Christine Cunanan-Miki meets the taste of Todd English
Fans of celebrity chef Todd English troop to Olives in Roppongi Hills to get their fix of his cooking, which is best described as original Mediterranean with lots of flair. There’s nothing shy about how he combines ingredients or the way he handles sauces and seasonings, and his flavors and sensations will often compete for your attention; but the end result is good food you just have to appreciate.
English himself makes only sporadic visits to his Tokyo kitchens since he oversees 17 other restaurants (at last count) including the original Olives restaurant in Massachusetts, a fine dining outlet called Todd English Restaurant aboard the luxury liner Queen Mary II, a seafood restaurant called Fish Club in Seattle, and a ristorante called Todd English’s Tuscany in Connecticut. And when he isn’t cooking or travelling, he’s appearing on shows like Iron Chef and receiving awards. Just in recent years, he’s been named one of the “Top 50 Tastemakers” by Nation’s Restaurant News and “Restaurateur of the Year” by Bon Apetit magazine. His charm obviously extends beyond the kitchen counters as well, since he was even chosen as one of the “50 Most Beautiful People” by People magazine.
But his Tokyo staff says he does such a good job of managing the operations long-distance that it’s almost like he’s here anyway. Ever conscious of maintaining his “brand”, he chose many of the recipes himself and even demonstrated how to prepare each one step-by-step until his Tokyo chef Bobby Griffing, formerly of Olives in Las Vegas, perfected the routine.
We liked almost everything on the menu, and found the dinner tasting courses (¥8,400 and ¥12,600) and wine tasting courses (¥3,700 and ¥5,250) reasonable value. The Chef’s Tasting Course (five courses for ¥8,400) focuses on seasonal dishes, while the Olives Tasting Course (seven courses for ¥12,600) includes a delicious appetizer plate and offers a sampling of the restaurant’s most popular specialties. We loved most of Olives’ appetizers, especially the tuna tartare (¥1,780) garnished with sesame dressing and salmon caviar, and the beef carpaccio (¥1,950) that came with crispy Roquefort polenta and a creamy garlic sauce. Among the pasta selections, the Tortelli of Butternut Squash (¥1,880) successfully paired the delicious sweetness of the squash with the sharpness of Parmesan cheese and the exoticness of sage. Meanwhile, Olives’ paella (¥3,900) was a refreshing take on the traditional Spanish version: the rice is cooked separately with saffron so that it’s practically a Milan-style risotto rather than a paella, and then choice cuts of fresh seafood are seared and then added on top.
Olives (chosen as one of the world’s outstanding restaurants in 2004 by Wine Spectator magazine — one of only five in Japan to be selected) is fancy dining in a New York sort of way: lots of mood lighting and special effects, a sophisticated atmosphere, very friendly staff and the kind of eclectic background music you hear in restaurants and bars all over Manhattan these days. It’s great for those Friday nights when you’re feeling particularly hip and on top of the world (just make sure you book in advance) — especially since a Tokyo restaurant table with a view doesn’t get any better than this. If you manage to snag a window table, you basically have ringside seats for the prettiest show in town: Tokyo Tower and the city’s other buildings all decked out for you to gaze at in between courses.
WHAT TO EAT
The Tortelli of Butternut Squash (¥1,880), the New-Style Paella with fresh fish from Tsukiji (¥3,900) and the “Two Bone or nor Two Bone” roasted rack of lamb (¥3,900) were my favorites.
WHAT TO DRINK
We enjoyed an excellent Napa Valley Chardonnay (Mont-Pellier, ¥1,470 per glass) and a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (Morton Estate, ¥1,260).
WHERE TO SIT
The tables by the window, with the views on Tokyo Tower, are the best — and most romantic — seats in the house.
HOW MUCH DID IT COST?
¥30,000-¥40,000 for a set dinner and wine course menu for two, plus taxes and service charge.
WHO GOES THERE?
Romantic couples, expatriates who know, or have heard of, Todd English, Japanese career women in groups, and professionals working in the Roppongi Hills area.
WHO TO ASK FOR
Toru Mitsui, the restaurant’s assistant manager, has a lot of recommendations for food and drinks.
5F West Walk in Roppongi Hills
6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106 0032