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The Michelin Guide has consistently awarded more stars to Tokyo dining establishments than any other city in the world. I created this blog as my personal Tokyo restaurant guide, but I hope you will also enjoy reading it. If you have been to any of the same places feel free to leave some comments about your own experiences.

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Thursday, 29 January 2009

Restaurant Forest, Minami Aoyama レストラン・フォレスト 南青山

My dining partner almost successfully made me promise that I wouldn't share the secret of Restaurant Forest at Minami Aoyama. However out of loyalty to my readers (and the constant need for material) I had to politely decline. This gem of a restaurant is tucked away in a paved lane not far from the Cassina furniture store in the Unimat building, and is a haven from the hustle and bustle of Aoyama Dori.

On a recent visit for dinner we sampled the basic Forest menu which includes an amuse, entree, main and dessert. My dining partner insisted that we add another course which was a delightful sea urchin, consomme jelly and cream cocktail which really made the meal sing.

The courses started with a moreish amuse of raw tuna on a crouton. This was followed by a white fish carpaccio, which went nicely with the bottle of French white we were sampling. This was followed by the aforementioned sea urchin cocktail and then by a beautifully mushroomy mushroom soup.

My main was lamb, and from the moment it hit the table the fragrance of the pistou, rosemary and the meat itself filled me with delight. The tender meat and its accompaniments tasted as good as it smelt. My dining partner's fish was, by all accounts, delicious but for once I didn't feel like I'd ordered the wrong thing! Dessert was a pudding with passion fruit ice-cream, fruits of the forest and a yummy bit of fig.

This feast was very nicely topped off with coffee and cognac. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Restaurant Forest. I think it's quite appropriate for business or pleasure and the standard of cooking and service is very high. Another terrific example of thoughtful but unpretentious Tokyo dining.

Tel: 03-5786-1531

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Ippudo, Ebisu 一風堂 恵比寿

Ippudo, a Hakata-style ramen chain, comes highly recommended by the ramen cognoscenti and has even opened a branch recently in New York City. Usually it requires a bit of a wait to get in causing me to walk on by, but on one recent Saturday I saw some spare seats and managed to get away with just a little wait outside in the cold. Once you do make it inside, you will be greeted by a bustling, crowded dining room with shared refectory-style tables featuring lots of condiments in jars such as pickled ginger, fresh garlic (crushers as well!), chili bean sprout in sesame oil and a green vegetably-one I cannot identify.

Their specialty is a milky, rich, but not too oily tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen. I ordered this with the works which entailed a supplement of 5 or 6 nori sheets and some extra negi served on the side. My dining partner ordered a tonkotsu ramen with chawan mushi in it, which I've never seen before but am assured was delicious.

Personally I wasn't that taken with it, feeling that the flavours were a little muted and the soup kind of lukewarm (but I'm not a huge fan of tonkotsu in any case). I'm a bit of a barbarian with ramen, deliberately ignoring the subtelty of flavours, preferring to be hit over the head with the more explosive tastes to be found at Kohmen whose black tan tan men is currently on top of my ramen hit parade. Also highly recommended is Bannai Kitakata ramen where you have to see to believe the amount of scrumptious bbq pork they serve in their bowls!

Friday, 23 January 2009

Union Square Tokyo, Roppongi (Midtown) ユニオンスクエアトウキョウ 六本木 東京ミッドタウン

Union Square is one of my regular joints for lunch when I'm feeling like somewhere with tablecloths. It's a pleasant American style restaurant located on the ground floor at Midtown with a view over the gardens and, weather permitting, you can sit inside or outside. You can order either a la carte or from a set menu and I do either depending on what looks good. On my most recent visit for lunch I ordered the 2,800 yen menu as well as a 1,200 yen glass of pleasant Californian sparkling. Bread is served throughout the meal and a little dish of olives is provided for you to nibble on. For the entree I chose a soft sheep's cheese with smoked tomato and cauliflower tempura and, for the main, salmon with horseradish infused mashed potato. Dessert was a rice pudding with sun-dried fig and wine sauce.

On every visit I have found the food to be of a very good middle-of-the-road standard and the service friendly and efficient. My only gripe is having being thrown out off the terrace a couple of times around 3pm when I have outstayed my welcome. I will never understand how restaurants in Japan think it's good practice to throw their patrons out for the crime of lingering but, like many things in my life, I just exhale and stoically accept.

Tel: 03-5413-7780

Monday, 19 January 2009

Les Pieds Nus, Ebisu ぴえにゅ 恵比寿

Les Pieds Nus is a French restaurant located quite near the west exit of Ebisu station. On a recent visit for weekday lunch I had the pleasure of ordering their 1,300 yen lunch set which includes an entree, main and coffee. Condemning myself never to lose weight I ordered a glass of house red, the crab bisque and the beef cheek. These all entailed a supplement so my share of the bill totalled 2,800 yen.

The house wine, which tasted like it had been chilled (quel horreur), was just on the right side of acceptable. This was followed by the bisque which was served with grated cheese, croutons and a fish sauce on the side. These condiments weren't really necessary, but added a nice touch nonetheless. The soup itself was very tasty, perhaps more creamy than crabby. The modest serve of beef cheek truly melted in the mouth and was served with a beautifully rich brown sauce, fried potato shavings, mashed potato, bean and broccoli. My dining partner did not rave about his salad or the fish, so I need to moderate my praise with that feedback.
Tel: 03-3449-6797

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Kimukatsu, Ebisu キムカツ 恵比寿

Kimukatsu always has a line of people outside it, so usually I avoid it as lining up is not my thing. Except, I have noticed, recently - which I fear is another symptom of the GFC. Somewhat depressingly, all over Ebisu I am noticing the husks and empty shells of what were once viable dining establishments. As an entrepreneur myself, I know that every empty restaurant, shop and office has a story behind it and not a little bit of pain so my heart goes out to those places that didn't make it.

Out of the Darwinian shake-out though, certain establishments will survive and I am sure that Kimukatsu will be one of those. Their unique concept is tonkatsu done more ways than you ever thought possible eg garlic, miso, plum, black sesame, negi, cheese and, of course, plain. The meat itself is different to the classic tonkatsu, being made up of layers of pork like a millefeuille, crumbed and then deep fried and is quite delicious. All up it's about 2,100 yen per head for a set that includes as much cabbage as you can eat, rice, miso, pickles and of course the tonkatsu itself.

On my most recent visit I ordered it with a lovely sweet, dark miso sauce which was absolutely superb. Everything is yummy and the service is very pleasant indeed. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Kimukatsu for an informal lunch and, if you need to line up, I'd say it's well worth it.

Tel: 03-5420-2929

H.A. Ebisu アッシュ・アー 恵比寿

H.A. is a little French restaurant that I found several months back on one of my power walks round Ebisu. Being a little place in a side street, it's easy to miss and, even if you remember the name, almost impossible to search for on any search engine in English. I had to go to the trusty gurunavi's Japanese street map and retrace my steps to even pick up the phone number.

Anyway, on a recent visit for dinner on a Saturday night I had the opportunity to sample their service and cuisine. From the moment I walked in I felt a little bit strange. The hostess/ waitress virtually ignored me and concentrated the entire evening on my dining partner (who, it must be said, is significantly better looking and more charming than me). There was only one other table of people in the restaurant that evening, but we still had to wait an eternity to have the plates cleared as she, and later the chef lavished all their attention on this party. Once they had left and we had her more undivided attention she then launched into all sorts of questions about the ethnic background of myself and my dining partner - including a question as to how on earth I could possibly stand to live in Japan. Whenever asked to explain my presence in the country these days, I just say "for the money" and this kind of ends the topic. Of course, the truth, as my readers know, is that I stay for the food!

The opening act was a small plate of cold mushrooms that had been sautéed a while back, which were not very strong tasting except for a hint of earthiness and butter. For my entree we both ordered the caramel and foie gras pudding and for the main a chicken ballotine, which is a fancy way of saying it's been stuffed. There was no choice offered for dessert, and this ended up as a blanc manger covered in fruit (the horror, the horror). The entree looked great, but I'm sorry to report was really rather bland. A foie gras and caramel pudding should be bursting with flavour and richness, but I could not taste anything more than the slightest hint of foie gras. It came with a magnificent looking slice of truffle, but this truffle had absolutely no smell and no taste - kind of freakish for what is usually such a powerful presence in any dish. The kaki (Japanese persimmon) jam served on the side was ok, but as there was no real contrasting savoury flavour it didn't really work.

As for the main, while the presentation of the dish looked good, the only real flavour in the dish was a kind of saltiness from the chicken. This was followed by a very fruity kiwi sorbet which I gave to my dining partner and the compulsory dessert. I only ate the blanc manger part only as I am a weirdo when it comes to eating most fruit - it has made me gag since I was a baby. I have come across some other people similarly afflicted but it's a rare and bizarre thing I admit.

It is possible that I was disappointed by the lightness of the cooking when I was expecting something richer (kind of what you'd be looking for if you order foie gras with truffle!). For many people a lighter style of cooking is preferred. However light need not mean bland and I'm afraid to say that the cooking here is bland. It's almost as if the chef has lost his sense of taste, or toned things down a little bit too much for a more sensitive Japanese palate. From what I have experienced in Tokyo though, I think the Japanese palate can handle quite a bit of flavour - and this, at the end of the day, is what French cooking is all about. Along with a glass of champagne, mineral water and half a bottle of Bordeaux the bill was more than 25,000 yen which I felt was stretching the value equation just a bit far.
Tel: 03-5798-8391