Thursday, October 24, 2019

Last Lunch in Tokyo

We wanted to stay in at our hotel on the final day of our Japan holiday, just to spend the morning in the neighborhood then lunch at one of their restaurants. Azure 45 is considered one of the best French restaurant in town (with one Michelin star which they keep for a number of years) and shared the same floor as the hotel lobby up at the 45th Floor of Tokyo Midtown.

I love the contemporary setting of the dining area with a light color tone which worked particularly well during the day, and of course, the panoramic view of the city from the window was to die for. The restaurant happened to be facing the other side than what we saw from the room so we got to enjoy the view of Tokyo from a different direction – even better when they seated us at one of the tables right by the window.

Two tasting menus were offered for the weekend lunch service, differed not by the number of courses but by the dishes and ingredients (other than the price). Only the name of the ingredients was listed on the menu, and with items like uni, kegani or miso, listed on the menu alongside with Jerusalem artichokes and veal, I was curious how that would turn out. Chef Shintaro Miyazaki (or Chef Miya as he like to call himself) was known to combine contemporary French cooking with local ingredients and a touch of Japanese cuisine to create something unique.

We went for the L’Epicurien menu (which was the more elaborate of the two and one I thought is more interesting) and began with a series of amuse-bouche bites followed by the first course simply listed as “chef’s inspiration”. The foie gras was the one that particularly stood out, served on a skewer with rhubarb compote and dehydrated rhubarb crisp wrapped around with the hint of acidity that worked in harmony with the creamy foie filling. A gently smoked salmon served with ikura (salmon roes) and the mozzarella tartlet were the other two served together and they were tasty too.

The “chef’s inspiration” was interesting and got the meal off with the right tone, showing what was to be expected as the theme throughout our meal. Two small pieces of anago (saltwater eel) was done in traditional Japanese way – filleted, steamed and grilled – then topped with caviar with horseradish espuma and rice-paper crisp on the side. The firm and fatty piece of anago combined well with the mild horseradish flavor and the caviar added to the umami and mineral taste.

The first course of Sea Urchin and Hairy Crab was the one that got me most curious about at first glance of the menu. Turned out it’s Chef Miya’s re-interpretation of Togan no Kani Ankake which is one of the classic seasonal dish often found in Kaiseki cuisine as one of the soup courses. The piece of wax gourd (also known as winter melon) was braised with dashi and served in a thick gravy sauce made with dashi, picked kegani (hairy crab) meat and sea urchins. It came with very intense flavor yet it’s refreshing, and I love how chef transformed something traditionally Asian/Japanese into a western presentation.

Next was a little in-between course of a “savory souffle”, with a mix of mushrooms including truffles, champignon forming the meringue base, then it’s topped with a richer mushroom puree and a piece of crisp Jerusalem artichoke. Inside the souffle was actually a soft-boiled egg yolk which burst as one cut through. Couldn’t go wrong with such combination of mushrooms and eggs and the plating was simple and beautiful.

Our fish course was kinmedai (golden eye snapper) served with risotto on the side. Japanese short-grain rice (ryu no hitomi rice which was a special cultivar from specific farm) was used which gave the risotto a firmer texture and it’s mixed in with Comte cheese and topped with sliced Japanese myoga (ginger sprout). Then on the side was finger lime, dots of dill puree and a light bouillabaisse sauce, creating a nice contrast of acidity, herbs and rich sea flavor. The fish was done brilliantly – steamed in low temperature then pressed on the pan skin side down for the crispy skin on top.

The main course of veal and miso was eye-catching. The piece of veal was perfectly cooked – possibly by sous vide then topped with a thin "crust" of burnt miso on top with a touch of yuzu, and on the side was mussels, a light beurre noisette sauce and leek puree. What’s even more interesting was the small bowl of soup served on the side – it’s explained to us as the kabu consommé cooked with “Momiji”, or red maple leaves which symbolize the autumn season. With such intensity in flavor I would have thought of it as a beef consommé.

I enjoyed much of the wine pairing with interesting selection of bottles. The Koshu wine made using the indigenous Japanese grape variety reminded me very much of a crisp Loire chenin blanc, but this one was made with the red skins left in during fermentation, leaving a tint of copper color, with the nose resembling a conventional orange wine but less profound, dry with a light mineral and earthy, honey taste. That worked well with the crab and mushroom courses. Another white wine was poured for our fish dish, this time coming from Santorini of Greece made using local assytiko grapes. The floral note reminded me of a Rhone Valley viognier but with a crisp, rich mineral taste and unripe citrus characters. Went back for something old school for our main course with a Rhone Valley red – an easy one with some red fruits and hint of peppers at the back which worked with our veal.

We were given a choice of four different desserts to choose from, and before that, a simple cheese course was served right after the main course. The creamy ricotta cheese was served in a deep dish with plum compote and shiso flowers, leaves and oil. I went for Shine Muscat for dessert while CYY picked the Kosui Pear. Both were seasonal fruits at this time of year in Japan – I thought the pear and chocolate dessert won the category of presentation with a classic combination but mine was decent too, with a crispy meringue was served with white chocolate ganache and shine muscat jam as filling and with vanilla crème anglaise poured on top. I like the touch of lemongrass powder served on the side added to the exotic taste to it.

The arrival of the mignardises trio (lemon tartlet, caramel chocolate and raspberry cookies) marked the end of our lovely lunch at this lovely venue. It so happened we have quite a number of western meals while in Japan this time and we were glad to add this to the list as one we were pleased with.

More photos can be found here:

When? September 29 2019
Where? Azure 45, The Ritz Carlton Tokyo, Level 45, Akasaka 9-7-1, Tokyo
Menu Highlights? "Hakodate Sea Urchins, Hairy Crab, Togan"
Champagne Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Brut NV
2017 Koshu Fermented on Skins, Coco Farm & Winery, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan
2018 Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko, Greece
2015 Michel Savel Les Marecos Rouge, IGP Collines Rhodaniennes, France

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