Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The genius of Joel Robuchon

Amuse bouche of
strawberries, watermelons, mint
and what tasted like a foie gras flan.

Today my friends and I ate at Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon in Tokyo, a pretty amazing French chateau/ villa, built out of scratch in the middle of the city, that looks so delightfully out of place amidst all of Tokyo's nondescript modern buildings.

It's been around for a very long time: first, as a fancy restaurant that was a joint venture between the famous Paris restaurant Taillevent and Joel Robuchon (so it was actually called Taillevent Robuchon for many years; and lots of Tokyoites still call it this even now), and then later as a solo effort of the great master Joel Robuchon, resulting in its current incarnation as Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon.

A second amuse bouche

This appetizer (foie gras with risotto)
is so worth going back to Joel Robuchon tomorrow for.

We've been eating in nice restaurants all over Tokyo for the past ten days or so; but from Day 1 of our culinary adventure, I'd been telling everyone that Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon -- not to be confused with the more casual La Table de Joel Robuchon or Atelier Joel Robuchon -- is one foodie experience not to be missed.

This fish was drizzled with lemongrass oil.
It was lovely. But if I was forced to choose a weakest link,
this would probably be it.

I would actually have said that about L'Osier, a Michelin three-star restaurant in Tokyo run by my friend Bruno Menard that closed a year ago, but as it's gone now, Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon (CRJR) has moved up to the #1 slot in my personal foodie diary.

In fact it's so good that I persuaded one of the couples from Manila who'd just spent the weekend with me in Mount Fuji to change their flight, just so they could join us today at CRJR. I'd said to them: "You really can't miss this meal." And after the meal today, the wife said to me: "This was so worth changing our flight for."

We all loved this wagyu steak done French-style.

I almost asked her: "Do you think it'll be worth missing your flight for?" Narita Airport is 90 minutes away from Tokyo, and 3.2 hours before their flight, there we still were having a 3rd dessert with coffee and tea at CRJR. And their bags were still at my home, about ten minutes away, and their car for the airport was probably already waiting in my driveway.

INCOMPARABLE EXPERIENCE

On Day 1 of our food trip, we all ate at Quintessence, another Michelin three-star restaurant which was pretty good, but I think CRJR is much better. It was my first time at Quintessence, and some of my friends were pretty surprised about how I could actually be in Tokyo for so much time and yet never have been to Quintessence even once.

Our delicious pre-dessert.
It was so good that someone thought
this was already the main dessert.

Quintessence, by the way, is pretty popular among foodies in Manila. Foodie friends from Manila who come this way always reserve a meal here when they're in Tokyo. It's a fusion of Japanese and French, with a little bit of experimentation on the side.

This was someone else's mango dessert.
I just had to take a photo of it.

In reply, I sighed. It was pretty hard to explain why I'd never been to Quintessence before, especially as it's had three stars for four years in a row now, if I'm not mistaken. But anyway, I tried to explain by saying: "First, there was L'Osier. And if I had a choice on where to eat or an opportunity to have a very good meal, I always picked L'Osier. And when I couldn't eat at L'Osier, I ate at Joel Robuchon."

NO NEED FOR A THIRD

It was really that simple. Two world-class restaurants where I love the food and have a great time. Why look for a third option? I'm pretty much a creature of habit, you see. Why change a routine when you're perfectly happy with it?

As long as I had L'Osier and Joel Robuchon in Tokyo, I didn't need to eat anywhere else for a three-star French meal. (When I want to eat something less than a three-star meal, by the way, I always head for Chez Pierre, a very old favorite that's been serving classic good French cooking for decades)

Just when we thought we were through,
they brought out these delicious cups of creme brûlée
topped with green tea.

But, happily, today they finally realized what I meant when I said I didn't want to go anywhere else. Everyone thought this was the best non-Japanese meal of the trip, and they all couldn't believe that all our meals had cost roughly the same amount, as this meal at CRJR certainly stood out as excellent food and great value for money. It's not at all cheap, especially if you to order wine with your meal; but we all happily took out our credit cards, satisfied and feeling we'd had a wonderful time.

The meal ended with these lovely mint candies
that had the words "merci" on them

I'm a big fan of Joel Robuchon in any country and in any incarnation. I love the casual bar restaurant in Paris, and the slightly more upscale ones in New York and in Roppongi Hills in Tokyo; and even the take-out store in Marunouchi which serves a perfect ham and cheese galette. It was at the latter last year in November that I ended up sitting next to Joel Robuchon, the great man, himself.

Swarovski stones scattered around the dining tables
and inlaid into the walls

But it's truly CRJR that I like best because the total dining experience is wonderful and this new-ish chateau in the middle of Tokyo -- incongruous as it may sound -- is truly a bit of Europe in Japan.

Before lunch began, I went to wash my hands; and even the washroom, so beautifully designed and well-stocked with all kinds of nicely scented toiletries, made me feel I was at a lovely Relais & Chateaux establishment along the Loire Valley. I looked out the window and saw the Westin Hotel across so of course I knew I was in Tokyo; but a part of me could have sworn I was in France.

And of course, the food later on just transported us in style to Europe, even just for a few hours. As one of my friends said afterwards: "Everything was perfect." Talk about a total three-star experience.


And when I finally got home -- what do you know? My friends who left earlier for Manila had deposited a lovely box of Sadaharu Aoki sweets, with a very nice thank you card attached. They'd been extremely busy in Japan but somehow they'd found the time to go over to Marunouchi to get a box of sweets -- extremely popular in Paris and among the best you can find in Tokyo as well -- and write the note. I was very touched.

Sadaharu Aoki is a Japanese patissier who went to Paris and made a very big name for himself creating beautiful sweets that combined Japanese sensibility and aesthetics with French taste and joie de vivre. The results were -- and still are -- works of art, really. A few years ago, he finally opened a store in Japan, resulting in a sweet and pretty successful homecoming for himself.
And for me. I was very happy to receive this lovely box of sweets upon coming home, and this is what I'm having before going to bed.

Just another day in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

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