★ L’Effervescence, Tokyo

Marked the final dinner of this trip with 2-Michelin star, L’Effervescence. Our Hokkaido trip did not pass by Lake Toya so we missed out on dining at Michel Bras Toya where Chef Shinobu Namae had spent time there as a sous chef before taking up a position at The Fat Duck in Bray.

The restaurant is housed in a nondescript low level building with the restaurant name elegantly inscribed on the wall. The main dining hall was decked out in contemporary sleek style with several Japanese features including an impressive full length window facing a side yard garden, dark timber ceiling runners and the alcove featuring flower arrangements.

It was almost customary for us to have Champagne as apertif. Cheers to great food and many more adventures (trips) together~

Someone ever said that the clinking sound from the glasses is the “World’s Most Wonderful Sound” (世界上最美好的声音) and I absolutely agree. 

Our meal began with a special French wine with sake served in an opulent gold cup, perhaps signifying the French-Jap style dinner course ahead of us?

The theme for the dinner was “Terroir~ Where the ocean meets the land” and the first course was A severe winterBotan-ebi, beetroot, mandarin, nigori-zake. Upon first sip, I found a familiar taste from the green foam. I tried hard to pin-point what was it, perhaps the dill foam’s soft anise-like flavour was the trigger which stirred up my childhood memories. The slightly warm beetroot with the scented foam was soothing on the throat while the mandarin and nigori-zake in granita form was refreshing and appetizing. Although each of the ingredients seemingly have their own distinct flavours, the overall combination worked out to be harmonious and well balanced.

The 2nd course was Just like the Apple pie #26Monkfish liver, Persimmon, Jerusalem artichoke presented with a note from Chef Namae with a red coloured pillow box. The key message of the note was to draw our attention to the devotion and passion of the artisan that goes into every product/produce versus the commercialised mass produced ones – which explains the Chef’s satirical take on the American fast food chain’s Apple pie.

A sentence that struck a chord with me was “With evolution and development, dining not only carried out the basic responsibility of being something to satisfy the urge for survival but also sought after for fulfillment of the heart and soul.”. I believe this also holds true for many folks like me who has progressed from simple need to fill our stomachs to seeking enjoyment of gastronomic delights as our disposable income increases. I must clarify that I am not alluding that costlier restaurant food are better than those from simple, humble food establishments. For me, higher income has enabled me to travel more often to other countries such as Bangkok where I could enjoy delicious and affordable street food or fly to San Sebastian to pamper myself with Michelin-star restaurant meals. However when it comes to local Singapore food, my usual go-tos are the gems found nestled in hawker centres/coffeeshops.

The Maitre d’hotel – Zac further explained to us that the apple pie was indexed as #26 because each time the Chef tweaks the ingredients used for the fillings, the recipe would be versioned. Unlike the fast food chain’s crisp crust, Chef’s version featured buttery and flaky pastry.

Instead of the conventional butter, the sour dough was served with a special spread made from sake lees, sour cream and olive oil. The first wine pairing was a 2015 Mendall Finca Abeurador from Terra Alta, Spain – a young and fruity white wine.

The next dish was named WhiteCuttlefish veil, sake lees cream and iyokan mandarin, kohlrabi, chrysanthemum flower. Under the semi-translucent cuttlefish was a layer of bright yellow cooked chrysanthemum flower. Chrysanthemum (kiku) is Japan‘s national symbol and the kiku with 16 petals is the symbol of the Japanese royal family. I found this dish interesting as we usually drink chrysanthemum tea boiled from the dried flower but this was prepared using fresh petals. The soft flower petals had a mellow sweet taste while the crunchy kohlrabi added depth to the texture of this delicate dish.

By now I began to appreciate the theme of “where the ocean meets the land” as up till now all the dishes comprised of a seafood element with a vegetable (root) element. How ingenious! 

Although the next dish did not fit in with the theme, it must be forgiven as this is Chef’s signature dish. Aptly named A fixed point4 hours cooked Tokyo turnip, parsley, Basque ham & brioche, this has been a standard fixture in the menu since the opening of this restaurant. The recipe can even be found online here. The turnip is cooked using sous vide method resulting in a noticeably juicier final product as the moisture was retained. The final searing in the pan gave them the charred crisp outer layer complemented with the crunchy brioche croutons. This dish was paired with the 2008 Pinot Gris Cuvée de L’Oncle Léon, France, which has unique character but compared to the earlier wine, this one had higher acidity that was less palatable to me.

The meal resumed with the seafood and veg combination with A snowy dayAmadai tilefish gently cooked in whey, celeriac, olive oil. I had often been disappointed with the way fishes are prepared in Western meals. However this was one of the rare occasions whereby I felt the Chef had handled the fish expertly especially when this is a prized (and pricey) white fish, which should not be wasted. Using just celeriac and olive oil as accompaniment, I was able to focus my attention on savouring the deep sea Amadai fish which has firm, meaty flesh and chewy skin. This dish was paired with a 2015 Gut Oggau Burgenland Winifred Rosé, Austria. We had very good impression of Austrian and Switzerland wines, would always try to source for them when we travel to Europe. This smooth and light biodynamic wine was equally impressive.

From the light fish dish, we moved on to a richer dish – When the cold wind blows Kegani (hairy) crab & sweet potato soup, soft cod roe and wild boar caramel, salt preserved lemon. I’ve lost count on the number of times I ate shirako on this trip but I was still thrilled to be able to enjoy this winter delicacy prepared in other manner, different from my earlier experiences.

Before moving to the mains, we were presented with Grandma’s taste Tiny chawan-mushi, shijimi clam & mushrooms consomme, fresh grated wasabi paired with Daigo no Shizuku from natural sake producer Terada Honke in Chiba Prefecture. The sake was surprisingly sweet with a fresh citrusy flavour which made it really unique!

The heat of the hearth Roasted duck over an open fire, guts & miso sauce, scallop & toasted nori jus, shiitake mushroom, curly-leaf spinach paired with 2011 Centin Corino Lorenzo from Piemonte, Italy. My experience of Italian wine was limited to Chianti which was high in tannins and acidity – not suited for my palate. The wine served with this dish was made from the Nebbiolo grape variety had similar characteristics but it turned out well-paired as the wine could help to cut through the rich fatty duck. I also liked that the tender roasted duck had good smokey flavour with crisp outer skin. 

East & West – was a choice between Cheese or Vegetable. We opted for the Vegetable Salad and was rewarded with the beautifully plated garden comprising of 52 types of greens/herbs/flowers etc. that was sourced from Artisan farmers in various parts of Japan. This course was served with the fruity Cidrerie du Vulcain from Switzerland, a sparkling cider made from native heirloom apples. We were certainly impressed by the carefully curated variety of wines/sakes used for pairing of dishes at L’Effervescence.

The amazing pairing ended with a very special sake – Aramasa “No.6” Xmas-type. The No. 6 series comes from “No.6 yeast”, which is one of the oldest Kyokai yeast. Apparently the supply of this sake is very limited, we were certainly happy to be able to taste this clear yet sophisticated sake. It would be helpful if I had met the friendly sommelier earlier in my trip to give me some tips on choosing sakes! We already bought a bottle of the Kamotsuru (aka Obama sake served by Abe during their meal at Sushi Jiro) and the Otokoyama Junmai Daiginjo, no more alcohol duty-free allowance.

Our first dessert was Unfastened Tochiotome strawberry, white cheese ice cream, red bean meringue, mochi blanket. Somehow this dessert looked really cute to me, it was like a pink version of the popular Sanrio character “Gudetama”, but this was a version with Little Miss Pinky peeking out shyly under the soft & pillowy blanket~ Zac asked us for our feedback on this dessert as he said it was a new creation. We had nothing but praises for this dessert which exemplifies Japan‘s traditional sweet – mochi, complemented with quality strawberry and red bean.

The fruit used in the second dessert came as a slight surprise to us as we seldom see this fruit in Japanese supermarket. A harmonious whole Sake lees rice pudding, wild mountain kiwi, amazake ice cream. When we shared our sentiments that it was the first time we ever had kiwi in Japan, Zac explained that the kiwis in Japan are different from the usual kiwi species, the kiwis native to Japan are much smaller and sweeter. Apparently they are in season during the winter and early spring. This dessert also allowed me to have a deeper appreciation of sake lees. I’ve seen a documentary programme on how sake is made and briefly aware that sake lees are a by-product from sake production. But Chef had turned this “leftover” product into useful ingredient, incorporating it in several of the dishes.

For the grand finale, we were presented with Mignardisesfollowed by a tea ceremony by Zac, presenting us with Matcha and “World Peace”Peanut milk. Zac shared that he is qualified to perform the Japanese tea ceremony after completing his training in Kyoto and even showed us a video of him in kimono during his training.

With the lollipops being the centre-piece of the mignardises, we left it till the last to savour it. It was proven to be an excellent decision as we ended the wonderful meal with pop-rocks hidden within the chocolate spheres. I asked Zac jokingly whether the incorporation of the pop-rocks (fizz) was planned with the intention to cleverly reflect the name of the restaurant – L’Effervesence?

Other than the fantastic food and wine, something else caught our attention at the restaurant – the music. Instead of playing soothing classical music at the background, we found ourselves unknowingly swaying our heads to english soft rock music from artistes like Radiohead while in between meals.

The amalgamation of diverse cultures at the restaurant was so well-designed that it did not feel disharmonized; instead everything fell into the right places and made this uniquely L’Effervesence-style experience. This experience could only be truly enjoyable if you visit with an open-mind.

Last but not least we left with a piece of chocolate cake made with sake lees and this gift came in handy as our breakfast while we stood in the queue for Sushi Dai from dawn. On a side note: when we shared with the Japanese sommelier that we planned to go Tsukiji market for sushi the next morning, he recommended us to visit “Sushi Yamato” – run by a father and son team. He did not know of “Sushi Dai” when we told him about it but with some google help, we figured out that “Sushi Yamato” is in fact “Sushi Daiwa” (run by the son).

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