Today, I had a four-hour lunch at Sant Pau, Japan's best Spanish restaurant and the Asian outpost of famous chef Carme Ruscalleda of Sant Pau in Spain, along the coast just outside Barcelona.
The Tokyo restaurant of Sant Pau has two Michelin stars, which is quite an achievement, especially in a top foodie city like Tokyo where the competition and the level of quality is just intense.
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LOYAL FROM DAY 1
I've been dining at Sant Pau ever since the first day it opened in Tokyo, which was probably over ten years ago.
At that time, Sandra Martorell, Carme Ruscalleda's trusted lieutenant at Sant Pau in Spain had moved to Tokyo just to oversee operations. Meanwhile Chef Carme kept such a tight grip on the quality in Tokyo back then that she was on video with the Tokyo kitchen everyday.
She also personally drew all the menus herself -- and how charming they always were. I understand she still does this until today.
BETWEEN TOKYO AND SPAIN
Also, whatever was being served in Spain was basically what was also being served in Tokyo, with a slight deviation for local materials.
At that time, Sant Pau in Spain was already one of Europe's best restaurants, so it was a very big deal for foodies in Japan and the rest of Asia to be able to sample the same food in Tokyo.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF SCENE
TEN YEARS AGO
No one really knew about Sant Pau ten years ago in Tokyo, except for serious foodies, and her experimental type of cooking surprised many people.
The international fine dining food scene ten years ago was very different from today.
For one thing, fine dining at Michelin-starred restaurants wasn't the widespread hobby that it is today, in Asia. It was also less high profile as there were fewer lists to get on, and less information available on the Internet.
MEMORIES OF AN AMAZING NIGHT
AT SANT PAU
Anyway, I stopped going to Sant Pau for years until today.
And I recounted to my friend Y today, over lunch, the reason why I stopped going to Sant Pau in Tokyo, after being a regular for years.
One day, many years ago, I'd had dinner there, you see, and we were a table of four.
We had the very grand tasting menu, accompanied by the wine pairing, which had a different wine for each of the 12 courses or so. I still remember how Sandra Martorell had personally overseen our wines and our refills.
A WINE PAIRING WITH NO ENDING
|The amuse bouche today|
at Sant Pau
That was the great thing about this grand degustation and wine pairing set, you see.
You got the best possible Spanish wines for each course, and the refills were on the house.
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I'm not sure if they still have this system now, but ten years or so ago, it was one refill after another for something like at least ten different types of wines and spirits -- all for one fixed price.
It wasn't cheap, but you got your glass refilled each time you emptied it.
Oh my goodness -- especially as the two guys with us were big wine drinkers and we were all in the mood to celebrate being young and lucky in the most exciting city in the world.
A MAJOR HANGOVER
I'm not at all a big drinker, although I will sometimes indulge in very good wine or a very good reason to do so.
And that night, we all had drunk so much that none of us could drive back home. Sandra had to suddenly hire drivers for all of us at way past midnight, to come over and drive our own cars back to our garages.
In hindsight, we should have taken taxis. But when you get used to driving around Tokyo, which is such a nice city to drive in as everyone follows rules and there is absolutely no traffic in central Tokyo at any time of the day, it's really hard to take the train or the taxi again.
What a wonderful night that was.
But the hangover that ensued the next day from mixing champagne, white wine, red wine, and a whole lot of spirits besides was so serious that I spent three days nursing a major headache no aspirin could get rid of.
THAT'S WHAT'S KEPT ME AWAY.
And after that, I couldn't think of Sant Pau again without remembering that night -- and that has kept me away all these years.
When my friend Y heard this story over lunch today, she smiled at me and gave my the equivalent of a kick under the table. She said: "That's not the restaurant's fault at all, you know."
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It most certainly wasn't.
So I was very glad to be back at Sant Pau again today, especially as absolutely nothing has changed in terms of decor and style. It was like being back in Tokyo 10 years ago.
A VERY GOOD LUNCH
|One of three appetizers today at Sant Pau|
Meanwhile, I found most of the food very good, with impeccable service as befitting a Michelin two-star restaurant in a swanky part of Tokyo.
We had the lunch menu with an amouse, three starters, a salad, a fish dish, a dessert and petit fours.
Most of it was wonderful and ever so creative, making me regret staying away from Sant Pau all these years.
A CREATIVE SALAD
THAT TRULY TASTED OF SPRING
|Step # 1 for the salad at Sant Pau|
|Step # 2 for the salad at Sant Pau|
|Step # 3 for the salad at Sant Pau|
Meanwhile, the fish dish was very nicely presented but a little lacking in seasoning -- I kept sprinkling sea salt on it to make it come alive.
In hindsight, I should have ordered the meat dish which looked so tantalizingly tempting.
But I was, at that exact moment, thinking about the never-ending calories in one Michelin-starred meal after another, in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.