L’Effervescence レフェルヴェソンス

So here we are, at L’Effervescence. IMG_5499

Unlike most restaurants of the same league in town it was relatively easy to get a table here, perhaps due to the fact that it serves up to 50 customers per night which is a big number for a Michelin-starred restaurant. My (awesomely) gluttonous friend decided to pre-book 3 extra courses on top of the standard 11-course tasting menu … We were in for a longg night! Started off with a fresh peach bellini. IMG_5501Before the meal started, we were given 4 olives that were meant to be in 2 different flavours. I wasn’t sure how subtle the difference was supposed to be so I’m not actually sure if I picked 2 of the same flavour or if I had actually tried both flavours…IMG_5502 So! We began with seabream, sakura shrimp, spring onion and sea mustard in a moussy foamy concoction accompanied by what seemed like an almost – empty small glass with two pieces of yuzu peel and ice. I am sure it was supposed to compliment the seafood mixture in some way but honestly there was too little in that glass to make any significant difference :p Despite this slightly confusing arrangement the concoction itself was delightful and made a good start for the meal.IMG_5508

Course 2 – signature apple pie – packaging purposely reminiscent of McDonald’s, revealing the chef’s playful side. Athough the “apple pie” is permanently on the menu, the filling changes from time to time. This was apple pie #14, with Burdock, Gizzard, Rosemary.IMG_5514

Moon butter ❤IMG_5517

Course 3 “has just begun~”: firefly squid & udo, salted preserved lemon emulsion, hon-wasabi, kishu-umeboshi foam. IMG_5521Firefly squid (hotaru-ika) incredibly juicy and sweet! These are deep-sea squids that have very short life-spans and emit light in the dark sea like fireflies, hence the name 🙂 IMG_5523

Course 4 “A fixed point”  – another signature dish : whole cooked turnip and parsley oil emulsion sitting on tiny pieces of Kintoa Basque ham & brioche. Definitely one of the best turnip dishes I’ve ever had! IMG_5527

Perfectly golden in the middle. IMG_5533

Course 5 “through the forest 2014” : green asparagus soup and tsubu-gai croquette, bamboo shoots, mountain cheese “quark”, white miso, Japanese mugwort oil.  I’ve always felt that asaparagus shines brightest when enjoyed either grilled or in soup form and here I am getting it in both! The condensed sweetness of asparagus was very apparent in every small sip and the croquette added a nice accent to the liquid dish.IMG_5540

Course 6 “from the sea~to the mountain” : A combination of sea and earth; ayu cooked vividly and its clear broth, guts flavored gastric sauce & tapenade, watercress, mountain sansho pepper.  We were first presented with a set of small glasses from which we had to pick one to drink the ayu broth with. IMG_5537

Crystal clear ayu broth, I was taken by the purity of this- whilst being as clear as water it was at the same time intensely flavourful ! IMG_5545

The ayu itself was cut up and cooked in 3 different ways (sounds cruel, I know). A deepfried head, one side of the body grilled with mountain sansho pepper, the other side with the gastric sauce & tapenade. IMG_5547

(L00k @ dA wAY it bENdzz)IMG_5546Course 7 “deep green” : char-roast pigeon from Vendée, fuki shoot puree and sweet & sour meat jus, mountain vegetables, black olive. Check that colour out! Still very red yet not at all bloody. Succulent and gamey with a thin, crispy layer of skin. IMG_5559

Course 8 “Imaginary picnic ~ under the loquat tree”. Naturally cooked foie gras & loquat milk, sake jelly, cucumber, salad burnet. This foie gras was silky smooth and extraordinary light – perfect considering that I was getting a little full at this point!  IMG_5565

Then came the “Right & left” Taiwanese tea. At first glance this looked like an ordinary cup of tea and I wondered what its name had anything to do with anything. But as soon as I took a sip, my first reaction was “wth?” and then it all made sense. The right side was hot and the left side was COLD!  Not even kidding. One liquid, 2 temperatures. #mindblown.  I think they probably did this by mixing liquids of 2 different consistencies, putting the hot one (thicker) into the cold one? IMG_5568

We were then presented a tray of funky knives for use in our next course.IMG_5570

Course 10 “Surf & Turf~” : Shinsyu-wagyu leg char-grill roast, geoduck clam puree & saute, sabayon sauce, spring onion, arugula & chrysanthemum leaves. IMG_5572

This was also very well executed although I started feeling very heavy after eating 2 different red meats in a row. However I was dining with someone with a bottomless stomach on this night so it only felt natural to keep eating. (excuse my poor attempt at blaming other people for over-eating :p)IMG_5577

To give myself a more “balanced” meal I opted for vegetables instead of cheese after all of the above. IMG_5581

Finally, it was dessert time! Course 12, just as I was thinking about how much I missed the UK, was named “Memory of Borough market in London~” . This was a combination of espresso jelly, goat cheese mousse, chick pea, mango, dill and date thin-crisp. An interesting combination that worked together nicely as the bitter, acidic sharpness of espresso jelly was mellowed out by the creamy cheese mousse and given a nice crunch with the thin-crisp. IMG_5586

I guess it isn’t a French tasting menu if there aren’t multiple desserts. Course 13, “Warm spring sunlight” was made of Rhubarb confit and Tochiotome strawberry, elderflower beer jelly, Earl Grey ice-cream, and molten custard cream disc with shortbread crumbs. IMG_5590Ta-da! IMG_5592

At last, a blue herb tea …

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and a final course 14, young shoot of barley ice-cream, Tonka beans milk mousse, bing cherry confit. IMG_5595

I love that none of the desserts here were too sweet. IMG_5606

Except perhaps the petit-fours – these were all very sweet, but fun to eat! Note the toothpaste shaped tube, which contains lemon curd you squeeze into the flower-shaped tart to make a mini lemon tart 😀IMG_5600

And last but not least a piece of pound cake to take home. I ate this after I got home – simple, good stuff.IMG_5609

 

L’Effervescence 

Address: 2-26-4 Nishi-azabu, Minato-ku Tokyo, 106-0031

東京都港区西麻布2-26-4

Telephone: 03-5766-9500

Website: http://www.leffervescence.jp

 

 

 

A lovely bistro – Benoit

Went to this casual French bistro near my neighbourhood for lunch. Located on the 10th and 11th floors of La Porte Aoyama, Benoit boasts some pretty nice views of the city. (That probably sounds very low for people from i.e. Hong Kong… but in Aoyama… that’s a skyscraper!)

Of all French restaurants in Tokyo, Benoit did not seem to enjoy as much of a hype as the various establishments of Joel Robuchon or places like L’Osier and Quintessance. Perhaps, after all, it is just a bistro. However, it actually belongs to the Michelin star-studded French chef Alain Ducasse and holds one Michelin star itself.

On this particularly sunny day, the large glass windows filled the restaurant with beautiful natural light; the sweet decor and pink walls made for a warm atmosphere that seemed to bring a sense of dainty girliness out of any female guest. (pedantic Feminists do not sue me for gender stereotypes!).

IMG_3979 IMG_3976 IMG_3973 IMG_3972As expected, the restaurant was filled with women and I did not spot a single man in there except one person who looked like a lesbian but might have been a girly looking man. IMG_3935IMG_3930 IMG_3929 I personally opted for the lunch set of 2 entreés, 1 main dish and 1 dessert, but I also tried a bit of almost everything everyone else on my table had. So here comes a list of all the things I tried on the day! IMG_3934Salade Benoit au foie gras de canard 
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Broccoli soup with ricotta cheese
IMG_3940 Brandade de morue (salt cod emulsion) topped with an oeuf mollet IMG_3942eggs eggs eggs ❤
IMG_3943 I also had coquillettes with jambon blanc, black truffles and comté cheese. Before the dish was served, I was asked about the amount of truffles I wanted to have as it is charged by the gram and freshly shaved upon serving.IMG_3945 The price of the truffles was extremely reasonable, although this was also reflected in the taste and insufficient aroma of the truffles. Nevertheless, the comté and truffle sauce was very tasty and this was probably my favourite entreé.
IMG_3951 For mains my aunt had this pork dish. I tried hardly any of this as I was already quite full after eating two entreés (as you can see, portions were not small).  IMG_3953I personally went for the scallops (noix de Saint-Jacques poêlées) in red wine sauce as it was obviously the lightest option available. These were fantastically sweet and succulent! The endives meunières were also fresh, soaking up the lovely sauce that had a tangy hint of orange.
IMG_3955I was full but as my Japanese aunt always said, we have a betsu-bara (other stomach) specially for desserts. My mom had this baked apple which you can get if you pay an extra 500 yen. It was good but I am very glad I didn’t go for this because what I ordered turned out to be the biggest highlight of this meal (at no extra charge too! oh oh oh oh!)

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This combo of chocolate, caramel, milk ice cream and salted caramel was simply DIVINE. I was initially tempted by every single item in the dessert menu but when salted caramel is involved it becomes a sure bet that I’d choose it over anything else unless I end up getting everything (which I didn’t, because I was on a –diet-). 

IMG_3960 It wasn’t the most delicate dessert I ever had – there were no fancy, intricate details but boy this was ORGASMIC. Like something you just want to shove in your face over and over again and not stop, EVER. This is what I call a magic stick. I think I would return just to have this again. 20140123-183615.jpg

I left feeling uber satisfied by this lunch. 
IMG_3966 IMG_3965And the bathrooms were cute too!! IMG_3967 IMG_3969

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By the way, if you come on a weekend I suggest checking out the Aoyama Farmers market to walk your heavy lunch off – it’s a mere 30 seconds away from the restaurant’s building and lots of fun. (You can find info about this here: http://whereintokyo.com/venues/25057.html)

Benoit 

Address:  Aoyama Building – 10-11 floor La Porte

5-51-8 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku

150-0001, Tokyo, Japan      東京都渋谷区神宮前5-51-8 ラ・ポルト青山10階

Website: www.benoit-tokyo.com

Telephone: +81 (3)6419 41 81

Ogino

If you ask me what the Japanese are best at cooking apart from Japanese cuisine, I’d say French. Some of you might argue – Didn’t Italian food get popular first back in the 1920’s? How about Korean BBQ with Kobe beef? Not denying the quality of other international cuisines in Japan (with the exception of Chinese food perhaps, as I have yet to find anything brilliant in Japan apart from a sheng jian bao that was 10 times better than the famous Xiao Yang in Shanghai!) , but it seems difficult to find another culture that has a level of refined sensitivity and perfectionism matching up to what is required of artful French cuisine. This is in part accountable to how serious Japanese chefs get when it comes to sourcing ingredients, and our chef of the night Shinya Ogino is one such example. On the official Ogino restaurant website, all the farms chef Ogino sources from are introduced along with  smiley headshots of the farmers themselves. One of the things I admire most about Japan is that whilst farmers in many countries are commonly pictured either as exploited or lowly-paid workers suffering in the coutryside, Japanese farmers are often seen as proud producers of their specialties, regarding themselves as “researchers” of how to grow the best tomatoes,corn,eggplants,beefporkchicken whatnot.

So here’s our meal at Ogino (in Ikejiri-Ohashi, just one station away from Shibuya) !

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We opted for the 5 course “Menu Saison”. This was an omakase tasting menu although we were also allowed to pick out dishes from the a-la-carte menu if there was a particular dish we really wanted to try.

The first appetizer was a zuwai crab salad in an avocado puree, topped with a layer of mandarin orange jelly. Not a particularly innovative combination, but the mandarin jelly gave a fresh zesty kick to the creamy mixture, all for fostering an appetite to begin the meal.

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Next up was this jerusalem artichoke cream – probably the less impressionable of the appetizers; I would have liked it better with more flavour or a bit of a crunch. The jerusalem artichokes used were evidently very fresh, but IMO a bit of an accent would have been neat :p  IMG_3873

Before the second pair of appetizers we were served the bread and some delicious homemade rilette. IMG_3876

Our third appetizer arrived swiftly after the breads; although I’ve been telling myself to stop eating foie gras for both health and ethical reasons, this Vendée duck foie gras and truffle terrine was too good to miss so I had to side with the devil. The truffle aroma here was not particularly strong – what really took centre stage in this dish was the six blocks of fujinotori chicken, loaded with flavour permeated from the gamey foie gras. IMG_3882

The final appetizer was sauteéd st-jacques with truffled mashed potato in a “bacon cappucino” sauce. This one was divine! The aroma of black truffles in this dish was more apparent than in the foie gras terrine. The scallops were not particularly big but in here it meant a compact, intense sweetness in every little bite. They were also nicely done golden brown at the top and bottom, whilst remaining just opaque enough in the middle to be sufficiently cooked without losing moisture. IMG_3884

For our mains we had two different seafood dishes and two meat dishes. For seafood we had the oven-baked cod with cumin and Lobster thermidor. IMG_3886

I’d say I preferred the lobster thermidor. It was meaty, buttery but not overly so, and smelled oh so good! The cod was not so bad but it made me see why Ogino’s claim to fame was based on meats rather than fishes. IMG_3888

An icy palate cleanser was served between the seafood courses and meat courses.IMG_3891

For the meats we had the Za’atar (mixed herbs of middle eastern origin) lamb and roast veal (from Brittany). Both very good, but at this point I was getting so full that I really wanted dessert ASAP. (They say we have a separate stomach for desserts. I can only assume so, and the only way to keep enjoying food without making one stomach explode ought to be switching to the other one, right?)  IMG_3896 IMG_3894

The next three photos are of desserts that I did not try personally. I’ll just let the photos speak 😛

The warm chocolate brownie,IMG_3900

Pudding,IMG_3899

and panacotta. IMG_3901

I had the “reversed mont blanc” which was basically a standard mont blanc with ingredients done inside out, with the pureed chestnut and whipped cream sitting inside a gang of broken meringue pieces. Not bad!! IMG_3903

Lastly we had our herb tea and madeleines, and that was the end 😀
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Ogino’s motto (as seen on his website) is “世界はひとつ!美味くて安くて楽しい、それがOGINO料理です。” (The world is one ! Tasty, cheap, fun, that’s OGINO cuisine.)

When a restuarant prides itself on being cheap I normally would not expect it to be all that great. However in Ogino’s case the terrific cost-performance of my meal really shone through. At 6500 yen (around 65 USD) for a five-course meal including lobster and foie gras, I think Ogino’s claim to be tasty and cheap is certainly justified 😀

Ogino 

Address: 2-20-9 Ikejiri, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
東京都世田谷区池尻2-20-9

Tel: 03-5481-1333

Website: www.french-ogino.com 

P.S. Ogino even has a link to his own blog in the “About Us” section of the restaurant’s page. When you click the link a message pops up saying that you can only enter the site if you can confirm to be over 30 years of age. Naturally being the good girl I am, I did not click it.

JK. Unfortunately there is nothing explicit in there. Just chef Ogino and his sidekick updating everyday about new goodies from their delis around the city!

Takazawa (Aronia de Takazawa)

On a modest little street in Akasaka sits Yoshiaki Takazawa’s culinary wonderland where hours are spent preparing food for a maximum number of ten diners each night. It is easy to miss, as the name “TAKAZAWA” is only printed on the glassdoor in a rather camouflaging shade of grey. Takazawa started out as “Aronia de Takazawa” in 2005 and with only two tables, I had never been able to plan ahead in time to reserve a table for any of my spontaneous Tokyo visits. I have literally struggled to fit this restaurant into my schedule for YEARS and this summer I finally managed to go! Thanks to the one additional table they decided to accommodate per night after hiring an assistant.

ok here we go

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Upon entering the glassdoor I was greeted by these steps with the first and last lines of Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees” inscribed on the rail.

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I was sat at the two seater table directly facing the chef’s sleek, metallic stage-like kitchen.  Because I have read before that chef Takazawa himself is somewhat shy, I took this quick snap before he appeared, when his assistant was the only one standing there.
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The meal began with a mouthful of caviar served on an ice spoon. Or so I thought. Akiko, chef Takazawa’s wife and our hostess for the night, explained that the “caviar” was actuallly made with tomatoes. I spent a while staring at it until the spoon melted a bit in a sudden crackle. I quickly shoved the spoonful into my mouth after this photograph was taken. Just in time! A very refreshing mouthful of tiny tomato balls bursting in my mouth. IMG_2479

Had hitachino beer to go with this just because it’s cute 😛 IMG_2478

For the second amuse-bouche we had chef Takazawa’s playful rendition of the standard appetizer combo: parma ham and melon – in jelly form!

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The third and last amuse-bouche was matsutake mushroom tempura. This was SO much better than the tempura I had at the “legendary” Mikawa Zezankyo (see my last post). It was not oily at all and the matsutake itself was aromatic and sapid.IMG_2484

Then we were finally presented with our first course – Takazawa’s signature “ratatouille”. Akiko instructed us to devour all of this in one big mouthful. WOWOWOW THIS WAS AMAZING, and possibly the most colourful bite of food I have ever had in my life. Approximately 15 different kinds of vegetables were cut into small cubes and tidily combined to form this brilliant piece; each chew resulted in a different crunch and it was very interesting indeed.

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Then we were served a thick, square piece of homemade corn toast accompanied by a mini jar of okinawa agu pork rillette. The toast was grilled to perfection, redolent of the sweet, fragrant corn. Combined with the delicious pork rillette, calling this one of the best pieces of toast I have EVER had would not be an overstatement. At this point I was very very very happy.

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Course three was a vegetable parfait. This was a refreshing tomato gazpacho topped with a lovely layer of mozzarella mousse, basil sauce, caviar, a fried basil leaf and some delicately cut pepper cubes for crunch. Hmm. SO GOOD! Although the combination of primary flavours in this dish were, as you can see, common fare in Italian cuisine, what I found most remarkable was the perfect balance of texture and taste that chef Takazawa managed to strike with these standard ingredients.

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Next we were presented with this beautiful platter of uni, kuruma-ebi, ikura and a baby crab, arranged on a blue board with shells scattered around in an image of the sea.

IMG_2515I was all ready to dive in when Akiko came over to place another gigantic plate, also reminiscent of the sea, right at the centre of our table. This plate consisted of baby squid, sazae, bafun uni, abalone, seaweed and jelly.

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The presentation of this entire course was simply gorgeous! I felt like I was literally a sea monster eating all sorts of delectable organisms from below ground level. IMG_2506

Then this showed up at our table. At any other average restaurant we would have thought that dessert has come too early by mistake – this looks like it cannot be anything but  Tiramisu.  But since we were at Takazawa, where almost no mistakes are ever made by the meticulous master chef & wife, we knew that we were in for a surprise…IMG_2521And we were RIGHT! This was corn mousse with crab meat topped with a cocoa & liquorice powder. I normally detest liquorice of all sorts but the liquorice here played only a minor role, of adding a bit of depth to the powder which was mostly cocoa. The corn mousse had a full-bodied sweetness which went very well with the meaty layer of fresh crab.

IMG_2524After that we were served this course entitled “Mount Fuji” made of a variety of  “rare” vegetables. Possibly the most well-executed vegetarian dish I have ever come across – not only was every bite delicious, the contents were very interesting. And this was  NOT because chef Takazawa presented the dish with a ceremonious pouring of water into the mountain of dry ice. The vegetables were actually incredible.IMG_25292IMG_2530

Each vegetable was specially prepared; matched with different sauces, garnishings, or marinated. I was also introduced to the “oyster leaf” (the small leaf at the front of the plate) which tasted exactly like kaki furai (fried oyster) with a dab of tartar sauce!

IMG_2531And then we had the “Candleholder”. At first glance I thought I could just dig into that gleaming brown circle but turns out it was just the design of the lid. 
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And it was foie gras creme brulee inside the LID ! With mango puree in the tin candle base to go with. The gamey flavour of foie gras struck perfect balance with the mango’s fruity freshness and the crunchy caramelized layer of the brulee added a nice touch to the whole affair.

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And it was all so SO good spread on the biscotti that came with it.IMG_25482

And then this was “Breakfast at Takazawa”. Compared with the other dishes, the combination of flavours present here had less of a “wow” factor but was nonetheless delicious. The idea behind this dish was to emulate a typical egg & cereal breakfast, fancified 100 times with summer truffles & cereal pieces that are in fact small potato chips.

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IMG_2556Next up – the Mexican Lobster. The story behind this dish was simply that chef Takazawa went to Mexico, got inspired and decided to add poached lobster in Mexican flavours to his menu :p  The lobster meat was cooked exceptionally well – sweet and tender, and although I am not a fan of coriander it was not overpowering the lobster’s brininess. The salsa, being sourish with fresh tomatoes, successfully spawned some extra appetite, which I really needed after consuming about 10 dishes.

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Our last savoury course was a meaty dish called “Paddyfields” – basically charcoal roast duck (sprinkled with summer truffles) with mashed potatoes shaped to look like a paddy field. Although I normally avoid eating animal skin, this smelled too good and looked too crispy to resist. And boyyy am I glad I broke my own rule – the skin did not feel fatty at all – just a layer of crispy goodness on top of a block of extremely succulent, flavourful duck meat. I was so full at this point … but this put me in heaven, I was dying happy.

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What pulled me back on earth to prepare me for dessert was this palate-cleanser – the “melon soda”. These ingenius pieces of melon were infused with fizzy soda so that as you bite into the melon, the fizziness bursts in your mouth.

 IMG_2570Although the melon soda did work an appetite up for me again, I was praying that dessert would not be something too heavy. After 3 amuse-bouches and 10 courses I certainly was  not in the mood for creamy chocolate or caramel pastry. Luckily, chef Takazawa was probably aware of this and Akiko came out with the perfect “Wine-tasting” dessert! Akiko instructed that we should start with the row of white wine jelly from left to right, and then do the same with the row of red wine jelly. Each piece of jelly was infused with one particular ingredient – this was exciting as we tasted our way through each jelly, from particulalry sweet ones like the peachy white wine to more intriguing ones such as the coffee infused red wine.  The jelly blocks were also presented beautifully like little gems on a shiny silver plate.

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Akiko also kindly gave me a copy of all the flavours laid out, just for reference, Indeed this was one fascinating session of winetasting. I actually would love to try all the pieces of jelly in liquid wine form.

IMG_2584Finally the night ended with a plate of petit-fours, consisting of cat-shaped miso cookies, caramel sweets, crunchy white chocolates, bone shaped calpis gummies and little cakes. IMG_2586

What can I say… I’ve already booked myself a dinner again for when I’m in Tokyo this December 😀

TAKAZAWA

Website:  http://www.takazawa-y.co.jp

Address :

3-5-2 Akasaka, Sanyo Akasaka Building 2F Minato, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan

〒107-0052
東京都港区赤坂3-5-2 サンヨー赤坂ビル裏側2F

Telephone: +81 3-3505-5052