Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Quintessence (Tokyo, JAPAN) ★★★★☆

There are a few restaurants in the world that are almost impossible to get in and a number of them are right here in Tokyo. On top of that list is Sukiyabashi Jiro, the world's most sought-after sushi temple in Ginza and Chef Shuzo Kishida's Quintessence is not too far behind

Chef-owner of Quintessence, Shuzo Kishida spent 6-7 years in France mastering his culinary skills but it was his famous stint at Chef Pascal Barbot's three-star L'Astrance in Paris where he truly made his mark. After a rapid rise to the position of sous chef, he returned to Tokyo to open Quintessence in 2006. In November 2007, Quintessence was awarded three stars in the inaugural edition of Tokyo's own Michelin guide.

Very much like his mentor Pascal Barbot, Chef
Shuzo Kishida bases his cuisine on three basic processes: great respect for the product, thorough understanding of the cooking process and last but not least attention to fine details. Apparently, that is working to perfection.

For the past 5 years, I have tried very hard working the phone in order to get us a table at Quintessence even before they made the move from Shirokanedai to Shinagawa. Every attempt has been unsuccessful until this most recent one.

The beauty of Quintessence's menu is that: there's no menu! This is pretty much the same setup as L'Astrance where a different surprise menu is served from table to table (7-course lunch set at ¥8,500 and 13-course dinner set at ¥18,000).

Now the unpleasant part of this meal: there's a no photo policy in the main dining room. So whatever shows here is a result of a malfunctioned phone/camera working on its own.

Our first course was an intense soup of spinach, beef, tomato and onion. The taste was way too strong and I was somewhat surprised with the underwhelming start (4/10).

Things started to slowly look up with the second dish and one of Chef Kishida's signature dish - goat milk bavarois dipped in a pool of olive oil, with lily bulb on top and sprinkled with French sea salt.

This was a very unique dish. The semi-frozen goat milk tasted like melting marshmallow, very light yet flavorful and rich (7/10).

Next up was a "salty cake" as our waitress tried to explain in English. A closer look revealed that it's a savory clafoutis with fresh sea urchin from the Hokkaido region, mushroom, capers, herbs, dill and parmesan cheese.

For the second consecutive dish, the kitchen managed to impress us with something unorthodox in a French meal. The fresh sea urchin was absolutely mouthwatering and its creamy texture provided the perfect match for the mushroom, parmesan cheese and clafoutis.

But I thought the extra acidity from the mushroom slightly spoiled the dish (7/10).

Onto our fish course, here's our Japanese sawara fish (similar to mackerel according to our waitress) pan seared and oven baked before serving with grilled leeks and a mushroom sauce.

I liked the special sauce made with different kinds of mushrooms. There's a strong fragrance of lemon coming out of it that bodes well with the sawara fish fillet (7/10).

Roasted Japanese Pork with burdock sauce was our last course before we headed into our dessert portion of this meal.

The chef had designed a very special technique to prepare this piece of pork. First, he roasted it for a minute and immediately took it out to cool it off for 5 minutes. He repeated the same process over and over again for about 20 times. The result was one of the most tender and juicy piece of Japanese pork you would ever taste and certainly worthy of the best dish of the day (8.5/10). 

A simple pastel de nata was served as the pre-dessert before our 'real' dessert arrived. This was another one of my favorite dishes from this menu. The tart was very flaky to go with a perfectly rich custard (8/10).

While everybody else was offered a savarin for dessert, we had one of Chef Kishida's signature again - meringue ice cream peppered with a homemade sea water sauce. 

This was again very unique and different. The ice-cream tasted nothing like meringue but instead had more of a nutty flavor and the sea water sauce somehow helped to boost its taste to yet another level (8/10).

To me, what Chef Kishida offers is so much more than just French cuisine. The clever use of local Japanese ingredients, his mix-and-matching of contrasting flavors and some of his special cooking style made this a truly unique experience. 

Food Rating: 8.5/10
Price: ¥¥¥
Address: 141-0001 Shinagawa-Ku Kitashinagawa 6-7-29 Garden City Shinagawa Gotenyama 1F, Tokyo, Japan
Closest Metro Station: Shinagawa
Tel: +81 3-6277-0485
Website: www.quintessence.jp

S. Pellegrino Asia's 50 Best Restaurants: 22nd (2014)

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