order again – there were Japanese dishes he liked better.

The owner of Tatsumiya was a lovely gentleman and the service was pretty good throughout – our dishes came out within 10 minutes of ordering and when it came to serving us our drinks, he was as quick as lightning. That said, he was a bit pushy in making us leave the closer it got to 10PM which was a bit of a turn-off (but on the other hand, totally understandable so, wash).

Tatsumiya is not a place I’d happily recommend to friends or return just for the fact that the food is just okay – there are probably better restaurants in Asakusa for a casual Tinder meet-up.

Review: Hapineko Cat Café (Tokyo, Japan)

2-28-3 Dogenzaka
Dogenzaka Kratos Building 3F
Shibuya 150-0043
Tokyo
Japan
+81 3 3770 1328
http://hapineko.com/#_=_

As a dog person, I walked into my first cat café with a bit of trepidation.

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It’s not like I hate cats – I’ve just never really been into them. When you’re away from home, however, you tend to do things that you don’t normally do. Like sleep in love hotels, buy used panties from a vending machine and willingly spend half an hour in a room full of cats.

I was spending the morning with Joey, a twenty-year-old Melburnian who I had never met until this trip. He is a cousin of a friend of mine so when she messaged me, asking me to contact him if I was ever bored, I decided take her up on the offer. We explored quite a few random places together and one of them happened to be Hapineko Cat Café in Shibuya.

When we arrived, we were given a long list of rules to read before going in; they included no picking up of cats, no feeding them with your hands and no touching collared cats. We also had to wash our hands with sanitiser, leave our shoes at the door and change into slippers. That was totally fine with us, although I wish the lady in charge smiled every once in a while – she was so grumpy, which was surprising given that this was Japan.

As for the no touching of collared cats thing, Joey said that it was because these cats scratched and bit humans when they get touched because they get distressed. This kind of begs the question: WHY THE HELL HAVE THEM IN THERE FOR?

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For the most part, people were happy just to sit and chillax while taking photos and letting the cats come to them.

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Sometimes the cats would wander off and climb up onto shelves, cubicles and scratching poles.

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Included in our ¥1060 (AUD$11ish) fee was tea, chocolate and a mini donut biscuit, hardly the stuff that Michelin stars are made of but hey, it’s a ‘café’ after all. I think there was also the option to order extra stuff.

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Being around humans can be exhausting, I know the feeling (no, I really do).

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Okay, this dog person smiled when she saw this. Aw.

Hapineko was a fun place to kill half an hour and experience a quintessential Japanese tourist activity. While I’m glad I went, I don’t think I’ll go again – cats just ain’t my thing.

Review: Sadaharu Aoki Patisserie (Tokyo, Japan)

Boutique Marunouchi
Shinkokusai Building 1F
3-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo
Japan
+81 3 5293 2800
http://www.sadaharuaoki.jp/top.html

A short walk from Yurakucho Station led me to Sadaharu Aoki Patisserie, one of the best places to get macarons in Tokyo. There are currently four branches in Tokyo – I was at the Marunouchi branch – but the main boutique is in Paris, along with a few little sister branches there.

Created by Sadaharu Aoki, the eponymous patisserie franchise is famous for using traditional Japanese ingredients and flavours in French pastries, especially éclairs and macarons. I was due to leave Tokyo the next morning and needed to grab some more gifts for friends back home in Australia so I decided a few boxes of these specialty macarons would do the trick.

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This photo was taken just before the lady at the counter told me off for whipping out my phone to take shots. Grr. Apart from that though, the service was pretty tops.

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For example, they asked me how far I was from the hotel. I said that I was an MTR ride away from Shinjuku (which, from memory, required a change of trains at some point) – she said that it was too long a trip for me to be carrying boxes of macarons without ice. So she chucked some ice packs into the paper bag to keep my goodies cool. Although the macarons would then hop on a plane to Melbourne with me sans ice pack (thus rendering the packs useless), I really appreciated the gesture.

Matcha green tea éclair (¥460/AUD$4.40)

Matcha green tea éclair (¥460/AUD$4.40)

I ordered a matcha green tea éclair for myself to enjoy for afternoon tea. Unlike a lot of éclairs I’ve had in Melbourne, this one was soft rather than dense and doughy while the icing was perfectly balanced – it had the right balance of gentle sweetness and bitterness.

Macarons (four for ¥1100/AUD$10.80)

Macarons (four for ¥1100/AUD$10.80)

I bought a few boxes of macarons, all containing the same flavours: matcha, genmaicha (green tea combined with roasted brown rice), lemon and strawberry. I can’t remember how much they were individually but a box was just a smidgen under AUD$11, which doesn’t make them expensive at all given their quality. They were all perfect – crispy shells, creamy ganache centres and soft chewy biscuits. Best of all, they were overloaded with sugar like a lot of macarons you get in Australia. My favourite one was the genmaicha in all its glorious nuttiness, followed by the beautifully tangy lemon one.

My macaron boxes survived the flight from Tokyo to Melbourne – well, except for one box – I may or may not have eaten its contents during the flight. The remaining boxes were then presented to my recipients the next day, still in perfect form sans ice packs.

Review: Tonkatsu Maisen Daimarutokyoten (Tokyo, Japan)

1-9-1 Daimaru Tokyo
Tokyo Station, Marunochi
Chiyoda
Tokyo 100-6701
+81 3 6638 6871
http://mai-sen.com/

One of my favourite things to do in Tokyo was to spend an hour or two in supermarkets and department stores. Personally, I think you can learn a lot about a society just by spending some time in a local supermarket and it’s also fun to discover all sorts of interesting products that you wouldn’t find at a say, Coles or Woolies back home.

Tokyo’s department stores also come equipped with an impressive array of things that will get you salivating if you happen to be a hardcore foodie – and Daimaru in Tokyo’s main railway station was one of the more impressive ones I visited during my trip (not that I visited that many because I’m not much of a shopper). Growing up, I remember going to Melbourne Central’s very own Daimaru store every other Sunday and thinking it was the coolest place ever, even I found their book section pretty basic. Of course, the now-defunct Melbourne Daimaru has nothing on this Tokyo branch. So you can imagine how happy I was to spend the next hour or so gawking at all that was on offer in the food hall.

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Some really cute pre-packed lunch sets.

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All the sushi combinations you can think of.

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They even had a wonderful selection of foodstuffs.

I was delighted to find that this particular Daimaru had a Maisen Tonkatsu kiosk. They’re the guys that supposedly do the best tonkatsu (fried crumbed pork) in Tokyo so I was keen to give them a go. Due to the size of the kiosk, there’s no space for a kitchen so your pork won’t arrive all fresh and hot – your meal is pre-packaged. There is the option to get a staff member to heat it up for you but I think most customers (predominantly office workers) don’t bother because time is money, okay.

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However, the coating will still arrive crispy and the box will still be warm enough for you to eat its contents on the go. I happily ate my delicious tonkatsu with the accompanying rice and pickles – it was simple, tasty and filling. And all for ¥777(AUD$7.80) too, which made it a bargain.

Review: L’ATELIER de Joel Robuchon (Tokyo, Japan)

2F Hillside
Roppongi Hills
6-10-1 Roppongi
Minato-ku
Tokyo 106-0032
Japan
+81 3 5772 7500
https://www.robuchon.jp/latelier-en

Okay, I promise this is the last French restaurant I’ll talk about in this Japan instalment of my blog. In fact, it’ll be the last fine dining restaurant too. Funnily enough though, this restaurant – L’ATELIER de Joel Robuchon – calls itself a ‘casual dining’ establishment. I compared to the other Joel Robuchon restaurant in the world (there are heaps), the L’Atelier ones are considered less formal.

The Tokyo one in particular gets diners to sit at the long counter so they can watch the chefs prepare their meals and chat with them. Sure, the overall atmosphere is still pretty refined and up there (you can’t rock up in bum clothes, for example) but it was definitely the most relaxed Michelin-starred restaurant I’ve been to so far – and L’Atelier has two stars.

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I had a pretty big one the night before, involving lots of drunken karaoke with random Japanese folk at a bar, sharing a bottle of whisky with a fellow Australian from whisky and getting locked out of my hotel room and being forced to spend the night in a love hotel (don’t ask). So when I rocked up to the lovely Roppongi Hills restaurant, I was still feeling a little seedy; ordering that wine was probably not my best idea to date.

For lunch, there is the option of going two courses for ¥3050(AUD32), or three for ¥4050(AUD42). You also get to choose from three different dishes for each course. Again, my decision to go for three courses was not my brightest given my state at the time.

Amuse bouche: pork rillettes

Amuse bouche: pork rillettes

Still, I managed to act respectable and finish everything I was given – it wasn’t too hard, the meal was delicious. First up, I had some lovely pork rillettes served on crackers.

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A bread basket was placed in front of me and if I wanted more bread, I was told to help myself. I liked this idea – it saves the waiter from having to be all like “any more bread, madam?” five times during the meal. I love bread like the next person but I didn’t want to fill precious stomach space so I just stuck to the one piece of delicious warm white bread.

Creamy autumn mushroom soup with small croutons

Creamy autumn mushroom soup with small croutons

My entrée was a very generously sized (and filling) cream mushroom soup. I wouldn’t say it was anything special; it was just a really, really good bistro-style mushroom soup that ticked all the right boxes – wonderful smell, great flavours and depth – and not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Sautéed sea bream served with white wine butter sauce

Sautéed sea bream served with white wine butter sauce

My main was another rich one, a beautifully cooked sea bream drizzled in a sauce made with white wine, champagne and butter. Ooh yeah, baby. The sauce was also infused with clams from France, giving it that lovely extra depth while the potato wafers on top provided a lovely crunch.

Apple compote and maple syrup mousse served in a chocolate shell

Apple compote and maple syrup mousse served in a chocolate shell

I chose this dessert, not knowing what to expect (and the only reason why it was chosen was because it sounded like the least richest dessert on the list). Imagine my delight when I saw it plated up so beautifully and whimsically like this.

The pale pink quenelle is an apple sorbet and the white blobs are bits of coffee mousse. As for the toffee apple-looking thing?

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Why, it was a pink chocolate shell filled with frozen maple syrup mousse and apple compote. The playful presentation and the taste of all the elements (not too sweet, yet the flavours were still pronounced) made this baby one of the better desserts I had on this trip.

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After such a rich (yet delicious) meal, I was ready to call it a day. However, I still needed enough energy to get my ass from Roppongi Hills to my hostel in across town so I accepted the offer of a black coffee. It didn’t taste any better than a Starbucks long black but that was to be expected.

I don’t remember exactly how much I paid for the meal but factoring a glass of wine, service charges and taxes, it was still less than AUD100 which I thought was pretty good given the high quality of service and food being presented. And although I’ve never been a big fan of chain restaurants, I enjoyed my first experience at a Joel Robuchon – in fact, it left me wanting more.

Review: Cuisine[s] Michel Troisgros (Tokyo, Japan)

2-7-2 Nishi-Shinjuku
Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo
Japan 160-0023
+81 3 3348 1234
http://www.troisgros.jp/

The second French restaurant I visited in Tokyo was Cuisine[s] Michel Troisgros, perched on the first floor of the Hyatt Regency. This was actually a last minute addition to my list of restaurants to visit and the only reason why I ended up booking there was because I just happened to be staying at the Hyatt Regency the previous night so it wasn’t like I was going out of my way for lunch.

Michel Troisgros happens to be the son of French haute cuisine great Pierre Troisgros, whose restaurant Frères Troisgros won the first ever Michelin Star. Frères Troisgros has since been a three-Michelin star winner since 1968 and Michel is no stranger to success either having opened a few of his own restaurants in France in addition to this baby right here in Shinjuku. The Tokyo restaurant itself received two Michelin stars in 2015.

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Cuisine[s] Michel Troisgros, like most fine dining restaurants in Japan, is elegant and refined. So far, it’s been interesting to compare the fine dining experience in Australia and Japan. Back home, things are much more relaxed at even the most expensive restaurants. Here, there’s a strong level of formality that’s to be expected regardless of whether you’re a diner or staff there. At the same time, service is still friendly no matter where you go and during my time in Japan’s fine dining restaurants, I’ve never experienced a server who’d acted like a wanker – in Australia on the other hand…

But anyway, I digress.

I was given a lovely table by the window. We were in the government district so it wasn’t like the view was amazing but I do love my window seats.

Cuisine[s] Michel Troisgros do set menus for lunch; a few different options are offered with the shortest (and least expensive) menu starting at ¥6000 (AUD62). I decided to go al cheapo by going for the ¥6000 option. For certain dishes in each menu, there’s also the option to have a white truffle supplement for an extra ¥4800 (AUD50). I was going to have the veal with gnocchi for my main and figured that a few slices of truffles would bring the dish to another level. After all, it was white truffle season in Europe so why the hell not?

Côtes du Jura Blanc 2008 (¥2000/AUD20 a glass)

Côtes du Jura Blanc 2008 (¥2000/AUD20 a glass)

My wine for the meal was the very lovely Côtes du Jura Blanc 2008, a Chardonnay that was more peachy and caramel-y than oaky and, in fact, shared similar flavour profiles to a port. To me, it was almost like drinking a dessert wine (hell, it paired well with the coffee I later consumed) but strangely enough, it also matched with all the dishes I ate.

Taro chip with salmon roe, sesame rice ball filled with curry sauce, tuna on sesame bread.

Taro chip with salmon roe, sesame rice ball filled with curry sauce, tuna on sesame bread.

Even though we were at a French restaurant, the nibbles took on a very Japanese flavour; a lovely array of textures and flavours to whet one’s appetite.

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I also enjoyed some warm corn and buckwheat bread along with some plain ol’ white bread with French butter.

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They also offered me some books to read while I was waiting for my meal. Granted, the books were blatant endorsements of the chef and his restaurants but still, I wished more restaurants offered reading material for solo diners.

Pumpkin tortellini with hazelnut and ‘strong juice’

Pumpkin tortellini with hazelnut and ‘strong juice’

The first course was a playful twist on the tortellini. The little shells you were are potato ‘skins’ that are sliced so thinly that they almost felt like rice paper. They were filled with pumpkin soup, lovingly perfumed with chicken stock. I did have a bit of a giggle when I saw ‘strong juice’ on the menu – that term referred to the parmesan-infused white sauce you see on the plate. It was a beautifully presented dish and a creative way to enjoy ‘pumpkin soup’ without feeling too full.

Veal fillet, buckwheat and gnocchi

Veal fillet, buckwheat and gnocchi

So this was my main: veal topped with a salty buckwheat crumb (which you can barely see because of the truffles) and well, two pieces of gnocchi and greens.

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The veal was so succulent and tender while the two gnocchi were beautifully fluffy. The dish would have worked well even without the truffles but I really did think they added a nice earthy element to the dish. It was a fantastic main and I guess my only complaint was that there wasn’t more of it, dammit.

Meringues, muscat grapes

Meringues, muscat grapes

I’m not much of a meringue fan so I did grimace when I saw that meringue was being served. It wasn’t a bad dessert though – perfectly formed meringue tubes were filled with a smooth walnut ice cream and muscat combination while a single pear added a lovely visual contrast on the right. It was a nice strong finish to what had been an excellent meal but it’s not a dessert I would have picked if I had been given a choice.

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I was left to browse the rest of the book with some mediocre coffee (this is a fine dining restaurant in Japan after all) and petit fours to nibble on.

Of course, my meal ended up being over AUD100 given the truffle supplement, service charges and taxes so don’t let the ¥6000 fool you into thinking that you’re getting a bargain. However, the high quality of ingredients, execution of each dish and fantastic service made it worth every yen.

Review: The Roastery by Nozy Coffee (Tokyo, Japan)

5-17-13 Jingumae
Shibuya 150-0001
Tokyo
Japan
+81 3 6450 5755
http://www.tyharborbrewing.co.jp/jp/roastery/#_=_

Being in Japan helped me kick my coffee habit. Not that it was a terribly nasty one – I usually drink two cups a day, which is relatively fine – but the less coffee I drank, the better I would sleep. And if I was going make myself be less dependent on the liquid gold, a good way to do this was to be in a place where good coffee is hard to find.

Japan may not have much of a coffee culture but like many big Asian cities, it’s slowly gaining legs. And by the last week of my Japan trip, I had a craving for coffee. After a quick social media search on where to find better-than-Starbucks-Coffee, I decided to give The Roastery by Nozy Coffee a spin.

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Situated on a Shibuya street where quirky boutique stores lure Tokyo’s fashionistas and western tourists, The Roastery isn’t exactly easy to find – I myself walked past it twice. But here’s a tip for you guys: look for the massive Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren store; The Roastery will be tucked away underneath.

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The staff here are really friendly and know their coffees; they try to push the single origin thang here but a lot of customers were happy to stick to the lattes. Meanwhile, the setting is very Melbourne warehouse chic (it reminded me of Seven Seeds) but with the lights dimmed down to give it more of a refined feel. Props for a mad soundtrack too – I heard a really sexy acoustic mash-up of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ and Billy Joel’s ‘Just The Way You Are.’

New York ring ¥350

New York ring ¥350

Haha! They call cronuts ‘New York rings’ here, which I thought was really cute. They were just like the ones I’ve had back home in Australia – crispy, flaky, buttery and sprinkled with a motherload of sugar. In fact, I struggled to even eat half of mine and had to save the remainder for later. At less than AUD$3.50 though, it was cheaper than a plain cronut from a good bakery in Melbourne or Sydney (where you’d be paying around AUD$5).

Espresso ¥380

Espresso ¥380

I had the single origin espresso from Costa Rica (Salaca red honey) which, strangely enough, came in a champagne flute. The coffee itself was very chocolate-y and punched a punch just like Campos’ Superior Blend but there were also grape notes, giving it more acidity than I would have liked. Personally, I think this coffee would have worked better as a latte (the milk would have evened it out, I reckon) but hey, it was still a good drop to try and definitely the best coffee I had during my Japan trip – which isn’t really saying much considering the only other coffees I had were at fine dining restaurants.

Review: Kirin Ichiban Beer Garden (Tokyo, Japan)

3-7 Udagawa-Cho
Shibuya-Ku, Shibuya
Tokyo
Japan
+81 3 5456 5011

I knew the Japanese love celebrating Halloween but I had no idea just how INSANE they go over it until I experienced a Tokyo Halloween. The days leading up to the actual day involved countless strangers (mostly Tinder guys) asking me what I was doing on Halloween and when I gave my “I dunno, probably nothing” responses, they reacted like I voted for the LNP in the recent Queensland state election.

I had been planning to spend the night in my very nice hotel room but somehow I got talked into braving the streets of Shibuya by a Tinder match who, funnily enough, happened to be staying in the very same hotel as me. And so after a drink at the New York Bar, we braved the massive flock of people commuting from Shinjuku to Shibuya. The train ride was uncomfortable as hell but we still made it to Shibuya in one piece – and on time too. Take that, delayed NYE trains, Melbourne!

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It was cute to see most people go all out with their costumes. And although I’m not usually one for dressing up, I kinda did wish I made more of an effort.

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Even this gaijin got into it.

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Yup, this was Shibuya at 10PM on Halloween! It was extremely hard to get around.

Eventually, my companion and I decided to take a breather at the Kirin Ichiban Beer Garden where a decent size crowd had gathered in the spacious outdoor drinking area. As soon as we entered the bar, we were ushered into a little room where we were made to sit and watch a five-minute documentary about Kirin beer – how beer is made and what makes Kirin so awesome. Because it was entirely in Japanese, I can’t tell you exactly what makes Kirin awesome and neither could the rest of the room – we were all just anxious to get the hell out of there and drink beer, dammit!

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Finally, we were able to slam down some beers. Or more specifically, beer slushies. My companion went for the original Kirin beer slushie while I decided to go for the banana-flavoured version (yes, how fitting). It was an interesting way to drink beer – I liked the texture but all that water did dilute the beer’s taste significantly (both mine and my companion’s). I also wasn’t sure if I liked banana beer; it wasn’t as diluted as the original Kirin slushie but it had that really strong artificial banana flavour taste which I’m not a fan of. It tasted like they had a vat of Kirin and someone poured a shitload of banana flavoured syrup in it.

Regardless, the Kirin Ichiban Beer Garden had a great laidback and vibrant atmosphere making it the perfect spot to people-watch on Halloween night.

Review: L’Effervescence (Tokyo, Japan)

2 Chome-26-4 Nishiazabu
Minato Ward, Tokyo
Tokyo Prefecture 106-0031
Japan
+81 3 5766 9500
http://www.leffervescence.jp/

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Sancerre Les Baronnes 2013

Sancerre Les Baronnes 2013

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.

Amuse bouche

Amuse bouche

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.

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That’s a lovely buttered baguette and rye with a nice pat of French butter, embossed circles and all, yo.

Grilled sanma and its guts, pan-fried potato, garlic soup, chrysanthemum leaves, matsutake mushroom

Grilled sanma and its guts, pan-fried potato, garlic soup, chrysanthemum leaves, matsutake mushroom

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.

Vegetable plate

Vegetable plate

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).

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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.

‘From the idea of apple pie’

‘From the idea of apple pie’

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.

Butternut squash, dandelion root angel food cake, peanuts and lime, maple syrup hailstone

Butternut squash, dandelion root angel food cake, peanuts and lime, maple syrup hailstone

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!’).

Coffee and petit fours

Coffee and petit fours

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.

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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).

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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.