Les Saisons

Food & Drink - September 2nd, 2005
Les Saison's chef Thierry Voisin

 by Christine Cunanan-Miki

Les Saisons, the multi-awarded flagship restaurant of the Imperial Hotel, has long been a fancy old favorite in Tokyo. It’s where the city’s movers and shakers often congregated for power breakfasts, business lunches, and gourmet dinners to discuss the fate of the world over good food and red wine. Not a few CEOs and top-ranked fund managers have been headhunted over coffee and croissants here, and many VIPs from around the world once made a Les Saisons dinner a necessary rite when passing through Tokyo and staying at the Imperial Hotel.

Recently, this grand old lady underwent a major facelift, emerging with a more contemporary look and a whole new approach to dining. The French pastorale look is gone, along with the rather memorable giant floral arrangement in the foyer. In its place is a calm, modern interior in comforting neutral hues, with an art deco-ish and slightly Oriental feel. My husband, who used to work next door and eat lunch at the hotel almost every day, prefers the old pastel look. But I like the new, less stuffy design, which reminds me of the formal dining room of a luxury cruise liner.

Appropriately, the kitchen guard has changed as well. Les Saisons’ former Japanese chef, who was known and well respected for his old-school style, has been transferred elsewhere within the hotel, and a young talent named Thierry Voisin arrived from France five months ago to take over. With his informal style and charming demeanor, Mr. Voisin is literally a breath of fresh air in an establishment that kept its windows closed for the longest time. Don’t let the boy­ish smile fool you, though, as he debuts in Tokyo with stellar credentials and a reputation for culinary exact­ness. Mr. Voisin worked alongside world-famous chef Gerard Boyer for many years at Les Crayeres, Boyer’s Michelin three-star hotel-restaurant in Reims, France. It was here that he further advanced his classical train­ing, while experimenting with unusual tastes and food combinations.

Mr. Voisin’s specialties at Les Saisons are all about haute cuisine with a little adventure. For example, one of his favorite starters is cold pigeon meat and foie gras wrapped together almost like a chocolate sponge cake roll in a thick hazelnut icing (Ballotine de Pigeonneau au Foie Gras eta la Noisette, ¥5,250). Another is a pudding­like mixture of chicken, lobster, and truffle essence served in a glass (Tiramisu de Volaille et Homard Bleu, ¥7,140), which you’d think would end up simply as a delicious cacophony of flavors. However, Mr. Voisin manages to ensure that the distinct taste of each ingre­dient is preserved in every spoonful.

When asked about his particular expertise, Mr. Voi­sin readily admits that he is at his best with chicken, so the main course is practically decided for us. And, true enough; his Bresse hen with truffles, foie gras and bas-mati rice is a wonder for the palate (Poularde de Bresse en Demi-Deuil, ¥8,925) with its juicy flavors. Later on, he reveals his secret: the legs are steamed with truffle juice for two and a half hours at 75 degrees, while the breast goes in for 25 minutes at 62 degrees. We also tried his version of roast lamb (Noisette d’Agneau aux Dattes et Foie Gras, ¥6,825), which was sweet and sug­ary with vinegar juice on the outside and incredibly tender inside, and found this very satisfying. And, if cost is not a consideration, I would recommend the lobsters from Brittany (Homard en Carapace Cuisine en Cocotte de Fonte Aux Girolles, ¥15,750), which are flown in live and then cooked in mushrooms and port wine. The fact that the lobster is kept alive until it actually hits the pan makes all the difference in its firm and tasty flesh.

Finally, you must leave room for dessert. The sweets are entrusted to a Japanese pastry chef who does the restaurant proud with his creations. My favorite was a chocolate creme brulee served with a salty chocolate cream and a very deep chocolate sorbet on the side (Creme Brulee Tonka, ¥2,625), but the apricot biscuit with salted caramel ice cream (Biscuit Moelleux Aux Abricots, ¥2,635) was delicious as well.

With Mr. Voisin at the helm of the new Les Saisons, Tokyo’s movers and shakers will undoubtedly take great pleasure in re-discovering an old favorite.

Les Saison

WHAT TO EAT

The poultry hen and lobster tiramisu (Tiramisu de Volaille et Homard Bleu, ¥7,140), the Bresse hen with truffles and foie gras (Poularde de Bresse en Demi-Deuil, ¥8,925), and the roasted Iamb with dates and foie gras (Noisette d’agneau au dattes et foie gras, ¥6,825) were especially delicious.

WHAT TO DRINK

Among the whites, the dry Pouilly Fume 2001 Henri Bourgeois (¥1,890 per glass) was excellent with fish while the sweeter Pouilly Fuse 2003 Olivier Merlin (¥1,890 per glass) went well with almost everything — from the creamy appetizers to a roast chicken entree. For reds, there is an excellent Burgundy with a strong bouquet called Beaune ler Cru Vieilles Vignes 2001 Dominique Laurent (¥2,520 per glass) and a formidable 1998 Bordeaux called Chateau Beau Soleil that was wonderful with cheese.

WHERE TO SIT

The corner tables are best for couples.

HOW MUCH DID IT COST?

Evening set menus start from ¥16,800 per person, so plan on spend­ing at least ¥40,000 for a dinner for two including wines.

WHO GOES THERE

Groups of businessmen, couples on dates, and a couple of senior executives who looked like they were treating the girls in the office to a nice dinner.

WHO TO ASK FOR

Shigeru Chiba, the restaurant’s deputy manager, is happy to help plan menus and wine lists.

Les Saisons
Mezzanine, Main Building
Imperial Hotel
1-1 Uchisaiwaicho 1-chome,
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
 Tel. 03-3539-8087