The secret to fine dining in Tokyo on a budget is … Lunch. If you are looking for a treat without the night time bill, plenty of fantastic restaurants offer great specials to the lunchtime diners. Some like Hiromichi in Ebisu, even present stunning versions of the course meals they typically offer for dinner to the lunch crowds from the offices around Palace Garden.
Opened by Hiromichi Kodama, a former chef at the one-star Michelin restaurant Chemins in Akasaka, this year-and-three months-old restaurant offers the best of French cooking in Japan. Kodama studied in southern France in Mont Pellier for one year, but says “I went to France not just to learn the techniques, but to feel what it was like to be in a French kitchen.”
“It used to be that Japanese chefs that cooked French food were not respected,” says Kodama. “But because of this, we are working hard and studying a lot to combat this perception. And as chefs become flexible with the ingredients, French cooking is changing.”
The veteran chef’s philosophy of cooking extends beyond the kitchen to the dining room at Hiromichi and its environment. “The focus is to try to make everything as delicious as possible, regardless of the techniques,’’ he explains, “But of course great taste is naturally expected, so beyond that, I want to create a sense joy at the table.” To this end, Kodama worked with the designer of Chemins to produce a warm atmosphere. “Many French restaurants in Tokyo are sleek and modern, in a very minimalist and monotone way, so I wanted Hiromichi to be not only modern, but homey and welcoming as well.’’
He’s succeeded, with abstract fine art and floor-to-ceiling glass windows the open onto swaying bamboo trees filtering dappled sunlight into the space. And the food? That’s what you are here for in the end, and last week, we stopped by for a four-course noontime meal and were not disappointed.
The amuse bouche was a Coupe de mousse de carotte et oursin en gelée, a glistening beef-flavored jelly covering uni treats over a cone of creamy carrot mousse. Kodama first sautés the carrots in butter, then boils them with water and milk, and finally adds fresh cream. Nicely chilled, the mousse had a delicate, sweet flavor – although no sugar was added – and a smooth consistency that perfectly contrasted with the sprightly jelly and hidden sea urchin.
Hiromichi focuses on offering affordable and enjoyable wines that are at the age when they are ready to be consumed. There are over 200 available from all regions of the country, with a special concentration on Burgundies, a favorite of sommelier Fumihito Sasaya. For the heat of the summer, Sasaya recommended the Henry Natter Sancerre (JPY5,800), a refreshing sauvignon blanc from Loire with a pleasantly tart and clean taste.
For the second course, Terrine de légumes d’été with ayu, Kodama hides the most delicate parts of this fresh water fish – the eyes, mouth and stomach – in a mixture of egg, champagne, olive oil and flour — to seal in their tastes while cooking. The sweet fish was served with a zesty green tapenade with the appearance of apple sauce and a chunky black tapenade, and presented atop a terrine of fresh summer vegetables.
The meat of the day was the sagari cut of beef (hanger steak, a slice from under the diaphragm) with a red wine and vinegar sauce, paired with Grillons de Ris de Veau (veal sweetbreads) minced with thigh meat, and surrounded by imported French mushrooms, and assorted vegetables from Mishima in Shizuoka.
Kodama comments that
In the past, all the French restaurants in Japan imported ingredients from France, but recently Japanese chefs are using more local ingredients. In fact, French chefs have begun to import Japanese ingredients to France.
The beef was tender and rich, the sweetbreads featured a unique texture — like tuna fish without the fish — and the mushrooms were a perfect accompaniment to a pleasantly earthy dish.
To finish it off, appearing on an unusual black plate from a New York designer, were four killer desserts: Icy orange and lime sherbert with colorful flecks of rind; moist and sweet banana and raisin bread with a quarter moon of cream; fresh cream with fragrant Lemon Verbena and pineapple; and a surprising dish of chilled peach and fruit tomatoes with shiso. All were excellent, no more need be said!
In total, it was a magnificent meal, equal parts French culinary creativity and Japanese attention to detail.
In the world of the senses, Japanese care about the subtleties, so ingredients from Japan have a special delicacy
says Kodama when asked about how Japanese chefs may be changing French cooking. “This is neither good nor bad in comparison to the approaches of cooks from other countries, it’s just different.”
Hiromichi is located just behind Ebisu Garden Palace at Mita 1-12-24, Meguro-ku (Don’t let the Mita address fool you); open 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and 6-9:30 p.m. (Last order) daily; For more information, call 03-5768-0722 or visit www.restaurant-hiromichi.com/pc/ and http://www.eatpia.com/restaurant/hiromichi-ebisu-french