Depending on your reason for visiting Tokyo, you may hear of its street food, its themed restaurants or its world-class fine dining. I sampled all three (the themed restaurants will make for an amusing post) and perhaps unsurprisingly, my true pick of where to go for dinner in Tokyo is from the latter group. On our last night in Tokyo, Curtis and I enjoyed a sumptuous five-course, twenty-dish meal at three-Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire’s only restaurant in Japan. What a mouthful, har har har (I’ll show myself out).
With twenty tastes to revisit, this lengthy meal is deserving of a lengthy blogpost so go and make yourself a cup of (green) tea.
Having been invited to stay at the simply amazing five-star ANA Intercontinental Tokyo by the kind folk at IHG Rewards Club (more on that later), it was just an elevator ride away from our luxuriant room. Situated on the 36th floor of the ANA Intercontinental Tokyo, the restaurant windows perfectly display and frame the city’s sparkling skyline with flickering tea lights on the window sills. I thought our room had an amazing nighttime view – it looked out directly onto the lit-up Tokyo Tower, as you can see in the photos above – but this was something else. The seating plan takes full advantage of the city before it, with smaller tables in the alcoves and large, almond-shaped ones in the centre of the restaurant, allowing diners to sit next to each other to share the stunning view.
We arrived early (very – 5:55pm) to an empty restaurant but remained there until 9:00pm, when it had quietly filled up with other groups of two. Perhaps this is part of the culture shock, and perhaps this makes me judgmental as sin, but we saw one too many men in his sixties dining with and bequeathing gifts upon women much younger than I. It was a comfort to see the semi-private dining space in use by a couple in traditional Japanese dress though; without them, I may have assumed the restaurant attracted only the flashy and trashy gentleman trying to woo a girl young enough to be his granddaughter. Ok, I’ll stop being so judgmental now. Sorry sugar babies, you keep doing you.
Although the restaurant is of course open to the public, there was a dining option exclusive to guests of ANA Intercontinental Tokyo, which my date and I both opted for. He the Japanese beef at a JPY4,000 supplement; me the roasted duck. The Esquisse tasting menu took us on a culinary journey with 20 delicious stops (I think; I’m pretty sure we lost count somewhere along the way).
We started with not one, but five amuse bouches: a little salted ginger cookie, a goats’ cheese ball infused with tomato and paprika, squid with carrot puree, some smoked salmon wrapped in an udon noodle, and a very salty morsel of chestnut. Is that an accurate portrayal of French cuisine? Slightly. It’s certainly an accurate portrayal of deliciousness and a strong way to introduce us to and tease us for the following fifteen bites.
Our starter for all intents and purposes was another five-strong cocktail de poche, beginning with a palette-cleansing sorbet. Flavoured with grape, campari and grapefruit, it came on a bed of mango salad seasoned with Japanese Yuzu jelly. The restaurant positions its menu as an offering of contemporary French cuisine, but it neglects to celebrate its continual nod to Japanese tastes. Starter deux: aspic of scallop and fresh dill with salmon eggs and a sauce they called “Sketch’up”. I’m not sure of the difference between ketchup and “sketch’up,” though I am sure of its graininess and tastiness. Also on the starter menu was a cold pumpkin and rum soup with gingerbread chantilly; a Sanma fillet; and persillade of veal with root vegetables. The final one was the starter’s piece de resistance for me; a real winter warmer. The Sanma fish, too, is traditionally eaten in Japan only at this time of year and had a similar taste to sea bass, making it a winner in my books.
This is starting to feel like a list of delicious little bites, but each of the twenty dishes deserves a mention so apols, you’ve still got the mid course, the main course, five puddings and five sec petits fours to go…
I’d never tried squid ink until this evening, but my first foray into this exotic ingredient was pleasant (though not mind-blowing). It was the only part of the meal that I didn’t polish off fully; partially because by this point I was heading towards repletion. The fish itself, however, was cooked to perfection with intensely crispy skin.
I chose the duck for the sake of variety; if my dinner guest and I were to order the same tasting menu, I thought we’d better deviate at the only opportunity we had. We both agreed my duck dish trumped the Japanese beef which was odd, as the country’s reputation for beef is unparalleled and we were dining in one of Japan’s finest eateries. The duck came alongside a chestnut mousseline that had a slight coffee-like taste to it and a small dosage of foie gras (as delicious as it is un-PC).
Pierre Gagnaire is a thoughtful man; in case we weren’t full enough by this point, he covered all bases by providing three puddings and five petit fours to fill any gaps we may still have had. Props to you, Pierre. In ascending order of my own preference, we had a Pear Charlotte with vanilla ice cream and Yuzu sauce, a chocolate gateaux with strawberry conserve, and a mango and coconut tapioca dish. The last was so delicate and just the right taste after such a rich, salty and decadent main course.
On our way out, we received a small care package from the restaurant; some loaves of Brioche (which I polished off while waiting for my flight to Seoul the following day).
My general ponceiness and tendency to opt for lavishness over reason is a running joke between some pals and myself. Determined not to become an abhorrent hippy on my travels, I’ve veered slightly off course (I’ve discovered a love for vegan cuisine and am reading The Teachings of Buddha) but my stay at the ANA Intercontinental, which is deserving of its own post at a later date, and venture into the hospitality of Pierre Gagnaire was a return to comfort for me. If you find yourself in Tokyo and needing to impress, this is undoubtedly the place to be.
If I’m honest, I just took a taxi to the ANA Intercontinental. All taxi drivers will know it when you say it; the hotel occupies a central spot on the Tokyo skyline. I hear you can access it via public transport by leaving from Tameike-sanno station’s 13th exit.