On a recent visit to the well-known (and, these days, well-worn) Sens et Saveurs I was able to take in a large and leisurely Sunday lunch. After having spent the morning watching a documentary about dieting, size zero models and anorexia, I felt it was my duty to counter this odious trend. And what a place to do good for oneself and society! The view from the 35th floor of the Marunouchi Building is nothing short of breathtaking. I have to say however that I am always on my guard about restaurants that have great views as it often seems to detract somehow from their observance of the laws of good food and service. There also seems to be a perverse law in that the level of service must be inversely proportional to the number of service staff. Without being too harsh on the staff, who are quite pleasant, it must have been a long time since someone who really knows what they are doing was in charge.
I would find it hard to imagine that in one of their establishments in France, the first thing you would see on the tables is an application form to the frequent diners club. Just one more gripe before I get onto the food. Apart from the fact that I had to ask for the wine list and was then left sitting with it for about 10 minutes, I had to ask again so that I could see another wine list that featured "demi-bouteilles", then settle in for another long wait (I also had to beg for water). On the list of half bottles there was nothing there under 12,000 yen (for a half bottle!). The glass of Pommery that I had while waiting for the table cost 1,800 yen, which I find a little on the pricey side for a run-of-the-mill Champagne. After a bit of negotiation where I also had to explain to the waiter what a Rose is, I discovered they had a cart of wines that you could order by the glass, which suited us as we did not want to get too slaughtered at lunch. Each glass of wine that we had with the meal (a rather pleasant, honey-hinted Pouilly-Fuissé Burgundy) was also 1,800 yen. The glasses were huge for a white wine but even so I would describe the amount of wine served as a splash, even considering the size of the glass.
They were kind enough to offer a little canape of a cube of crumbed fried fish as I was sipping my Champagne. This was nice enough, although slightly reminiscent of the fried food section at my local supermarket. I was starting to get worried. However when the food started arriving in proper, my fears were allayed. The food is good. My dining partner and I ordered the "Menu Sens et Emotions" which costs 8,400 yen. It is more expensive than the "Sens et Couleurs", and I ordered it the dearer menu not because I wanted more food but because the dishes appeared much more interesting. As an amuse bouche we were served a small pea foam with a hint of mint on top. Eating this provided an amazing sensation of air and pea and made for an interesting start. This was followed by one of the juiciest prawns I have had for a while, wrapped in spring roll pastry and placed on top of a soup of pureed chick peas. On the side was placed a Chinese soup spoon with a scoop of mixed raw white fish with a little piece of bacon on top. I mixed it all up in the soup and the effect was very interesting, with lot of different flavours. This was followed by a little piece of suzuki (Japanese seabass) served on a ravioli base with a creamy artichoke foam. Very pleasant. The main dish was lamb cutlets served with a fried shoulder meat samosa on a tiny bed of risotto with tiny raisins. There was a small scoop of celeriac and another of tomato. Together with the all spice sauce this made for lots of different flavours. We did not let the cheese cart go by and I partook of some mimolette, chevre and Roquefort. Dessert was a "minestrone" of chopped fresh strawberries and white cheese sorbet served with a small sprig of thyme. Again, this was a very successful marriage of flavours. I topped it off with an espresso and, for some unknown reason, we were asked if we wanted our petit fours in a box as we were leaving.
To sum up, I think there is definitely evidence of creative influences in the cooking. Clearly the dishes are designed to combine flavours in unexpected and sometimes exciting ways. I really appreciate this, and would love to see more of it. However the amateurish service is not equal to the pretensions of the overall establishment. On top of this, the place looks like it needs a facelift. Perhaps this is less of an issue if you come for dinner where you can't see the dirty carpet, chipped walls and stained seats. Nevertheless, I think it's time for a visit from les frères Pourcel to ensure that their franchise in Tokyo is not resting on its laurels.