Restaurant Review – Narisawa

Nestled within a modern office building in the Minami Aoyama area, lies one of the more intriguing restaurants in Tokyo. The chef, Yoshihiro Narisawa, previously trained at Paul Bocuse and Joel Robuchon, runs the very modern Japanese restaurant with French influences pervading its cookery. At the forefront of this, is the strong sense of connection with the Japanese environment, ecology, and to highlight the amazing bounty that the land has to offer.

And we start off with this wonder. A chunk of bread dough is ornately decorated with various leaves and twigs, and left to ferment whilst we begin our meal. Now, we’re certainly off to a promising start.

Bread of the Forest 2010: Kumquat and Walnut
Bread of the Forest 2010: Kumquat and Walnut

While the bread ferments away, we begin with a plate dubbed the “Essence of the Forest”. The idea of it isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but the ingredients were meant to highlight the forest of Satoyama. Burdock root twigs were placed upon green tea powder, deep fried vegetables chips, and various other components. It had a good blend of textures and flavors, and the  Burdock root twig was crispy and particularly pleasing. On the side, was water flavored with oak, which was refreshing and I suppose, Oak-y. As an ode to winter, there was also a little sorbet snowman to refresh the palate.

Essence of the Forest
Essence of the Forest

We were served some additional surprise Amuses. One of which was a deep fried soft shelled crab turtle, shaped in the form of a chicken drumstick (or boxing chicken, that one might refer to in Malaysia). The turtle was nicely crisped and well seasoned, and the flavor was reminiscent of a rather gamey chicken. The other amuse was Sumi, which was meant to resemble charcoal, and had a crispy exterior with delicious sweet onions inside.

Sumi
Sumi

Next, was a trio of a Kobe beef with rice and Daikon, spiny lobster with caviar, and sea snake soup. The Kobe beef from Hyogo had the soft luscious texture that one might expect, whilst the spiny lobster from Shizuoka was very fresh. The sea snake soup was essentially sea snake which was steamed at 60 degrees Celsius to extract the flavors into the broth, added with pork and some yam dumplings. The soup was flavorful and had a warming effect which was perfect for winter.

Kobe beef with rice and daikon, spiny lobster with caviar, and sea snake soup
Kobe beef with rice and daikon, spiny lobster with caviar, and sea snake soup

This was followed by a Akashi Sea Bream frmo Hyogo, and Botan Shrimp from Ishikawa prefecture. The dish was garnished with sweet chilies, various flowers and enveloped with Yuzu oil. The sea bream was ridiculously fresh, whilst the raw Botan shrimp had an almost creamy and rich texture to it. The fish and shrimp were nicely paired with the acidity from the Yuzu oil, as well as a tinge of spice from the chilies. A very successful dish.

Akashi Sea Bream and Botan Shrimp
Akashi Sea Bream and Botan Shrimp

Now, the bread seems to be properly fermented, and will be enclosed and left to bake in a hot rock bowl at approximately 250 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes.

IMG_5507 IMG_5512

While there’s a literal bun in the oven, we were then served a steamed oyster from Nagasaki with tomato water. Quite a delicious combination with a pleasing, smooth texture from the Oyster.

Konagai Oyster
Konagai Oyster, Nagasaki

And after much anticipation, the bread is ready! The bread was at the perfect, warm temperature and had an almost doughy texture albeit was pleasantly chewy. I particularly enjoyed the butter, which was encased in black olives and Chlorophyll, which gave it a richness and slight green tinge to it.

Bread and butter with black olives and Chlorophyll
Bread and butter with black olives and Chlorophyll

Moving on from that, was Langoustine served with seasonal vegetables and a sauce made from Burdock root. The head of the Langoustine was lovely, and seasonal vegetables were properly cooked. The Burdock root sauce was very airy albeit felt that it didn’t add much to the dish.

Langoustine Shrimp from Shizuoka
Langoustine Shrimp, Shizuoka

Next, was Tilefish in a rich sauce of Horsehair crab. The fish was well cooked, and the sauce itself was well seasoned. An overall flavorful dish but perhaps a tad on the salty side, could have used some additional textures or acidity to balance it out.

Tilefish and Horsehair Crab
Tilefish and Horsehair Crab

Now, we were served a soup dubbed the Luxury Essence, with abalone from the Yamaguchi region. The soup itself had a good body and not overtly intense, whilst the abalone was well cooked with the right amount of bite to it. Definitely reminiscent of the “superior” soups that one might get in a good Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong.

Luxury Essence 2007
Luxury Essence 2007

The subsequent dish was grilled Blowfish (or Fugu) from Yamaguchi, with Sancho peppers and a Lindera twig acting as a skewer. This was then drizzled with a Japanese lime. The texture of the Fugu was redolent of a meaty white fish, and Sancho peppers added a pleasant spicy aroma to the dish. This was probably my second time having Fugu, and was surprised by its texture which was pretty appealing. It was definitely a testament to the chef’s technique in preparing such a challenging ingredient.

Blowfish, Yamaguchi
Blowfish, Yamaguchi

For the main course, was Duck from Kyoto. The duck skin was crispy and the fat was properly rendered, with the meat also well cooked and tender. There were three types of sauces streaked across the plate, but was leaning towards being a tad too sweet.

Duck from Kyoto
Duck, Kyoto

As an intermezzo before dessert, was a tiny Matcha (Green Tea) dessert. The Matcha ice cream had an intense green tea flavor to it, with a crisp above also made from Matcha, topped with red bean and jellies.

Matcha, Fukuoka
Matcha, Fukuoka

Finally, we were served a dessert of Strawberries from Nagasaki, and an ice cream made from Anise Magnolia from Gifu, which was also decorated in the interior of the serving bowl. The strawberries were beautifully sweet, and the mochi was not as a chewy that one might typically imagine. The ice cream had an interesting flowery note to it as well. Overall, a pretty good dessert.

Strawberry and Anise Magnolia
Strawberry and Anise Magnolia

To conclude the meal, the waiter brought over a fantastically decorated cart with an vast assortment of mignardise. Being a greedy little bugger, we opted to try out one of each. I particularly enjoyed the burnt apple marshmellow, as well as the Matcha mochi.

Mignardise
Mignardise

This was an ambitious menu which certainly showed off a lot of talent from the chef, as well as bringing various Japanese regional ingredients to the fore. Some of my personal favourites was the brilliantly fresh Akashi Sea Bream, the beautiful array of mignardise, and particularly the wonderful spectacle that was bread being literally fermented and baked at your table. Service was also very professional and smooth, and the waiter was willing to delve into the details on how the dishes were made e.g. the optimal temperature to prepare the meat.

Overall, some truly creative cooking going on here with pretty good dishes, albeit some were definitely more memorable than others.

Location: Minama Aoyama 2-6-15, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062. +81-3-5785-0799.  Website.(5-10 min walk from Aoyama Itchome metro station)

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