★ Le Musée ル・ミュゼ, Sapporo

Le Musée—which means “museum” in French, is a fusion restaurant which was awarded 1-Michelin star in the 2012 Michelin Guide Hokkaido. We shortlisted this restaurant after we chanced upon an article which mentioned that this place is Chef Takazawa’s favourite restaurant in Japan. If this alone is not sufficient endorsement on how highly regarded this restaurant is, even American Chef Grant Achatz (Chef of Alinea) once tweeted “Two amazing meals in Japan. Aronia de Takazawa and Le Musee in Sapporo. Both should be on the top 50 list and have 3 Michelin stars.

The restaurant seems to be nestled in a residential neighbourhood and housed in a nondescript cement-toned building. After walking through the small walkway, what greeted us was a sleek white space decorated with a few paintings on the wall. I suppose the space doubles up as an art gallery and is aptly reflective of the restaurant’s name – Museum.

The innovative cuisine served here seeks to bring out the purity and delicacy of the bounty of the fields, forests and sea of Hokkaido. The menu is changed regularly in order to feature the freshest seasonal ingredients.

The irregularly shaped dining hall has several small overhead windows that allowed natural daylight to enter the building, providing a nice tone for my food photos. Sitting on the pristine white table linen was a plate with an abstract design that somehow strike a chord with me. I interpreted it as that of a winter mountain landscape comprising of a mist covered valley? Love how the artist created gradients and depths with just a few simple lines.

For the month of Jan and Feb 2017, the key ingredients featured were Fugu (puffer fish) and Black Truffle. The restaurant purchases live puffer from Shimonoseki every week. And Shimonoseki is nicknamed “Fugu Capital” for a reason, as 80% of all fugu in Japan passes through the area.

We started our meal with Lily Bulb Mousse with White Truffle and Black Truffle Sablé with Croquette. The croquette was camouflaged in the edible “soil mixture” comprising of rice pops, seasame etc with an aromatic roasted smell.

From the earthy tone of truffles, we were next presented with a dish representative of the ocean – Hokkaido oyster, jelly consommé topped with konbu whiskey mousse. Although we did not manage to converse much with the maitre d’ due to slight language barrier, we knew that the ingredients used were all representative of the best Hokkaido has to offer. For example,  Hokkaido’s frigid waters are ideal environment to produce great tasting oysters. According to an online source, some 90% of the konbu harvested in the waters off Japan are from Hokkaido. We also passed by the re-known Nikka whiskey distillery in Yoichi town. Although each component are excellent on its own, it also takes the skills of a chef to artfully integrate them into a harmonised dish. The multitude of textures presented in this seemingly plain and simple dish was absolutely divine! From the plump and chewy oyster, to the smooth yet gelatinous jelly and finally the dense espuma filled with unique konbu umami with a hint of smokey whiskey. Who knew oyster could be paired with whiskey resulting in such a magical moment?

We continued to explore the bountiful shores of Hokkaido with Fried scallop with yuzu. The scallops were coated with a light batter and fried to golden brown, dusted with citrusy grated yuzu.

After 2 bite-sized dishes, we took a pause while warm bread was served. Home-made bread set in the sustainable wooden baking mould presented on a wood plank with the restaurant’s name etched on it exudes much rustic charm. Loved the use of wooden butter spatula instead of the shiny silverware used in other fine dining places. The potato bread had a nice brown crust with soft and pillowy body which was seriously addictive. This bread came in at a close 2nd to the one served at Narisawa in Japan.

The next dish is said to be one packed with amazing medicinal power, featuring Burdock with truffle, non-sweet pudding. Why medicinal? Gobō (burdock) is a very common root vegetable used in everyday Japanese home cooking, but in Chinese culture it is also a herb said to have cancer fighting properties and help remove phlegm. On the other hand, truffles are predominately eaten by Western world more as a delicacy than for its medicinal properties. However recent studies showed that truffles are also said to possess very powerful antioxidant properties and is an anti-aging super food. I would love to enjoy such delicious health supplement instead of the bitter Chinese herbal concoctions!

Given the incorporation of molecular gastronomy concept in Chef’s cooking, it was not a surprise to see a dash of theatrics before unveiling our next dish. The maitre d’ placed a siphon commonly seen in artisanal coffee places on our table. Instead of ground coffee in the upper chamber, it was filled with dehydrated vegetable skin. The bottom chamber was filled with vegetable stock. The burner placed underneath the bottom chamber heats up the stock to its boiling point producing vapour/steam.  Eventually, the pressure created from the vapours exceeds that of the atmospheric pressure in the siphon, forcing the remaining stock into the upper chamber. The dehydrated vegetable skin then get brewed for a few minutes in the stock. Once the burner was removed, the infused stock then flows back into the lower chamber.

The staff then placed a large vessel with an array of vegetables on our table and poured the infused stock over a heap of vegetables. The whole dish was presented to us as one of Chef’s signature dish “Vegetable Salad“. Just like the well-manicured Japanese garden, this salad was possibly the most artfully composed one that I’ve ever eaten. There was a simple explanation that the white foam represented snow and after the snow melts we would then be able to harvest or grow new vegetables during Spring.

Truffle made an appearance again, this time round paired with a unique winter delicacy in JapanShirako.  The maitre d’ explained shirako conservatively as fish roe, which was slightly misrepresented. It was in fact Milt – seminal fluid of fish. Shirako can come from either cod or fugu (puffer fish). In our case it was Fugu milt with Truffle, Butter and Japanese soyu sauce.

While some people might find the idea odd, but if we had been enjoying caviar/tobiko/ebiko why not shirako? If you block the thought out of your mind while eating this, the shirako by itself tasted rather mild and does not have any distinct flavour. The texture resembles that of tofu and is in fact much smoother and more silky. It also helped that my first encounter with shirako was with one that was lightly fried and hence not presented in its original form. In its raw form, it looked like miniature brain or intestines. I guess once you fell in love with something, looks does not matter anymore~

From eating milt, we progressed to eating actual fish meat. The next dish was Shiroi Sakana (White Fish) with Lobster Broth and Olive Puree. We were not sure if the white fish was Fugu, I suppose if it was the maitre d’  would have said so?

Before moving onto the main, we were served palate cleanser of Lemon sorbet with olive oil in a pipette dropper.

For the main of Hokkaido pork with lemon sauce, Chef first presented to us a whole piece of pork in a casserole which was filled with smoked hay. Thereafter it was sliced before serving to us and drizzled with lemon sauce. The zesty lemon sauce offered a good balance to the rich pork.

We ended our meal with Blue cheese milk with honey sorbet, white chocolate and rum with Coffee/Tea.  The dessert also strike a fine balance between savoury and sweet.

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