Trainee chefs can usually only stand one year in Joël Robuchon’s infamous Parisian ‘kitchen from hell,’ but Monna Lisa owner Toru Kawano apprenticed there for three grueling years, as well as cutting his teeth in Paris’ other top restaurants including Guy Savoy and Georges Bulan. Surviving the recession was easy compared to his early days in Europe. Despite the misfortune of having his money stolen on his first day in Paris, he didn’t lose his nerve; in fact, while sitting penniless in the Louvre garden, he became even more determined to succeed. After returning to Tokyo, he pursued his dream of opening his own restaurant, and 14 years later Monna Lisa is still one of Tokyo’s finest.
Chef Kawano’s creativity touches every plate that leaves his kitchen—literally, as he also designs his own bespoke tableware exclusively for his Ebisu and Marunouchi restaurants. I started my meal with a warming turnip soup with a surprising clam jelly base, topped with a swirl of fresh cream. This was followed by a richer course of veal ravioli with liver and sauteed French mushrooms and black tofu—a wonderfully dark dish.
The red snapper fish course was a twist on a Japanese favorite, usually served for special occasions such as New Year’s or birthdays. Wrapped in a crispy light pastry and served with a herb salad and crab and prawn sauce, the fish made the perfect light yet flavorful dish. For the meat course, Kawano created a pork burger fried in breadcrumbs and topped with chorizo made with Japanese shiitake, black radish (kuro daikon) and lotus root for a crunch. The meat was perfectly cooked and the garnishes lent it a delicious bite.
Before my dessert the chef served frozen strawberry ‘soup’ to cleanse the palate. The plate of assorted cakes looked great, and every dessert was different. I sampled a mini crème brûlée, an apricot tart with pumpkin mousse, and an unusual sweet potato sorbet and Canadian maple syrup ice cream. All were delicious. To end the wonderful evening the chef chose some refreshing peppermint tea, a lighter finish than traditional after-dinner mints.
Open daily for lunch (11:30am–2pm)
and dinner (5:30pm–9:30pm)
1-14-4 Ebisu-Nishi, Shibuya-ku
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