Thursday, November 10, 2016

Florilège (Tokyo, JAPAN) ★★★★★

There were plenty of dining options available on our last night in Tokyo. Tirpse, Esquisse and Molecular Tapas Bar all received consideration at some point but at the end, a visit to the highly regarded Florilège proved to be too much to resist.

Owner-chef Hiroyasu Kawate previously spent time in France honing his skills at places like Michelin starred Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier before returning home as the sous chef at Tokyo's three Michelin starred Quintessence alongside chef Shuzo Kishida. He later opened his first solo venture, Florilège in 2009 in a backstreet in Minami-Aoyama and began receiving critical recognition both locally and internationally. Soon following his move into their new 22-seat premise in Shibuya, the restaurant was given the "One To Watch" Award at the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2016 gala dinner.

After a short walk from the Gaien-mae station, we finally arrived at Florilège. The first thing that caught my eyes when I walked through the dining area was its theatrical setting with the open kitchen in a commanding spot in the middle and some 20 counter seats around it.

Chef Kawate could be seen running around the kitchen preparing different dishes in the kitchen.

I knew coming in that Florilège's 11-course surprise menu (at the affordable price tag of ¥12,000) would be as creative and bold as it gets in Tokyo. And there's going to be a ton of local Japanese flavors in there so I just couldn't wait to get things started here.

Starting things off was a little snack made with different textures of sweet potato. With this dish, the chef aimed to re-create the warm atmosphere of Japanese families gathering around the fire making themselves smoked sweet potatoes during winter time.

Stuffed inside the smoked purple potato was sweet potato purée that was soft and delicate.

Now time to get our "weapons" ready.....

Our first starter of the night was deboned pike conger, served with sour cream on top and accompanied by beetroot in three different textures (chip, meringue and powder). This was particularly nice with all the contrast in temperature making it a little more exciting for our palates.

At this point, we were offered some homemade buns which was seriously tasty.

The next dish got us totally off our feet. I knew chef Kawate's contemporary French cuisine is very unique so I wasn't counting on having escargots, foie gras terrine and frog's legs but I certainly wasn't expecting soft shell turtle!

With this dish, we were served with soft shell turtle done three different ways. First, we had this Japanese-style egg custard that was made with hen eggs and turtle eggs on the bottom. That was topped with a gelatine and meat area (neck) which was deep-fried with a thin batter like a tempura. Finally, there's a strip-shaped shoulder area which was slow-cooked and sitting on the side.

To make this even more interesting, the chef has prepared a warm turtle soup just for the dish. The broth was pretty intense with great depth of flavors, which was working wonderfully well with the three pieces of soft shell turtle. A bit weird yes but the results were incredible.

And we're going to have foie gras after all.

Of course, it's not going to be just a boring piece of pan seared foie gras. Instead, it's served raw with sea urchin and pumpkin which was prepared two ways - as a long pasta and in the form of a pumpkin soup. There's a lot of sweetness in there to complement the foie gras and I like the addition of toasted pumpkin seeds and coffee powder for a bit different flavor and texture.

They're doing their part to promote sustainability so here came this shabu shabu dish made with a 13-year old "retired" cow.

Despite the advance age of the cow, I thought the meat was relatively smooth and tender. It combined well with the mashed potato and parsley pesto on top of the rich and flavorful broth.

Next up was a brilliantly executed oyster dish and one of my favorite dish of the night (second to the soft shelled turtle). The Hokkaido oyster was deep-fried with a very crispy crust, topped with seaweed, lemon meringue and served with a shot of vegetable broth on the side. This was a very special dish.

One of the chefs came over and showed us tonight's main course which was a beautifully roasted suckling pig ready to be served after our next dish.

There was just one single blemish from the menu tonight and it came courtesy of our last starter which was Spanish mackerel, or sawara served with cabbage, lemon powder, oyster sauce and seven spices. There were a lot of contrasting flavors in there but unfortunately, most of them failed to mesh with each other.

Things were back on the right track with our succulent sucking pig perfectly matched with wild boar ragout, roasted red pepper and pepper purée. Very juicy.

I forgot to jot down what this was but I vaguely recalled it was some kind of milk serving as a palate cleanser.

The first of our three desserts came with different textures of perisimmon, which I was told was in season at the moment.

Diced perisimmon, perisimmon juice and perisimmon powder (made with perisimmon juice) were nicely prepared with vanilla jelly and agar.

That was followed by a refreshing dish of burrata cheese with yogurt filling and some slices of fresh mandarin.

That was very nice...

Finishing things off for us was chocolate mousse with caramel jelly, hazelnut ice-cream, chocolate cookies, crumbs and some micro celery.

This looked more like an edible piece of modern art to me.

A pair of drunken cherries sent us home with very happy stomach.

We managed to finish our trip on a high note thanks to a very strong performance from Florilège's talented kitchen. With the "One to Watch" award already under its belt, I expect much greater and better things to come from this team in the next few years.

Food Rating: 9/10
Price: ¥¥¥
Address: Seizan Gaienmae B1F, 2-5-4 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Closest Metro Station: Gaiemmae
Tel: +81 3-6440-0878
S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants: 99th (2017)
S. Pellegrino Asia's 50 Best Restaurants: 14th (2017)

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