by Christine Cunanan-Miki 

FOR SERIOUS FOODIES, there is a place called heaven on earth and it’s in Ebisu. The Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon opened with a whisper in December in the same grand chateau-style building that used to house the legendary Taillevent Robuchon, and with a lot of the old faces from the Taillevent days — including Chef Alain Verzeroli and Go Matsuzawa, the maitre d’hotel. However, the new Joel Robuchon has done away with the ornate Louis XVI furniture and opened with a fresher and more contemporary style that blends better with the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. The chairs are simple but extremely comfortable, the bar now has a modern, edgy feel and the walls have been painted gold and given a jazzy treatment with Swarovski crystals for effect — and the results are marvelous.

The food has undergone a facelift of sorts as well, with the addition of more exotic ingredients and less traditional presentation. However, devotees of Joel Robuchon will still recognize the disciplined, forceful and yet simple cooking style that has become his trademark. Joel Robuchon oversees almost every aspect of the menus at this new restaurant (he was in Tokyo during the week we visited, and reportedly in his kitchen early every morning), and Alain Verzeroli, who worked for him at the Paris Taillevent before heading to Asia, is a talented and faithful follower of his culinary philosophy. The result of this teamwork is a set of wonderful and adventurous tasting menus that are sublime and yet stimulating — an almost perfect merging of Western and Asian sensations that still manages to retain its unmistakable French-ness.

Clearly, with such a formidable pedigree, this is not a restaurant for the faint-hearted, whether of stomach or of budget. However, the ¥7,500 six-course lunch menu is a good way to get a first glimpse of the world of Joel Robuchon. It’s expensive but satisfying, and I think few people will complain about the price after they’ve been wowed by an appetizer, three courses, and two desserts. We particularly enjoyed the bean soup flavored with truffles, onions and chunks of bacon; the perfectly cooked beef brushed lightly with wasabi, and the langoustine breaded with sesame seeds and served with a mint-flavored couscous. In fact, lunch was so good that I was back at Joel Robuchon within a week to have the same menu all over again.

In the evenings, the restaurant offers only one option: a ¥35,000 17-course tasting menu that has a little bit of every Western culinary delight possible in kaiseki portions. Its daunting list of dishes is a gourmet dream: Oscietra caviar, Breton lobsters, scallops St. Jacques, meuniere-style turbot, foie gras with truffles, lamb roasted in herbs, and quail with caramelized apples, among other delights. The enjoyable part about this dining extravaganza (if even more gourmet bliss is still possible at this point) is that Takehiro Nobukuni, the chief sommelier, can pair each of your 17 food courses with an appropriate wine by the glass or even half-glass so that you will have 17 wine tastings as well. That alone is enough incentive for a special night out at Joel Robuchon.

Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon
Yebisu Garden Place
1-13-1 Mita, Meguro-ku Tokyo
Tel. 03-5424-1347

At lunch, the six-course set menu (¥7,500) offers the best value and includes both a fish and a meat dish. In the evenings, a tasting extravaganza of 17 small portions (¥35,000) is the only meal available, and it is highly recommended. Come dressed to the nines and with an empty stomach for a memorable culinary evening featuring a little bit of every Western delight possible — from caviar and foie gras to lobster, pigeon and lamb.

Apart from its extensive wine list, the restaurant also has a good selection by the glass. The Cotes du Castillon Chateau Luccas Selection Joel Robuchon (¥1,800) is a smooth red that will complement rather than overpower the meal. Meanwhile, the slightly acidic V.D.P. Des Cotes Catalanes Domaine Gauby (¥2,500), a white wine from Rousillion that does not usually find its way to Tokyo, is a great starter to the evening — especially for those who want something different from the usual Chardonnay.

Anywhere in this beautiful room is fine! All tables are placed beside a wall to allow a nice view of the interiors.

Plan on spending at least ¥90,000 for a proper dinner for two.

People celebrating special occasions, rich housewives, well-paid professionals working in Ebisu Garden Place and serious gourmets who delight in the fact that — with the strong euro and the atrocious restaurant prices in Paris these days — a meal in this Tokyo temple of dining is no longer that expensive compared to eating at a Parisian fine dining establishment.

Go Matsuzawa, the maitre d’hotel, will take care of you with comforting professionalism, while Takehiro Nobokuni, the premier sommelier, will be happy to plan your wines according to budget, taste and even imbibing capacity. For the evening set menu, Nobokuni-san can even serve 17 different wines by the glass to accompany each course.