Thursday, April 5, 2012

Quintessentially delicious, plus lots of gossip

The amuse bouche of squid soup
with vegetables was very good.

It was a meal like no other, and yet an omen of more enjoyable get-togethers to come, for myself and five friends from Manila. Today I'd reserved the private room at Quintessence, one of Tokyo's Michelin three-star restaurants, and we had a six-course tasting menu over four hours.

It was our first get-together in a long time, even if we all live in Manila, as we're all so busy or else we're never around at the same time. And about four years ago, we were all here in Tokyo as well to have a series of delicious lunches and dinners together -- so it was certainly a sweet reunion.


Tomorrow we're off to my Mount Fuji house, and we've all unanimously decided to stop by an off-the-beaten-track tonkatsu place of mine on the way up the mountain, that is just about the best tonkatsu in Japan.

I've always thought so, and everyone else I've brought there has experienced love at first bite. We six had been there years ago, and now the rest of them were dying to go again as it's pretty hard to find, and so they can't really go without me.

This accompanied our meal.

But back to Quintessence for now. It's pretty well-known in Manila foodie circles, especially among those who follow the Guide Michelin and other guides and lists that identify the world's best restaurants. It's been rated three stars for four years in a row now by the Guide Michelin even if the chef is almost shockingly young. He trained at L'Astrance in Paris, a three-star restaurant, before becoming a part of Quintessence.

A very promising start with a pannacotta
drizzled lightly with salt and olive oil

Of course, with a three star rating, we had high expectations, even if the place itself is quite simple and stark compared to other similarly-rated French restaurants in Tokyo. At the outset, we were given a menu which some of us opened without really looking, and some of us didn't. We were all too busy talking and catching up on things to concentrate on the food from the outset.

Foie gras arrived with slices of candied kumquat.
Interesting pairing.

However, after a while, it became apparent that we were expected to look at the menu; and I thought this was because they needed to know what we were going to order. When we finally got around to opening our menus, it was a very blank pad inside with the words "Carte Blanche."

The very empty menu

Basically, we had no choice but to eat whatever the chef was going to give us, and the whole menu thing was just a humorous aside to make us giggle.

The food itself was very good. It was subtle and very nicely planned out. I have a feeling it's going to come out in a future issue of Travelife Magazine as a food review so I won't really go into details and steal someone else's thunder, except to say that it's relatively reasonably-priced for Tokyo and for a three-star Michelin restaurant, and the food itself is delicious and worth the still pretty hefty price tag.


However, it's not the best meal I've ever had, or the nicest restaurant experience in Tokyo in the three star category. That still belongs hands down to L'Osier, which was run by my friend Bruno Menard, who was also a three-star chef.

Unfortunately L'Osier closed last year in March and it was a real loss for the foodie community of Tokyo. My best meals in Tokyo were always at L'Osier.

In Tokyo, I haven't had an experience that has come close to my fabulous meals at L'Osier, although the #2 prize for good French in Tokyo goes to Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon, as far as I'm concerned. And, yes, I'm booked there for a meal with five other friends next week.

Everyone else liked this fish dish.
But I preferred the duck.

But today, Quintessence was very enjoyable, and especially in the company of friends who wouldn't stop talking and laughing. We were very noisy so I was so glad we got a private room.

One person regaled us all with the latest of Manila gossip. I'm not one to usually indulge in gossip as I usually have neither time nor interest, but I have to admit that it was very entertaining to listen to everything today, especially after a couple of glasses of wine.


I heard about the guy who has a wife and two mistresses, who had three houses built -- one for each -- in exactly the same design, so that he would never get confused no matter which house he woke up in.

Then there's another guy who went to a car showroom to buy two cars -- one for him and one for his mistress. However, he told the car dealer that he was buying the other car for his mother, and that's how he got found out.

Finally there's the story of the guy who had a pole (as in pole dancing) fitted into his bedroom for all kinds of stuff. This would have been a relatively simple matter, I assumed, but apparently not; an engineer had to be called to give his professional advice on installing the pole based on the weight -- as in how many pole dancers would be using the pole at one time.

My favorite parts were the duck and the dessert


Oh no. That's not the final story actually. The final, final one is about the guy who had a house made, and it has a room that his wife doesn't know about. Sort of like a secret Panic Room. I don't know how he got such a room constructed in his very own house, but apparently he did.

Doesn't this look like olive oil & balsamic?
This was actually the 1st dessert with almond oil and coffee.


A neighbor in Manila was among my Tokyo visitors' group # 1 -- Tokyo visitors' group # 1 with 12 pax out of the 39 pax I'm hooking up with here in Japan over the next 2.5 weeks -- as well. Although we meet up fairly often in Manila, it was fun to be in an entirely different environment together without the pressures and stresses of daily life.

This is actually my second trip in a matter of weeks with a neighbor, as I also went to Sri Lanka with another neighbor of mine from Manila, and I'd really enjoyed that one as well. There must be something about living in the same vicinity and having the same interests because I've had only good experiences so far, traveling with my neighbors.

My favorite parts were the duck and the dessert

At the end of the meal, we met the shockingly young chef who was extremely nice. We all complimented him on the meal and wished him every success. We must have all had a lot to drink as well; because the guy in charge of paying for the parking -- I'd driven my car to the restaurant so I was the only one who didn't drink, but someone else had gone to the carpark machine to put the money in -- had gotten the parking slots wrong and he'd ended up paying for the parking fees of the car next to mine.

You can imagine how everyone burst out laughing when that happened. And just our luck, the guy had been parked there since 8 AM. Basically, we'd paid for someone else's meal ticket. I wonder what he thought when he got to his car...




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  2. Any wonderful cuisine is not perfect without the best wine to complete it. Sometimes I even order liquor online just to get my favorite from Australia.