The end of the night, I had a 1981 Macallan whilst Shane the 1979. Good vintages
Ok, so the reason why Shane and I decided to head to Japan for two days, or more specifically to Tokyo for two days, is 1) Because we got cheap flights, and 2) Because Tokyo has more 3 Michelin starred restaurants than anywhere on the face of the planet! Logically this would mean that it should be realtively straight forward to secure a table at one of these world class resturants. After much research and a few phone calls. Shane and I settled on Chateau Joel Robuchon in Ebisu. Joel Robuchon has more stars than pretty much anyone else so if you are going for the crème de la crème of fine dining then I’m pretty sure you can look no further. Restaurants Joel Robuchon does not take booking sooner than 2 months from the date, so we called on the first day possible and were lucky to secure our table. Both Shane and I were pretty excited to be flying to Japan ostensibly just for dinner at such a well regarded establishment.
When we booked we knew that we were going to have a big day wondering around Harajuku, Ginza and Tokyo, so we made sure that our booking was for 7:30. Enough time to see the sights and then head back to the hotel, relax, change and then back off to Ebisu. Anyway, lets fast forward shall we and focus on the big day!
There seemed to be something wrong with Shanes camera – all the photo’s came out blurry :(
Oh, a side note: Unfortunately our photos suck, and we didn’t take any in the restaurant as it just isn’t the done thing in Japan. However we did get one at the end of the night - we asked if they could take one of us, which they were more than happy to do – that’s the photo up the top. You really don’t get a good grasp of the opulence of the restaurant from any of our photos. That’s probably the best way to describe Joel Robuchon – opulent.
Alright, well lets get stuck into the review:
We arrived early so that we could take a stroll around Ebisu and check out the restaurant – it’s an actual replica Château in the heart of modern Tokyo – really makes a statement. When you arrive you are treated impeccably from the start, these guys are as you would expect, at the top of their game in terms of hospitality.
The dinning room is an amazingly luxurious assault on the senses – We had a great location to see around the room and observe the other diners. I’ve included a shot from their website which gives you an impression of the room:
The Dinning room at Joel Robuchon Ebisu
you can see more here: http://www.joel-robuchon.com/en/restaurants-tokyo-joelrobuchon.php
I noted interestingly that the waiter did not place the serviette on my lap – perhaps an interesting Japanese/Australian cultural difference? Regardless of a few little differences here or there which you could chalk up to being in a Japanese, French restaurant in Tokyo, for the most part we felt extremely well looked after as you would expect. We were served by about 4 main, different people, all of whom spoke some level of English. Our primary waiter and our sommelier both spoke very good English. So when we sat down and ordered there were not communication issues.
We were offered water shortly after we sat down - we chose sparkling of course (As with Melbourne, it was rather pricey – but then that’s the genous of the diners club – we don’t care about the price!), and then a trolley with a pile of hand cut ice and what looked to me like 4 Jeroboams (3lts bottles) of Champagne, and one of rose. The waiter enquired if we would like a glass – however this is where is gets interesting, the Champagne was Veuve Clicquot NV. Now I don’t want to sound like a wine snob here, but I’m in a 3 star restaurant about to order a 14 course degustation, I almost said no. I’m not a fan of the flat, apple juice like NV. It’s so soft and uninteresting. I wonder if that is a Japan thing. Shane and I were both unimpressed with this beginning, but then the restaurants whole approach to wine was interesting to say the least. I asked the sommelier for the wine list and unfortunately it didn’t offer us much in the way of solutions – neither of us wanted to order just one or even two bottles for the evening, and there just wasn’t any choices by the glass except for the 6 “suggestions” for the degustation – 6 wines for 14 course when you include the cheese course… I understand that wine is not particularly popular and perhaps this was the cultural issue once more. We did end up getting a glass of the Veuve, and once again I was really not impressed by the wine – it’s an uninteresting wine by my tastes, but c’est la vie as they say. Lets move on and hope for better. We consulted our sommelier about matching the 6 wines, and he was very helpful considering that English was not his first language, he made a suggestion for the first wine and we then communicated to him that we wanted him to chose the wines for us throughout the evening. Crisis averted, I was worried for a moment that our combine language and cultural barriers might get in the way, but one again the professionalism of the staff here shone through.
Whilst waiting for our first course we had the pleasure of being introduced to the moving “boulangerie”, a cart piled high with freshly baked breads and pasteries that we would select thoughout the night to match our dishes, or even whenever we pleased! The first bread – which was a perfect little baguette, was served with an amazing fruity, virgin olive oil. Delicious. I’m often surprised at just how amazingly good the bread and butter is at top class restaurants, sometimes it’s almost my highlight! Of course they weren’t finished showing off – just as I was about to partake of this freshly baked baguette, another waiter arrives wheeling in a trolley with a 3ft high glass cloche, underneath which was a tower of French butter, which they then proceeded to hand carve for us. Is there better butter anywhere??
Ok, so lets just get on with the food and wine. Actually before I really get into it, the one hard thing about this write up is that due to the language barrier, the waiters were unable to fully guide us through each course. They could give us the over view but it was difficult to really get more detailed information about the dish. We had the same issue with the wine, the sommelier would tell us the wine and then leave the bottle for us to study – we had to work hard if we wanted to find our the grape variety beacuase, one – French labelling doesn’t list the grape – you need to know the region (Well, they might list the grape but I can’t read French, and/or couldn’t see it listed) and the waiters were finding it difficult to give us more than the basic details in English. We got there most times, but it was challenging – obviously no points deducted for any of this – I’m amazing at how well it all went considering we were in a non English speaking country, hats off to the whole team at Joel Robuchon, they did an outstanding job in this regard.
Anyway, so where was I? ah yes – the degustation:
I’ll bold the course title as it was listed on the menu:
Amuse-Bouche Le Caviar Imperial
Caviar with a delicate crustacean jelly served in a surprise tin
First dish was a show stopper – Straight away I thought - now this is why this place is a three star restaurant – pure decadence right there in the first course. The plate itself was a beautiful artistic creation, rising up with a mounded middle on which the surprise tin sat. There were little crystals on the side of the plate and the spoon was completely made of mother of pearl. Removing the lid and you were exposed to the mound of fresh caviar sitting in the light jelly, above a generous amount of picked lobster. This dish was spectacular. So well executed, fresh, rich, a slight taste of the sea, decadent - brilliant. However, we both felt the lack of a nice complex champagne to cut through the richness, and all we had was the disappointing Veuve Clicquot NV.Thankfully our sommelier started to match wines for us after this.
Sea Urchin three ways:
- With a coffee scented mash potato
- In a maki with couscous and cucumber
- With a fennel cream on a sea urchin blanc-manger
Ok, so we’ve just finished the first course which was amazing, and then out comes the second course, sea urchin done three different ways. The first, the coffee scented mash potato was interesting, a very light coffee note over a buttery rich mashed potato, then a light sea urchin hint – that was more texture than flavour, it’s like a hint of the sea really. Perhaps too delicate for this dish, the sea urchin was somewhat lost in the flavour of the buttery potato and the coffee scent. The maki was forgettable, not sure exactly what this was there for, perhaps to cleanse the palate? It seemed a bit too much on the cucumber front, flat. The fennel cream showed promise, a light pop of salt hit the mouth first then the perfume of the fennel, but again, very light. Very well executed though – my thoughts at the end were interesting but not show stopping.
Chilled Pumpkin Veloute enhanced with smoke
The is was the dish of the night – no doubt about it. A really sophisticated, yet refined, subtle, yet punchy dish. This is one of those dishes that sit up there in my top 5 all time meals. This was amazing – I knew I was at a three star establishment from the moment it hit my lips. The veloute had a light milk foam on top small hits of smoked oil and the diced pumpkin which was cooked until tender. The subtle hit of the smoke on the back of the creamy pumpkin liquid just worked so well.
It was after this dish that the Chef, Alain Verzeroli came to our table for a chat. The first thing he asked us how long we had been in the industry! I guess they must have thought we had come out to steal some ideas – or we were critics! He spoke about his style and philosophy -simple food done well, let the food speak for itself in a sense. He also knew a bit about the Melbourne food scene and had some experience with Vue de monde, Shannon Bennet’s amazing restaurant in Melbourne. We were pretty chuffed at having the opportunity to chat to a three starred chef – that doesn’t happen every day! It was also lovely of the waiter to bring him out to meet us, he had clearly overheard our non stop foodie table talk - I didn’t see it happen at any other table. Speaking of which, the clientele at the restaurants was quite interesting, it seemed like a special occasion restaurant as most of the groups were celebrating something. It’s quite interesting to observe the different way that the Japanese celebrate a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary. The waiter would bring out a small cake with a candle, then the table would all gather around and the waiter would take a photo, and then very quiet polite applause, so as not to disturb anyone else in the restaurant. Fascinating.
Crustacean three ways:
- In a spicy broth with fresh herbs
- deep fried crab with green curry emulsion
- Dublin bay prawn served with a lemongrass emulsion and oil, stewed leeks
This course was somewhat disappointing – the three options were all well executed, however they just didn’t seem linked enough – I feel a choice of one would have been better. The first dish I tried, the deep fried crab was nice, deep fried in a crispy thing wrapper, cooked tender with a nice green curry to dip it into…- But then I don’t want nice when I’m at a three star restaurant. I want every dish to be amazing. To sing in the mouth. If it doesn’t then it shouldn’t be on my plate. I can get nice at a lot of places, places I haven’t flown for 10 hrs to get to. I have to say this one was disappointing. The Dublin bay prawn (Langoustine), was a bit flat as well, again, nice, but just not making me sit up and take notice. Finally the spicy broth with fresh herbs was lovely, both Shane and I thought they would have been much better off just serving this on it’s own… At this stage the sommelier had brought out a really interesting viogner, the 2011 Paul Jaboulet Aine Condrieu Les Cassines.
La Noix de Saint-Jacques
Panfried scallop with seaweed butter, ginger and apple condiment , sorrel and baby turnip
Oh dear, another dish that I just kind of sighed after taking the first bite. Look, it was a perfectly cooked scallop, but it was just not the interesting – I felt it wasn’t adventurous enough, a little boring really. I wanted to be challenged, I wanted to really see a vision from the chef. Yes I know he is all about simplicity, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take me on an interesting journey at the same time. Good, but not great. The baby turnip was quite nice, it was stuffed with the sorrel and was actually really enjoyable.
Fresh Fig covered with a red wine tuile and saved with panfried foie gras
Oh wow – back in three star town. Thank you chef. I feel like this has been a bit of an iron chef kind of meal where some of the dishes just didn’t hit the mark and then all of a sudden they come back with a standout dish. This was foie gras cooked to perfection. Such richness, such tenderness. And the fig, sweet and candy like, cutting through the immense richness of the duck liver. This is the kind of dish you want.
Le Fromage Persille
Blue cheese fondant served on plum and orange compote, maple syrup thin tartlet
And then we got this dish… I didn’t understand the point of this course at this stage. The dish was executed exceedingly well, but for all intents and purposes this was a cheese course – the gorgonzola fondant was lovely but quite strong. I thought this was the end of the meal. Quite strange actually, especially to have it followed up with a fish course.
Panfired Dover Sole with almonds served on a brioche mousseline and caper coulis
Once again, a nice dish, but not amazing. The fish was interesting, cooked quite well - the Sole is a solid fish, not as delicate as I was expecting from a white fish. The caper coulis and the brioche mousseline were wonderful and really lifted the fish beyond being a plain, yet perfectly cooked firm white fish. Nothing really all that memorable.
Grilled Beef accompanied by spicy eggplant variation and tapenade jus
Oh, gosh, another hit. Thank the lord, I was getting worried. This dish was excellent and paired nicely with a lovely 2011 Chateauneuf-du-pape, ‘Cuvee Colombis’ from Domaine I. Ferrand. Everything you have heard about Japanese Wagyu is true -it’s amazing. so buttery and tender, delicious. If only this was a 4 course meal, and we could have just selected the hits, and left out the misses… The eggplant was amazing, there was a slice underneath the beef that tasted exactly like some of the best steak I’ve every had. Once again, amazing.
Seasonal vegetables stewed and served with buckwheat’s seed
My first reaction WTF??? NO NO NO. This dish was just so underwhelming and disappointing. It was essentially a bowl of mixed vegetable!! Are you kidding me – I paid how much for this?? No seriously. Ok, so it wasn’t what I was expecting, lets all calm down for a moment and talk this through. Small bowl presented with a spoon filled with Buckwheat seed that I was supposed to pour over the dish to give it a different texture. Bowl had a lotus root, a Portobello mushroom – which to be fair was pretty damn good, and then some pathetic sautéed vegetables – some green beans, carrot… I was not impressed.
At this stage the cheese cart comes out and both Shane and I are a little bit flat – this is not turning out to be the amazing gourmet experience we had hoped. When I thought of a three start restaurant I thought of the best I’ve had back home - Ben Shewry’s Attica in Ripponlea, or Matt Moran’s Aria in Sydney, or even Neil Perry’s Rockpool – and then I thought – it must be even better than any of these places. Nothing here really topped any of those places… Ok, sure the ambiance and the service was second to none – and let’s be honest the service here was like food theatre – such professionals. But the food was really a bit, dare I say it, disappointing. And don’t get me started on the wine – 6 wines for 14 courses, and not really matched!!!! Anyway, so by this stage yes we were both enjoying ourselves, but we were a bit flat. The cheese cart rolls by and we were asked if we would like to select some cheese. Why, of course we do… We selected an amazing Comté and a lovely Brie – we thought to share, and then they turned to me and asked what I would like – this after they had just carved off to big slabs of cheese – I just got the same I was so dumbfounded! We also asked to look at the digestif drinks menu as we generally finish our big nights with an Armagnac or two. Once again very disappointed by the list – I am used to encyclopaedic tomes in Melbourne and Sydney through which to select our beverage of choice – here there were about 5 or so Armagnac’s/cognac’s and some of them were just your basics you would find in any restaurant. Once again I would hazard a guess that this is a Japanese difference, as they had quite a selection of scotch’s, which are quite popular in Japan. I ordered the 1981 Macallan and Shane got the 1979 to come with the petit four.
Le Raisin Muscat
Fresh Mustcat grape with a lemon and honey jelly and an apple granite
Next cab off the rank was the very refreshing palate cleansing granite. This was a really simple yet lovely dish – this is the kind of dish I was expecting when we had chatted with the chef – you can get a feel for the ingredients in this dish, but you’re also impressed by the skill and mastery of the chef. This was a definite hit.
Carioca papaya coulis and Guava mousse served with black currant sherbet
Ah the final dish before the petit four. These arrived with a flourish and both Shane and I were both impressed with the way the whole dish was presented. I recall my dessert was lovely, I really enjoyed the experience. I can’t say the same for Shane:
This moment will live in infamy – is that a poor choice of words considering in the location? Ok, let me rephrase, there was a bloody HAIR in Shanes meal. A BIG THICK BLACK HAIR. I’m sorry, but that’s never happened to me even at McDonald’s. Perhaps I should have pulled a John McEnroe at this point – Are you serious??? So, I’m enjoying my delicious dessert when I look over to see Shanes face. He looks confused and a little sad. He points to his bowl, “have a look at this”… I look down. I say nothing to Shane, but I turn to the area where the waiters are and say “SUMIMASEN” rather forcefully. The waiter comes over with a questioning look and I point to Shanes bowl – “There is a hair in my friends dish!”. The waiters face drops – he looks as though someone has died. Shane fends off the offer of another dessert with some lame excuse, and the offending dish is removed forthwith. Both of us are confused and a little embarrassed. We don’t know where to look. Silence for a good 5 minutes. The waiters stay away from a while. We discuss the meaning of this incident for the meal. There’s no way that you can let that sort of thing slide. We both felt like mugs – I mean we just flew from Melbourne just to eat here. We spent 155,000 Yen on the meal – (They gave us 2,000 yen off for the offending dessert).
Nice of them to take 2000 yen off for the offending dessert…
Neither of us knew what to do or say in this situation – the waiter eventually came back over and apologised and almost hit the floor when he bowed towards Shane. You could tell that they were all very upset as well. This sort of thing just shouldn’t happen.
Le Café express ou le The
Express coffee or tea served with petit four
I don’t really remember this point - I think I had a macaroon – I didn’t care, it all tasted like ash at this stage, I was too caught up in the Hair incident to really notice… The Maccallan did calm me down a bit, it was lovely after all…
We asked the waiter to call us a cab, and we waited and discussed the whole incident, in fact we talked about the incident again at a bar in Shinjuku where we decided to get a night cap and then again the next day at the Qantas lounge. The outcome of our discussions was this. Even if you set aside the hair incident, the meal was not what we were expecting for a 3 star restaurant. There were too many misses – and they were misses because they were just underwhelming, uninspired or just not special. To me, any dish at a three star restaurant has to make you say, wow. If it doesn’t, it shouldn’t be there. The degustation lacked vision or direction, at times I didn’t know what it was trying to do. At other times I thought it was a stripped back, very light affair and then you get Duck liver or Blue cheese fondant??? This restaurant would probably not make my top five. That tells me that the Melbourne and Sydney food scenes are world class. I wonder if all three stars are like this? Something tells me not… Michelin, lift your game!