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Saturday, October 25, 2014

L'Embellir, a two-star Michelin in Omotesando, is my new favourite French restaurant in Tokyo



Yesterday in Tokyo, living a Travelife, I met up with my friend Y for a long and lazy Friday lunch at a Michelin two-star restaurant in fashionable Omotesando, which I'd never been to before.

It's been raining terribly here and yesterday was the first fine day in a while, so I left the car at home and decided to walk to the station and actually get a train to the next stop as this restaurant is still in my neck of the woods.

In fact, if I hadn't been running late, I would have walked to the restaurant just to burn off some calories before a calorific lunch.

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WHAT A WONDERFUL FIND

I let Y choose the restaurant as she knows my preferences for very good food on the fancy side of things.

This restaurant was excellent.

There are so many Michelin two-star restaurants in Tokyo these days that it's hard to keep track of all of them, but yesterday's restaurant was definitely at the top of the Michelin two-star category.

Before writing about it today, I thought long and hard about giving it publicity, as this will of course make it harder for me to book later on. But this chef and his staff deserve more recognition as the food is really good and the experience excellent, for the prices they charge.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT



The restaurant is called L'Embellir, and it's in the district of Omotesando in Tokyo.

I liked it the moment I walked in, as its interiors were refined, contemporary and upscale, but not over the top. Then, even before we were even given a menu, two lovely and delicious plates of amuse bouche were each set in front of us so we could already enjoy a bite or two while deciding on the menu.

The restaurant only offers two set menus at lunch, and it is basically a matter of how much you want to eat. We chose the lesser of two courses simply because I have ten more days of good eating to get through, so I thought I would pace myself yesterday.

How I regretted it later, as everything was so good that I wanted to eat more.

THE RIGHT KIND OF INNOVATION



The style of this restaurant is French contemporary, rather than "innovative," although each dish is so creatively plated with a twist, that it's like a less hard-core version of Les Creations de Narisawa, just a few block down.

There's lots of creativity and a couple of surprises, but nothing you'll not recognise as food.

A MEDLEY OF WONDERFUL TASTES

This looks like such a simple dessert.
But it blew my mind away.

Also, taste is very important to me.

Many famous restaurants on the innovative side of things like to shock and awe and think about taste later. I don't mean to say that the taste is bad, but sometimes the taste is just okay and it's the presentation that's the wow factor.

These kinds of restaurants are interesting to visit every so often, but these don't really float my boat.

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EVERYTHING'S GOOD

In contrast, yesterday's meal was so good. 

I found everything very well thought about in conceptualisation, and almost perfect in the actual undertaking of the meal.



The salad was delicious, and the fish was perhaps the best I've had in the last four weeks of eating in some of the best restaurants around the world.

Meanwhile, the dessert looked so simple, but it was simply out of this world.



The weakest link yesterday was the meat dish, which was a combination of beef cheeks and another cut.

The other cut, although good enough, paled in comparison to everything else served yesterday.

This bone marrow was the side dish
to the beef

EXCELLENT VALUE FOR
A MICHELIN TWO-STAR IN TOKYO

The price, too, was excellent value for what this restaurant offered in Tokyo. It was truly a Michelin two-star lunch for something like US$70 per person, including a bottle of Chateldon in that price.

When it was time to go, the chef was waiting for us by the door, smiling and ever so congenial.

Chef Kishimoto of L'Embellir.
Officially now one of my favourite French restaurants
in Tokyo.

This is a plus factor for me, as sometimes chefs think they don't need to do this goodbye thing.

I was at another two-star restaurant the day before, and the chef didn't even show himself at all. So the food was good but I didn't feel like returning after a pricey meal with such a cold goodbye.

It's not mandatory for chefs to do this, of course, but it sure makes a difference to the customer's feeling of satisfaction, even if they don't actually realise it.

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A NICE TOUCH AT THE END

And, in ever so competitive Tokyo, after paying US$70 for lunch, it's a nice touch to see the chef at the end.

We were even given these nice boxes of sweets at the end. Clearly, this chef is gunning for three stars and I really hope he gets it.


Then I walked back home through Omotesando Avenue, Tokyo's most beautiful street, marvelling at the wonderful meal I had just had, on just another beautiful day in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Dinner in the #1 restaurant in Tokyo, according to a group of serious local foodies who've compiled a secret list of the best restaurants in Tokyo



So last night, in Tokyo living a Travelife, a friend took me to XXX, considered by many serious Japanese foodies as simply the best restaurant for a kaiseki meal in Tokyo right now.

MY NTH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION

"Consider this a birthday treat," he said, and so I chalked this up to another wonderful birthday celebration in about a month of continuous birthday celebrations in Manila, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

It was really a birthday treat, as well. I didn't see the bill, but I have a feeling we could have flown to Europe for the weekend on the price of that very exclusive meal.

This restaurant is not on any of the international foodie lists and it's so under-the-radar that I'd never even heard of it. But when I finally was taken by my friend, one of the biggest big-time foodies in Japan, who really spends for food rather than makes a career of it, I finally  understood why.

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NO SIGNS, NO PUBLICITY

First, it doesn't have a sign.

It has a very small logo somewhere in its very unobtrusive entrance. So someone who doesn't have any idea of what he or she is looking for will miss it by a mile. And this is exactly what the owner/ chef wants.

Basically, his philosophy is: if you don't know about this place, you don't need to be here.

Just a handful of serious foodies keep him in business and he's perfectly happy with this. He hates publicity so I actually had to leave my phones in my coat pocket at the entrance.

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LIKE A VERY EXCLUSIVE CLUB
THAT ISN'T RECRUITING NEW MEMBERS

Second, it's like a little club.

Everyone knows everyone and everyone's in business with each other because Tokyo is a actually a very small world within a very big city.

Being the outsider and a semi-foreigner in Japan, I actually didn't know anyone when we walked in, although I knew of some of them. It's a small place so you can scout out the territory in one glance.

ONLY REGULARS ALLOWED

Third, most are regulars who keep the chef in business so he doesn't need new customers. 

In fact, when we walked in, the chef was at the counter and he didn't even look up from slicing some sashimi to greet us. That's how much regulars regard this place as their "kitchen."

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A CONVERSATION MIDWAY

Then, still without looking up, he said to my friend: "So, did you get it?"

My friend didn't miss a beat. He replied: "Nope. I just realised I don't even have time to use the others."

Of course I had no idea what they were discussing as it was probably part two, part three or part four of an ongoing conversation between them.

But later I found out that my friend had been thinking of ordering a custom-made Aston Martin to complement his garage of equally expensive toys, and this was what the conversation was about.

AT LAST, SOMEONE I KNOW

A little later, one of Japan's richest men walks in. 

Aha. Finally I knew someone personally. And it's interesting how I could instantly feel my stock rise in the eyes of the chef.

This latest guest, a very learned and courteous old gentleman, was once at the top of Japan's rich list for something like 10 years, until the IT guys started to muscle their way into the list.

He's still in the top 10, I think, but if you've been # 1 for a long time, I don't think it's a nice feeling to suddenly go down a couple of notches.

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MY NEIGHBOR WHO JUST BOUGHT VIBER
TOOK HIS PLACE

And now one of the top IT guys on the list -- #3 or #4 perhaps -- is my neighbour and I can see his living room from mine. He bought Viber a couple of months ago as a hobby, I think, and he's eclipsed my old friend in terms of wealth.

Anyway, I know this guy who walked in because we share a fence with him in a summer holiday area of Japan where lots of people from Tokyo have weekend houses.

It's not as posh as Karuizawa, for instance, which is where the Emperor and Empress met each other while playing tennis. Karuizawa is ground zero for the very social in the summer here in Tokyo.

It's the kind of place where you have to wear casual designer wear just to go to the supermarket to buy stuff for breakfast, lest you feel out of place.

A MORE RELAXED SORT OF PLACE

Our area, which is thankfully much nearer Tokyo than Karuizawa, is much more relaxed but it has a very nice community that includes this gentleman.

He said to me: "I haven't seen you for awhile."

Yes, I haven't been to my summer house in a very long time, since I've been busy with a Travelife. But many years back, he and his wife would just knock on my door on summer weekends when they knew I was around and drop off organic vegetables from the garden of their summer house.

They have a pretty amazing house with a sauna that has a perfect view of Mount Fuji.

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A TRULY MIND-BLOWING MEAL

Anyway, we all had fun last Thursday night, in Tokyo, living a Travelife.

And the 12-course kaiseki dinner that was served was truly mind-blowing in taste and refinement, but not in an overly dramatic way the way many of the three-star Michelin kaiseki places make such a production of a meal, so that you can't decide whether you're at a restaurant or at an art exhibit.

(Mind you. I happen to like the art exhibit-type of presentation too. But last Thursday's meal was not that way, but simply beautiful too.)


This was one of the many courses at lunch last Wednesday
at a Michelin two-star Japanese restaurant

ONE OF MY BEST JAPANESE MEALS

This was truly one of the best Japanese meals I've had, in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife, full of good food and meals at some of the best restaurants in the world.

And what a pity I can't write about this place lest I get blacklisted from this group and I never get to eat here again. So, unfortunately, no details and no photos.



And tomorrow I'll write about a truly surprising lunch today at a new Michelin two-star that I think is just spectacular and incredibly good value. This chef is clearly gunning for three stars...









Thursday, October 23, 2014

Flamenco dancer Isabel Bayon performed the Caprichos de Tiempo (The Whims of Time) in Manila yesterday


Yesterday, in rainy Tokyo, living a Travelife, I had a very nice lunch at a two-star Michelin restaurant with someone from Manila.

I chose this restaurant because it's relatively unknown and under-the-radar in spite of receiving two stars. 

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A STARRY, STARRY CITY

Tokyo has the most restaurant stars, after all, so Michelin two-star restaurants are almost as numerous as truly good ramen restaurants.

I was curious to see how this restaurant would fare vs. the more famous two-star establishments.

TRADITIONAL JAPANESE CUISINE
AT ITS BEST



The food is very traditional Japanese, but it was mindblowingly excellent in a very subdued way. There are no fireworks in Japanese cuisine.

Just tranquility and a quiet enjoyment.



I will write more about this little restaurant soon as I so enjoyed the food.

The meal was simple and yet creative and truly delicious, even in a city full of delicious, and even in a never-endingly delicious Travelife.

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A PERFORMANCE BY
FLAMENCO STAR ISABEL BAYON


Meanwhile, in Manila, Spanish flamenco star Isabel Bayon performed an equally mind-blowing flamenco show entitled the Caprichos de Tiempo (The Whims of Time) under the auspices of the Embassy of Spain.

This show reportedly took Manila's flamenco lovers overs by storm.

Isabel Bayon was greatly praised for her artistry, grace and soulful dancing.



I am so sorry I missed this riveting performance as I am a big fan of Spanish culture, and especially of the flamenco.

Just look at these lovely photos and you can tell that this show is not just your usual flamenco show.