Tag Archives: French

Narisawa, Tokyo

IMG_0855Chef: Narisawa Yoshihiro   Website: www.narisawa-yoshihiro.com   Cuisine: French Japanese

I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve always been embarrassed by the fact that despite my Japanese heritage I’ve not had many opportunities exploring the fine dining scene in my own country. This naturally had to change and September 2014 was my opportunity (Note that the significant delay in my write-up has been due to the arrival of my first daughter in November 2014). Over the recent years I’d managed to create a long list of restaurants I planned to visit when I returned home and that included Narisawa. I was curious about its reputation for being unorthodox in a country that was deeply rooted to its tradition.

IMG_0851After all, wouldn’t you be curious to find out the culmination of modern French cooking techniques with fresh seasonal Japanese produce? After receiving their second Michelin star in 2010 and successfully retaining the title of best Asian restaurant in San Pellegrino’s 50 Best Awards over the past few years there was no way I could pass this opportunity.

IMG_0848Yoshihiro Narisawa opened Les Creations de Narisawa (now known simply as Narisawa) back in 2003 on his return from Europe after training under the likes of big hitters like Frédy Girardet, Paul Bocuse and Joel Robuchon. The cuisine here was however difficult to label. It was decidedly modern and drew on French techniques yet was not tied down to one particular style of cuisine. What’s more, Narisawa departed from the traditional focus on agriculturally cultivated produce. Instead he favoured natural ingredients and produces from the wild forests and mountains like nuts, berries and the wild animals that fed on them.

IMG_0847The theme of our tasting menu reflected the season we visited, autumn. Unlike many of the restaurants we had visited on this occasion, the front of house was well versed in English which made the meal more interactive for my non-Japanese speaking companions. We left ourselves in the capable hand of the front of house and kicked off our meal with a glass of their Vilmart et Cie, Grand Cellier, Brut, Premier Cru which had been bottled specially for the restaurant.

IMG_0843As we sipped on our glass of bubbles our friendly waiter prepared the Bread of the Forest 2010. The bread was proved at our table. It was made using wild yeast from the Shirakami ranges, one of the most serene and beautiful UNESCO natural heritage sites of the world located between Aomori and Akita prefecture, and was gently heated over a candle. The bread mixture contained ao-yuzu (green yuzu) and ki no me (木の芽) leaves from the Japanese Prickly Ash tree, which added a citrus scent and peppery note.

IMG_0832The dough mixture was then transferred across to a hot stone bowl to bake. The floral arrangement surrounding the bowl represented the season.

IMG_0825The wait was finally over.  What a way to start the meal; an amuse bouche of the Essence of the Forest and Satoyama Scenery. It consisted of a “forest floor” of soy pulp or okara (御殻), bamboo and green tea powder and soya milk yoghurt paste. It was served with the “bark” of mountain vegetables (山菜) such as deep fried burdock skin, sourced from Ishikawa prefecture, which had been brushed with a syrup. We were instructed to eat with our hands and wash it down with…

IMG_0824… “spring water” infused with oak and served in a cedar cup. The flavours were very clean, evoking childhood memories of hikes through moss-covered mountains in Japan. Everything worked in harmony and I felt truly depicted the essence of the Japanese forest. I particularly loved the crispy texture of the burdock root. What I found truly remarkable was that no additional seasoning had been added to this dish, nor did it need any. I could see why this dish had stayed on their menu for over five years.

IMG_0822Our second amuse bouche of Sumi (炭) was essentially braised onion coated in a mixture of charcoal and leek powder. It had been deep fried and served on a magnolia leaf. The sweetness of the onion was an unexpected surprise.


Our bread was finally ready after 12 minutes of baking and was served to us with chestnut tree powder. I had no particular expectation for the bread as I had assumed this was predominantly to provide theater to the meal. I was, however, mistaken. Whilst it wasn’t the best bread I’d ever eaten, it had all the hallmarks of a good bread. It was soft, fluffy and warm. What’s more, the yuzu added an inviting scent yet remained subtle on the palate.

IMG_0820The last installment of the amuse bouche was Okinawa. A dried sea-snake was presented in the middle of the table whilst the waiter explained the dish.

IMG_0819All the ingredients were sourced from Okinawa. The most important component of this dish was the broth that was made over six hours of using a bonito flake dashi, dried and smoked sea-snake and pork from Kagoshima. A slither of crunchy winter melon, taimo (a sticky Okinawa variety of taro which is normally used for dessert) and a crispy pork skin was added to complete the dish. The broth had a great depth of flavour and the textural contrast of each element worked very well. A deceivingly simple looking dish that worked very well with a glass of the 1981 Chateau Gen Brown Rice Sake, Mie, Japan.

IMG_0813A Moss butter made from dehydrated black olives, chlorophyll and Hokkaido butter was presented prior to the next course. It tasted how it looked – mossy! Not that it was a bad thing but certainly different to anything I’ve tried before.

IMG_0807 The Uni Sea Urchin, amaebi, yuzu was another example of a perfectly balanced dish. The amaebi (spot prawn) and sea urchin sourced from Mikawa, Aichi prefecture, was very creamy and sweet. The katsuodashi jelly (set and infused for six hours) gave depth to the dish and the yuzu and tomato hiding underneath cut through the rich flavour, leaving only a fragrant aftertaste. I could also sense a slight peppery heat that contrasted against the cold dish. Beautiful. The dish was matched with a glass of the 2012 Chateau Lestille, Entre Deux Mers, Bordeaux.

IMG_0800The crustacean course of the day was the Langoustine, garden. Under the “garden”, created from  a variety of greens and flowers that had been foraged early that morning, lay…

IMG_0797… a juicy Japanese langoustine (Akazaebi) from Suruga Bay. It had been very lightly seared and served as a warm sashimi. The creamy langoustine was cooked perfectly and the scallop jus served over the dish intensified the crustacean flavour. The only issue I had was with the portion size. I wanted more… The matching 2009 Chassagne Montrachet Les Caillerets, Bourgogne, France was a perfect match with its buttery flavour.

IMG_0795The next course was a Pigeon which represented the animals that fed from the forest. The pigeon was basted at a constant temperature of 57 degrees celsius to ensure a pink finish. It was accompanied with charred beetroot and wild berries also foraged from the forest. The plump pigeon was cooked perfectly with a beautiful texture. I particularly loved the reduced salumi sauce that seasoned the dish. Exquisite! The accompanying wine was a rather smoky and oaky 2001 Lynsolence, Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux. Only 20 cases had been imported into Japan. What a treat!

IMG_0788The Kamo nasu was truly a celebration of the native Kyoto variety of aubergine. This vibrant dish consisted of a bed of soft sautéed aubergine, topped with an aubergine purée and pickles. The shiitake mushroom provided a meaty texture whilst the sheet of acidic tomato jelly and cleverly hidden shiso leaves inside cut through the oiliness of the dish. A special dish like this required a rather special glass of a 1977 Toriivilla Imamura Koshu, Yamanashi, Japan which was not too dissimilar to that of a dry sherry. It was very dry and nutty with a hint of honey and lemon. I had never heard of this Japanese winery and was even more surprised to hear they have been around for over 150 years. I knew the Japanese made a small batch of great wines but this was the first time I had come across so many.

IMG_0782We had a fair share of Hamo (conger pike) on our trip and the one at Narisawa was one of the best ones. The Conger pike, white peach, string bean had a lovely sweet, sour and salty undertone driven by the creamy su-miso (white miso vinegar) and kabosu foam, a citrus related to the yuzu family. The hamo, which is traditionally prepared through the fine art of honegiri (a technique that requires years of practice to efficiently break the vast number of small bones in the fish without damaging the skin), instead had, against convention, removed painstakingly each bone, one by one, by hand. I did not envy the chef but it was definitely worth the effort! Matching the dish was a glass of Shizen no manma unfiltered and undiluted sake, Terada Hoke sake brewery, Chiba.

IMG_0778The next seafood course, the Rosy seabass, matsutake mushroom, was presented in a what was described as a “sustainable wrap” which was supposedly environmentally friendly (admittedly I wasn’t sure how). The waiter proceeded to cut the bag…

IMG_0777… and the delicious earthy smell of the matsutake mushroom immediately hit the olfactory senses. The contents had been cooked in a rich duck essence for eight minutes at 180 degrees celsius which enhanced the flavours of the fatty fish. It was served with another delicious sake of 5 years aged, unfiltered and unpasteurised junmai daiginjo, Chikurin Taoyaka, Marumoto Sake Brewery, Okayama. The aka musu (rosy seabass), known for it’s similarity in fattiness to the o-toro was beautiful cooked with a raw texture and was definitely one of the best preparations I’ve ever tasted.

IMG_0763For the next course a rump cut was used for the Kagoshima beef, beef essence, ichiban dashi. The ichiban dashi made from a matured konbu dashi was added to an essence of beef broth and complemented the tender lean meat, providing the umami. I particularly loved the ginnan (ginko nuts) with their nutty sweet-sour flavour that subtly reminded me of the autumn season. Accompanying the dish was a rather lovely 1994 Alain Verdet Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits, Bourgogne.

IMG_0758Narisawa’s take on the classic champagne cocktail of the Bellini was simply divine. White peaches were in season and the chef made sure to make the most out of them. The same house champagne served at the start was poured over slices of white peaches neatly stacked over a brioche and layer of cream

IMG_0754 The flavour of the peach was very distinct and provided a fresh fruity note. At first sight I expected it to be a very sweet dish but, contrary to what I thought, surprisingly the dish was very light and refreshing. The matching wine was a chenin blanc, 2004 Quarts de Chaume, Domaine des Baumard.

IMG_0753The finale was Chocolate. It was perhaps a little disappointing given the caliber of the meal we had just experienced. The fondant, ice cream and foam incorporated the rather luxurious Domori chocolate from Italy. I found the flavour to be rather one dimensional despite the occasional bitterness of the darker chocolate contrasting against the milkier one. It was after all chocolate.

IMG_0746The number of mignardises presented with our coffee was staggering. Starting with a piña colada macaron, cream puff, canelé, passion fruit, cheese cake tart, warabi mochi as well as nine flavours of chocolate macarons, there was plenty more which I could sadly not fit in my stomach. What was truly remarkable was the skill that went into preparing these flawless sweet treats. By no means an easy feat.

IMG_0775As we looked over the kitchen we could see Chef Narisawa assessing each dish as it came to the pass. Nothing appeared to escape his focus, something that was very evident from the dishes we had just devoured over the last three hours. I could see why this place was so popular amongst those who sought after culinary excellence. Not only was the food delicious here, it was also eco-conscious and sustainable. I particularly loved the marriage of foreign techniques with ingredients typically engrained into traditional Japanese cuisine. By breaking the norms and boundaries, Narisawa was able to bring a whole new dimension to both French and Japanese cuisine. This wasn’t French or Japanese. This was “Narisawa cuisine”.

La Grenouillere, Montreuil sur Mer


Chef: Alexandre Gauthier      Website: www.lagrenouillere.fr     Cuisine: Modern French

I think it’s a fair assumption to say that the French in general have a relatively low tolerance for modern cuisine and, to a certain extent, I can see their point; why fix something when it’s right? Challenging this concept however, there has been a growing number of chefs over the last decade that have been daring enough to embrace the modern aesthetic. Alexandre Gauthier is one such individual. Since taking over the reins from his father in 2003, Gauthier has come a long way to regain the Michelin star the restaurant lost in 2001. In addition, he has established a hotel that fully encompasses his unique vision and reflects his ethos of working with nature.

P1090555The auberge and restaurant are situated in an idyllic location right by the river Canche, outside the village of Montreuil. This picturesque site is further enhanced by what appears to be a completely wild and rugged garden, full of wild flowers and grasses. On closer inspection however, it is clear that every detail has been carefully considered, highlighting Gauthier’s respect of the natural environment.

P1090503In usual fashion, we commenced the evening with a glass of champagne and an array of amuse bouches in the sitting room located in the old farmhouse that previously served as the main dining room during Gauthier’s fathers time. The imposing fireplace added character to the rustic room that had wooden beams across the ceiling and polished stone floors. Gauthier has thoughtfully and lovingly conserved the room in its former style, respecting the roots and rich history of the auberge.

P1090573The restaurant, on the other hand, went through a serious transformation in 2011 when Gauthier discovered Patrick Bouchain (the architect behind the contemporary gites, Les Cadoles, Maison Troisgros) and employed him to help “reinvent” the restaurant. The result has been a giant theatrical space allowing curious patrons to observe the chefs working methodically in the modern and open kitchen during their meal.

P1090531The new minimalist dining room equipped with tanned leather chairs and tables was elegant but simple, and did not distract diners from the beautiful garden surrounding the entire room visible through floor to ceiling windows.

P1090572We managed to try all the bread that was on offer throughout the evening. Suffice to say, bread making is a religious affair in France that even the avant garde chefs are simply not willing to do without. Great textures, crust and flavours.

P1090583The first course of the evening was a light and delicate egg white curd that had been stuffed with grey shrimps (Blanc d’oeuf caillé, crevettes grises). Interesting texture not too dissimilar to that of cottage cheese.

P1090584An extra course of razor clam was placed on the edge of our bowl (Ensin, blanc d’oeuf…). The raw clam, served in its shell on a bed of fluffy egg white foam dusted with corn powder, had a very clean and mineral flavour. Nice crunchiness from the fine crouton crumbs.

Green strawberry, seaweed, fresh cockles and sea waterI must admit tonight was a first for many things but I had not expected to try green strawberry (Fraise verte…), nor combined it with cockles, seaweed and homemade seawater. The acidity of the unripe strawberry added freshness to the dish and was amazingly balanced by the sweetness of the slightly cooked cockles. The seaweed provided a textural element and the “seawater” was the perfect seasoning to bring the dish altogether. A highly unique and delicious dish!

P1090595I similarly enjoyed the octopus and petit pois (Petits pois, seiche…), particularly how Gauthier played with the texture. The octopus was soft and mushy (as one would usually expect from cooked peas) whereas the giant petit pois were cooked with extreme precision to provide a delicious crunch. The concentrated petit pois juice served at the table rounded off this naturally sweet dish. Admittedly, what impressed me most with this dish was how much flavour of the octopus I could taste as they are quite often served with sauces that dominate the flavour of the dish.

P1090600A gigantic 000 oyster, hiding under a long tagliatelle of zucchini (Huître grillée, courgette…). The oyster perfumed with smoke went particularly well with the peppery rocket and sweet zucchini.

P1090604Another surprise course appeared containing cockles with slices of raw yellow squash and lemon zest (Courges jeunes, coques, fleur). The squash was the perfect canvas to amplify the flavour of the clams whilst giving a meaty texture.

P1090607The surprise courses kept on coming including this John Dory course (Saint-Pierre, épinard fumé…). The delicately salted fillet of fish arrived perched atop a bed of silky smoked spinach and crunchy spring onion.

P1090613I had to do a double take when the little cushions made from wheat were presented amongst an entangled rope (Coussin de blé…). The cushions were filled with a very seductive white truffle emulsion that engulfed our table with its aroma for the next five minutes. Delicious.

P1090618An example of Gauthier’s obsession in respecting and maintaining the purity of ingredient was the delicate lobster tail, slightly poached, and infused lightly with the smoke from the burning juniper branch it was served in (Homard, genièvre…). Putting aside the theatrical spectacle of the dish, the buttery flavour and succulent texture of the lobster was stunning and the aroma of the burning juniper enhanced the taste without necessarily complicating the “essence” of the dish.

P1090626The globe artichoke served on a bed of thistle seeds (Chardon, grainés) was probably the least favourite dish of the evening. Don’t get me wrong, the dish wasn’t terrible but neither was it interesting. There was something missing on the plate which I couldn’t put my finger on. Possibly some kind of a sauce or something that bound the elements together. It was rather dry.

P1090632Another surprise course of the grilled frogs legs served on a bed of basil leaves (Grenouilles grillées, basilic), dressed with a caramel flavoured mousse made from butter and lemon. Tender and delicious, but most interestingly you could really taste the meat and it was divine. I don’t think I’ve ever taste the flavour so distinctly before as most restaurants have tended to deep-fry them to a crisp. Brave move but the risk paid off.

P1090636Our penultimate savoury course had me wondering for a while as I couldn’t see any girolles mushroom at first sight (girolle, peau de lait, amandes…). Rather, the girolles that had been lightly pan fried in garlic butter were nestling below a thin skin of slightly sour goats milk with some almonds. Complex flavours with the sour note working well in contrast to the peppery mushroom.Vachette with courgette despite it hav ing the crunch texture exactly like celery. Great flavours from such a cheap cutOur only meat course consisted of a smokey thin cut of steak which was served with garlic scapes / stems (vachettes, tiges…). Gauthier came out himself to serve this course to explain why he chose a cheap cut as he firmly believed that mundane ingredients properly prepared could be phenomenal. Granted, it was a bit chewy but it was packed with flavour. What amazed me most and remains a mystery was how he managed to infuse such an intense smokey flavour into the meat, given it was served blue?

P1090652Dessert was by no means inferior to the impressive dishes that had preceded it. I certainly would not have thought that presenting a block of honeycomb at our table would have aroused as much excitement as some of the spectacles I experienced in places like el Bulli; but it did. The waitress prepared the piece of honeycomb on a small spoon and dressed it with the juice from a fresh lemon. It was so simple yet ingenious and truly refreshing!


To top it off, the waitress prepared us some home made mead, that incorporated local honey, yeast and water, by using what appeared to be an industrial sized mouth pump pipette contraption. A beautiful combination with the piece of honey; a light floral tone and refreshing citrus aftertaste.P1090663The first dessert course had the overall effect of grazing over a green field (Herbes grasses…). The bottom layer revealed thin slices of creamy avocado on which sat a piece of avocado and pistachio sponge cake, topped with a herb ice cream. The combination of creamy avocado, nutty sweet cake and cold tangy ice cream was unbelievable. Certainly not something I would have chosen off menu but I was glad to have had it. Chocolate in many texturesAny equally odd combination followed with chocolate and French parsley (Cacao, cerfeuil…). The French parsley were carefully scattered across the chocolate cookie-wafer body, held together using smooth chocolate cream. The chocolate was delicate and luxurious but perhaps the French parsley was rather more visually appeasing, and less so on the palate.

P1090668Our last course tasted was colourful as it looked (Framboise, coquelicot…). Elegantly balanced on a bed of goats yoghurt was a tower of square raspberry jelly and black liquorice biscuits, topped with poppy petals. A perfect way to finish the evening.

P1090565I was generally impressed with the avant-garde cuisine that Gauthier had developed. Contrary to many of his peers in France, his cooking was expressed through his eccentricity in combining mundane ingredients and products to create something new and unusual. By experiencing the whole tasting menu one could only get a glimpse of his vision, but what was obvious was his appreciation and respect for natural flavours. I liked the fact that he enjoyed challenging the palate of the discerning diners without compromising on his philosophy. Just as how Bocuse had led a culinary revolution many decades ago with ‘nouvelle cuisine’, it’s encouraging to see the next generations of chef doing the same by challenging the norm. La Grenouillere may perhaps be one of the most exciting restaurant in France right now.