Monday, January 24, 2005

22. Allez Cuisine

If memory serves me right, Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai was only challenged by Rokusaburo Michiba when it came to who was the mightiest of the Iron Chefs. Sakai had the most wins and was King of Iron Chefs when the show concluded in 1999. In fact he defeated Alain Passard to earn the title of "World's Best Chef". With a reputation like this I was looking forward to going to Sakai's restaurant
La Rochelle in Minami-Aoyama. This is located in an old church that was located in the backstreets, it certainly stood out.

Our waitress was Japanese and spoke some English, along with the sommelier. When I started to talk to the sommelier about Iron Chef and how I was from Australia, he was most impressed. He decided to put me to the test, he asked Sakai's age, I said "62" and he then realised I was a real fan since Sakai is indeed 62. From here the service was top class rivalling Flower Drum for levels of attentiveness even with the language difference.

The restaurant is certainly everything French, menu French, wine French and the Champagne carried Sakai's own name too. Even though I am not great with French, it is certainly a lot better than my Japanese, so the ordering began and the anticipation built.

After selecting and having our red wine decanted, we were presented with an appetizer then entrees. Mine was sautéed fois gras on a cabbage crepe, Carolyn had fois gras pate and fois gras mousse with black truffle sauce. This was simply superb - the presentation was out of this world and everything down to the smallest detail was perfect. The flavour was also brilliant, the fois gras mousse was covered in nuts so it was up to myself to eat it, this had the food density equivalent of lead, it was so rich I struggled to eat it, yet so delicious I was compelled to complete this. Next on the menu was a pumpkin soup, it was so light and fluffy it was appropriate it was served in a cappuccino cup, simple but brilliant.

Poisson, we both had langoustine, which is somewhere between prawn and lobster, this was heaven, notice the carrot was cored and stuffed, even a humble carrot is treated with the same care and attention to turn the simple into the exceptional. It was the favourite dish for both of us.

Meat - I chose duck on basmati rice with a red wine jus and the waitress asked that mine be served with a potato arrangement of a crispy fried potato tube filled with mashed potato and topped with fried root vegetables to resemble feathers. She did this after I pointed to another person's dish asking what was that, very sweet of her!
Carolyn had Kobe beef with the same potato arrangement with two types of sauce, the texture of the meat was melt in your mouth, it was almost like a meat mousse it was so soft. Despite the size it was very rich and filling. Japan definitely values quality over quantity, this is no huge Vlado steak, that is for sure.

Desserts, we were both served a banana mousse, light and delicious, just what you need after the rich mains and before real dessert.

Chocolate nougatine with green tea ice cream and semi dried pomigranate. Strawberry mousse and ice cream. Simply no other dessert I have ever eaten has looked or tasted better.

Finally another light custard and truffle to go with coffee.
In summary, was it cheap, no, but it is no worse than Flower Drum, if you ask me I’ll tell you how much it was. Put simply this was the best meal I've ever had. The only let down perhaps was that Sakai wasn't in the kitchen this night, but I will be back and the sommelier has promised to seat me on a night he is there. An incentive to go back to Japan if ever there was one.
Who would have thought that a trip to Japan would result in clearly the best French food I’ve ever had? It is clear as to why Sakai is the King of Iron Chefs and the Delacroix of Cuisine.