by Christine Cunanan-Miki
FEW restaurants merge French cooking with avantgarde style and Japanese sensibilities as seamlessly and deliciously as Ekki, the only dining outlet of the swanky Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi. At Ekki, each dish is an unlikely combination of exotic ingredients that is then laid out exquisitely in a kaiseki-style arrangement that is almost too pretty to eat. However, any hesitation one might have about eating wild Japanese yellowtail in a vodka sauce, or pan seared venison with Valrhona chocolate, for instance — or about ruining the culinary work of art set in front of you, perhaps — will quickly dissolve into hungry curiosity. After one bite, one realizes, and not without some relief, that almost everything will work and will taste delicious.
Much of the credit for this most welcome assault on the senses goes to Takuya Iida, a talented young chef who worked for two years as chef de partie at the Chateau Restaurant Taillevent Robuchon in Tokyo and afterwards trained with Jerome Legras, the former executive chef at Le Cinq in Paris. Under Chef Iida’s direction, the menu at Ekki has veered away from traditional French cuisine and acquired a sense of fun and adventure.
However, this doesn’t mean that Chef Iida has discarded the classics. In fact, if anything, he’s proving that he has mastered them — and then just tweaked them slightly. So his perfectly roasted quail (crunchy on the outside and moist and tender on the inside) is stuffed with foie gras and green curry sauce, and his excellent crême brulée comes with a hint of chestnut and cinammon. Some of Chef Iida’s tasty signature dishes may be too eclectic for purists. Fortunately, Ekki’s menu is large and varied enough to satisfy everyone, with a decent selection of untweaked classics as well, including pan-seared Atlantic langoustine and roasted lamb in a black truffle sauce.
The restaurant itself is as impressive as the food. It’s all browns, deep reds and subtle golds in a polished, modern interior of industrial materials and wood, in keeping with the overall sophistication of the hotel. With its location practically next-door to Tokyo Station, most people automatically assume that Ekki somehow refers to the busy hub of train activity just outside, that diners can observe from their tables. However, according to Cory Winters, the restaurant manager, this is not the case. Ekki refers to a warm and enjoyable meeting place for friends.
On the night we were there the place was jumping with a relatively young crowd. Many of them looked like they had come from the fashion and publishing companies in Otemachi and Marunouchi. In one corner, a senior manager-type Japanese was presiding over a group of young colleagues; while at the next table, an Armani-clad man in his 50s was clearly enjoying dinner with an entire table of fashionably dressed young women. Interestingly, there were almost no foreigners, although we were told that expatriate high-fliers on business lunches usually crowd the place at noon.
Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi,
Pacific Century Place Marunouchi, 1-11-1 Marunouchi, Chiyodaku.
We loved the French Fromage Ravioli with pumpkin seed cream and maitake mushrooms (¥2,900), and the Roasted Quail stuffed with foie gras and green curry sauce (price on request). The Chestnut Crême Brulée with chestnut ice cream and a baked cinammon biscuit (¥1,700) is also a winner.
Ekki has a great selection of wines by the glass to match each dish, and, for an additional charge, its tasting menus can be paired with recommended reds and whites. Takafumi Miyake, the sommelier, will be happy to discuss wine options.
The center tables afford a great view of the action inside the restaurant and outside.
Three-course tasting menus with accompanying wines start at ¥19,000. The Chef’s fantasy tasting menu, which includes some of Chef Iida’s best dishes, costs ¥29,000
Affluent Japanese professionals from nearby areas, expatriates with a penchant for good food and swanky surroundings, and famous celebrities who like the relative privacy of the hotel and its facilities.
Restaurant manager Cory Winters for dining suggestions or any special requests.