As early as 2010, Travelife Magazine Contributing Editor Jerome Velasco wrote about Les Creations de Narisawa, a restaurant in Tokyo that was again chosen as Asia's best by the S. Pellegrino yesterday.
Jerome, who writes our popular Hungry Traveler column, has a knack for picking winners. I remember how he was waxing rhapsodic about Andre in Singapore, just after it opened and long before it was on the radar of many foodies.
THE BEST RESTAURANT IN SOUTH AFRICA
In South Africa last November, his one pick for a dinner in Cape Town (13 courses with accompanying wine pairing!) was a new-ish restaurant called Test Kitchen, located in an industrial suburb outside town. It looked like a cross between a warehouse and a loft, in the middle of nowhere.
Of course, it had a star chef so it was going to be good. But weeks after this South Africa trip, Test Kitchen was chosen the best restaurant in South Africa for 2012.
Read more about what Jerome has to say about South Africa's top three restaurants in the latest issue of Travelife.
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THE CREATIONS AT NARISAWA
In the meantime, I'm re-posting an excerpt from his column on Les Creations de Narisawa, written and published in Travelife Magazine over two years ago, for those interested in visiting Asia's best restaurant.
PS: He just reminded me today about how I've never been very impressed with Les Creations de Narisawa, while he's always been a big fan from the start.
Located in Tokyo’s famed Minami Aoyama District, not far from the architectural showcase avenue of Omotesando, Les Creations de Narisawa has captured critics’ attention.
It’s clear that chef Yoshihiro Narisawa is at the forefront of the culinary revolution now sweeping the globe. His ability to depict the seasons through his presentations and ingredients (common in kaiseki style meals) is typically Japanese, while the technique is very classical French, which is a reflection of his training.
ALL ABOUT THE SENSES
He firmly believes that eating is about engaging all the senses and not just the palate, so his food is as much about taste as it is about the landscape. Or, as he likes to call it, “nature on a plate.”
As we entered the restaurant, I immediately knew this was a special place.
A large banner hanging from the ceiling, a tribute to their 5th anniversary, was studded with signatures from some of the best chefs in existence, including Ferran Adria of El Bulli, Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck and Grant Aschatz of Alinea in Chicago—all three perennially at the top of prestigious listings of the best tables in the world.
A GREAT VIEW
Meanwhile, the kitchen is in full view of the diners, separated only by a large, fixed, one-piece glass wall that allowed us to watch the frenetic, albeit organized preparations and cooking activities first hand.
Narisawa wants his customers to see exactly what is in the refrigerator and what they are going to eat.
The menu is guided by the Japanese philosophy of “shun,” or using ingredients at their freshest and most seasonal. That day we were handed two choices, both aptly entitled “Gift from the Nature”—a four-course lunch for the day, and the seven-course degustation gourmet menu for dinner but likewise available for lunch.
We opted to try both, as they each consisted of different, exciting-sounding dishes.
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DINNER IN THE FORM OF GIFTS
• Gift from Satoyama and Le Potager: a radish starter and foie gras dish afterwards
• Gift from the Sea: three separate plates of squid, lobster and fish
• Gift from the Forest, which was represented by creations bearing Japanese Hida beef
• Evolve with the Forest, a demonstration of bread-making tableside
TOO OLD FOR SCIENCE CLASS
To start, we were offered a glass of crisp Vilmart Grand Cellier champagne that prepped our palates for the feast ahead.
Then something that appeared to be a science experiment arrived.
It was actually bread dough on a white vessel that was heated by a small fire underneath. The dough had been kneaded beforehand and powder from forest trees and chestnuts were added in. Then it was fermented for 24 hours.
What we were witnessing was the last process of fermentation, a 20-minute process that would result in the dough rising. Literally freshly-baked bread.
BREAD BAKED ON THE TABLE
Later, the dough was placed in a black stone container heated to 300 degrees centigrade and sprinkled with more chestnut powder to give it a nutty taste. It was then covered with a wooden lid for 12 minutes until done.
It was unusual, surprising and intriguing to say the least; and my first experience of bread being baked tableside. It’s probably the first restaurant to bake bread in the dining room without an oven!
THE GIFT FROM SATOYAMA
The gift from Satoyama was a tasting of fresh radish that was presented as though it had just been picked from the ground, with mustard seeds imitating the soil.
Satoyama is a Japanese term applied to the “border zone between mountain foothills and flat land,” and produce from Satoyama typically represents small- scale agricultural activity that promise biodiversity in the area.
ASSAULT OF THE SENSES
Foie gras with strawberry followed, served with flowers, herbs and greens.
Reportedly one of Chef Narisawa’s signature dishes, it was filled with colors and various shapes and textures not customarily found on a plate. The foie gras is sourced from a commune in Saint-Sever, south of Bordeaux, and Narisawa reportedly receives the raw material even ahead of the restaurants in France.
An excellent dish with a hint of bitterness and acidity from the other ingredients—and yes, sinful.
THE GIFT FROM THE SEA
The Gift from the Sea began with a grilled Japanese squid over which a powder of red pepper, lemon juice and olive oil was poured.
A little liquid nitrogen then provided an “ash” effect for this dish appropriately named “Wind of Basque.”
Next, a more conventional double-boiled clear soup done Chinese style, using whole chicken and Kinka pork, hit the spot with a ridiculously fresh and juicy langoustine (ise-ebi) accented by winter melon cubes.
This was followed by an incredible sweet sea bream served with crispy sesame tofu in a scallion sauce served with Japanese white miso and steamed citrus fruit.
HOT OIL MASSAGE
Things got even more interesting.
My main course of sumi (charcoal) Hida beef was cooked via the “arroser” method, which involves the continuous application of warm oil on the meat until its internal temperature reaches about 55 degrees centigrade.
This artisanal method of arroser, a French verb which in a culinary context means to baste, is said to produce a richer taste and perfect texture. Chef Narisawa believes this technique enables him to trap the taste of the raw meat inside its flesh while still heating it.
CHARCOAL. OR NOT.
Then, to give the appearance of a lump of charcoal, the meat was coated with a black powder of carbonized scallion. Carbonized scallion needs to be made well in advance, as it can take up to three days for the bitterness to disappear.
It was served with morel mushrooms, green pepper, onions and a bordelaise reduction that complemented the dish brilliantly.
This was served, rather uniquely with a sake granita, again made possible with a healthy dose of liquid nitrogen that, I must admit, went well with the Hida beef.
No meal at Narisawa is complete without at least several desserts.
Noteworthy was a serving of sliced white peaches with peach puree and cream with champagne poured over it.
There was also a trolley with an assortment of at least two dozen other desserts. I couldn’t resist trying the canele, a small French pastry from Bordeaux with a soft and tender custard center and a dark, caramelized crust, the chocolate walnut cake and the pot de creme. They were all unbelievably good.
The finale was an imaginative presentation of various macaroons arranged according to their cacao content.
This was an incredible meal and a true fusion of Japanese culture and French technique.
Every dish had a story and each composition a theme.
As chef Narisawa once said, “ a good restaurant should surprise people and make them sit up and take notice of the food.” If that is his objective, he has certainly hit the mark.
Les Creations de Narisawa
2-6-15 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan
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