Tokyo’s new last word in French fine dining
by Christine Cunanan-Miki
Not a few gourmets in Japan consider L’Osier one of Tokyo’s best French restaurants. This elegant art deco-ish restaurant owned by cosmetics manufacturer Shiseido in Ginza, is certainly one of the hardest to get into. About two years ago, my husband rang up to make a dinner reservation and was told that the first available one for a Saturday evening was six months away. We called in July and were booked for the end of January — two of the 40 lucky diners that evening. Well, we had a wonderful dinner that made waiting worth while, and I think the fact that this restaurant is perpetually full and has a list of loyal clients long enough to be the voters’ list of a small town, speaks volumes about the food and the dining experience it has always served.
Several months ago, the news that L’Osier’s long-time chef Jacques Borie, who made L’Osier famous, was handing the kitchen keys over to a younger chef caused some trepidation among certain food lovers in Tokyo. Some Borie fans were reportedly almost in tears at the end of an era. What will happen to L’Osier and how can it ever be the same again? This was the question they all asked as they scrambled and pulled strings to secure one of Chef Borie’s last tables.
It turns out they needn’t have worried much at all. L’Osier under the new chef, Bruno Menard, is indeed slightly different, but it’s just as good as ever — and more exciting as well. It takes quite a bit of courage to take over the pots and pans of someone who reigned supreme over fine French cuisine in Tokyo for the longest time. But Chef Menard, who was chosen as one of the most promising young chefs of France, and who previously headed the Atlanta Ritz Carlton’s five-star fine dining restaurant, The Dining Room (which was judged the best restaurant in Atlanta by Zagat), has certainly proven a worthy successor.
Chef Menard’s cooking is full of refinement and zest. It’s classic and calibrated French with a delightful, adventurous twist that he himself says is inspired by his travels and experiences in different countries. With each dish, one feels his talent and mastery of technique, as well as his creativity, innovation, and attention to detail. A warm crumbly bun made out of buckwheat, for instance, is topped with cold cream bursting with truffle flavor and served with crunchy vegetables. A thick slab of tuna belly is lightly seared and served with eggplant, a multi-flavored spicy tomato sauce and warm brioche. Meanwhile, foie gras is sauteed and served with butternut squash and ginger for a spicy sweetness, and then topped with nuts for depth.
He is also a wonder with more unusual main courses such as pied de cochon (pig’s feet) and wild meat. One recent lunch, a wonderful risotto topped with herbs and chunk-sized bits of roasted pied de cochon (La Daube de-Pied de Cochon, ¥6,800) stopped all conversation at our table as we unashamedly scraped the last bits from our plate. At dinner on another evening, my husband and I savored a tangy fillet of Hokkaido deer (Filet de Chevreuil, available as part of the ¥22,000 set menu) that had been marinated in orange juice and served with a vinegar sauce that was so thick and brown, it resembled chocolate.
Finally, exceptional food is best accompanied by impeccable service, and the staff at L’Osier — the ratio here is over one staff member for every guest — certainly know how to orchestrate a discreet but flawless evening. If you want an evening of fine food and pampering, it certainly doesn’t get any better than this.
WHAT TO EAT
The menu changes regularly but almost everything is scrumptious. For appetizers, Chef Mendard’s take on foie gras (Foie Gras Poele, Puree de Butternut Squash, ¥7,200) is one of the most innovative combinations I have ever tasted. The marron soup with truffle cream and foie gras (Soupe de Marron a la Creme de Truffe et Foie Gras Poele, ¥2,800) and the seared tuna with eggplant caviar (Ventreche de Thon Mi-Cuit, ¥6,800) are also highly recommended. Among the main courses, anything on the menu with pied de cochon (pig’s feet) is bound to delight.
WHAT TO DRINK
Start your meal with a bottle of Chateldon 1650 (¥1,500), reportedly the Rolls Royce of mineral waters, which is light and perfect for cleansing the palate. L’Osier has a huge wine list to suit most tastes and budgets. For whites, the 1999 Batard Montrachet (¥28,000) is an especially delicious and buttery Chardonnay, while the 1990 Riesling Cuvee de la Saint Martin (¥5,500 for a half bottle) is a more reasonably priced option. Among the reds, the 1996 Bandol Rouge Chateau de Pibarnon (¥6,500) is a good-quality Southern French wine that can go with almost any meat dish.
WHERE TO SIT
Any table here will provide enough privacy as well as a good view of the entire room.
HOW MUCH DID IT COST?
Plan on spending at least ¥50,000 for two people for a dinner course with wine.
WHO GOES THERE
Tokyo’s movers and shakers, chic couples, expensively dressed women with formidable handbags, and occasionally groups of business people who look like they’re dining out on the company expense account.
WHO TO ASK FOR
L’Osier is often notoriously hard to book, but restaurant manager Anthony Deville promises to try his best to secure tables for Weekender readers who mention this column.
7-5-5 Shiseido Bldg. Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo