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.