A date with Joël: Le Chateau, Tokyo

Had a date with Joël today. He’s a man that needs no introduction, but I’ll introduce you anyway. Full name: Joël Robuchon Age: 66 years old (what can I say, I like older men). Nationality: French (excellent lovers, so I’ve heard) Occupation: Chef He’s a man in demand. Had to book 3 months in advance to score a lunch date. Take a number, ladies. Ok, the above is not entirely true. It wasn’t really a date. But in my defence, dining at a 3 star Michelin restaurant is a bit like a blind date. The girl ums and ahs over what to wear, you wine, you dine and you want to be impressed and hopefully walk away at the end of the night without a bad aftertaste. (NB: I’ve never actually been on a blind date, but it’s how I’d like a blind date to be). First impressions were not too shabby. I will admit, he was a little bit out of my league though. The reality is, today I got to tick off something on my bucketlist – and that was to dine at a 3-star Michelin restaurant. A once in a lifetime dining experience (for the economically challenged like myself). For this one guy, back in 2004 – he spent an entire year traveling and dining at every 3 Michelin star restaurant around the world at that time! Deep pockets AND a big stomach. Really, I’m just jealous though. Japan is the culinary capital of the world and Japan has been awarded more Michelin stars than any other country (even France). I think there are 12 3-star Michelin restaurants in Japan. A group of us went to Joël Robuchon’s Le Chateau restaurant in Ebisu. Robuchon is a world-class chef. He has a total of 26 Michelin stars across a dozen restaurants around the world, more than any other single chef in the world. Quite the achievement. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this building in Ebisu’s Garden Place.

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

And for the longest time, until recently, I had no idea that it housed Michelin star establishments (yes, that’s right, more than one). Inside this chateau, you’ll find the Robuchon bakery, Rouge Bar, a restaurant called La Table on level 1 (2 Michelin stars) and Le Chateau restaurant (3 Michelin stars) on level 2, and on the third level is the private dining room for the Le Chateau restaurant – all by Joel Robuchon. He also has other 1 and 2-star Michelin dining venues around Tokyo. My friend organized this dining event last year, securing a reservation 3 months in advance. We were impressed she got us a table there. Lunch is cheaper than dinner, so we indulged in a long lunch on a cold, wet January Saturday. (For dinner, you might want to get a loan approval.) Upon arrival, my coat and umbrella was taken and placed into the cloakroom. I was then escorted up the stairs to the second level and into Rouge Bar. I had arrived early and was seated in this waiting room. I think the bar is only serviced in the evening. I was left unsupervised in the room which provided a good photo op. Gradually the other girls in our party arrived and we hung out in the room posing and taking photos. Here are photos of Bar Rouge. My photos aren’t so great. There wasn’t a lot of light in the room:

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

The carpet: So that’s Rouge Bar, where the colour theme is obviously red. As it turned out, I had arrived half an hour early, hence the number of photos of the bar. Once everyone in our party had arrived, we were ushered to the ‘Gold room’ – the Le Chateau Restaurant. The 3-star Michelin restaurant. Wow! We had entered the pearly gates of culinary heaven. We had all half-thought that they may reject the likes of us (even though we had a reservation). We worried that they probably would have thought that we couldn’t afford to pay the bill at a place like this. This is a place for people with real money, as opposed to us girls with fake Monopoly money. We were seated in our chairs, beside which were little stools for our handbags. Table setting was amazing. And yes, I was totally going to be that person who took a photo of everything on their SLR camera and look like the tourist. (Bless, Japan. Don’t reckon I could get away with it in Paris).

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

We had a glass of champagne to begin with.

From Robuchon Le Chateau

And soaked in the ambience. So much gold and bling.

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

It almost felt like we were in a gallery or museum. All the walls were protected in glass.

From Robuchon Le Chateau

There was even bling for the table.

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

The dining ware was amazing. Check out the bread plate.

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

We ordered the lunch course – menu Plasir (french for ‘Pleasure’), which offers dishes from the dinner menu so at least we got to sample some of the dinner dishes. It was an 8 course affair and then some. They actually offer a few set lunch courses here, of varying prices to suit your budget. I’m going to spare you a detailed pompous commentary/critique of the exquisiteness and delicacy of the food, barring a few side comments. I’ll leave that to the professional food critics. Suffice to say the food was really good. It was an amazing dining experience. And it is just that, an ‘experience’. The whole thing was amazing. And I was so elated to be there. Bliss. I’m just going to post up lots of photos instead and let your imagination do the tasting. The menu was in both Japanese and French, so I’ll also write a brief description in English. (I took home a copy of the menu. Don’t worry, it was totally kosher to take it home). We were served bread to start with.

From Robuchon Le Chateau

First up, was the amuse bouche – a pumpkin mousse of sorts.

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

Dish name: L’Oursin (sea urchin). A delicate sea urchin gelee with cauliflower cream. I don’t like sea urchin. I don’t eat sea urchin. But here I was faced with sea urchin. I ate it all. (The kitchen will change certain ingredients if you don’t like certain foods or have allergies. They let us study the menu beforehand. I was happy to try the sea urchin and opted not to change the menu.) Still have to say that I don’t like sea urchin. It ain’t my favourite food. It was served in a glass shell. The tiny roses that you see on the plate were real roses!

From Robuchon Le Chateau

From Robuchon Le Chateau

Good food must be accompanied with good wine. The wine menu here came out on an iPad. Welcome to the future, ladies and gents. We ordered a bottle of red wine for the table. We were scared to ask the price, but ask we did and went for the cheapest bottle (at 6000yen). Even the cheapest red wine at a 3 Michelin star restaurant must still be pretty awesome and probably the most expensive wine I will still ever have. The bottle opening is quite the affair. A trolley is brought out, the bottle is opened and then poured into a large glass flask and then left to sit for a while. We were told that the wine needed to “breathe”. Geez, that must mean that every red wine I’ve drunk up until now has choked. It never had a chance to “breathe”. I’m not sure what the significance of the lit candle was. I thought the Sommelier(ess) was very knowledgeable and professional. At the end of the meal once we had polished off the bottle of wine, they then handed us an envelope with the wine label laminated and a profile label which you can fill in. I thought that was super cool. The girls let me keep it coz I love that kind of thing. Pretty special. The whole experience was fascinating. There was a bread trolley which they wheeled around, and you could select a variety of breads and baguette. They came around a few times during the course of the meal. I really enjoyed the black olive bread. I also tried the onion bread as well. After making your selection, they would go off and toast your bread so it was warm before serving. (The bread selection was all complimentary with the meal. You can have as much bread as you like, but it would be a shame to to fill up on bread coz there’s like another 6 courses to get through).

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

Dish: Le Foie Gras de Canard Foie gras (duck liver) in a parmesan risotto. This dish was delicious. The parmesan risotto was amazing. I think I liked it even more than the foie gras. Rice and cheese never tasted so good. To make rice and cheese taste like this could bring world peace. If only one could bottle it’s aroma.

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

Looking deliriously happy: Dish: L’Amadai. Tile fish with baked scales poached in yuzu broth with a root vegetable. The cooking technique of the fish scales on this dish, is something special. The fish skin is crispy. It’s almost like the fish equivalent of pork crackling.

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

DIsh: Le filet de boeuf Beef accompanied with peas, green beans, carrots, mushrooms, served with a carrot oil. I really loved the colours and flavours of this dish. The mushrooms were pretty divine. And I do love a good red meat.

From Robuchon Le Chateau

And how cool is the plate!

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

Seriously, let’s just hang this on the wall and call it art. What a masterpiece!

From Robuchon Le Chateau

Now for dessert. I wasn’t expecting so many dessert dishes, of which there were four! Dish: Le Guava. Lychee gelee with vanilla cream, with guava granite, and rose foam.

From Robuchon Le Chateau

Bird’s eye view:

From Robuchon Le Chateau

Here’s a group photo of us enjoying our meal:

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

Dish: La Mangue Mango coulee praline parfait with toffee and pepper. Also delicious. Mango, toffee and hazelnut. Best combo ever. And great textures too. Soft and crunchy. Everything on the plate was edible including the halo-looking bit.

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

Splurged on a glass of port as well. Tea/Coffee, served with sweets. The waiters even synchronized the tea pouring (which I might add, should totally be an Olympic sport – the synchronized tea pouring that is) (3 of us had tea). Lots of little details like that throughout the meal made the experience awesome, like the little nifty crumb sweeper thing that they used towards the end of our meal. Dish: green tea (matcha) gelee with creme brulee.

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

The coffee cup and saucer were really cool.

From Robuchon Le Chateau

Last up was a chocolate and macaron.

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

A pretty special experience. Here are some additional pics of the restaurant.

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

The food was very filling and we were totally satisfied. We lingered around until everyone in the restaurant had left. We had been there over four hours just soaking in and savouring the experience. We were the last party to leave. The waiters were really accommodating and let us (me) take as many photos of the restaurant as I liked considering there was no one there.

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

We were also led out by one of the chefs! My brush with a culinary celebrity. We had actually discussed during the meal whether we would be allowed to meet the chef(s). As it so happened, I got to talk with and have a photo with one of the chefs – Mr T. Watanabe. He was the chef responsible for the fish dish. He was super nice and friendly and more than happy to have photos with us.

From Robuchon Le Chateau

And then the battery on my DSLR went dead. It had luckily survived the meal. I had taken over 250 photos! So the next few photos are on my regular digital point and shoot camera (hence poorer quality).

From Robuchon Le Chateau

Upon leaving, we were also given a souvenir goodie bag (that all diners receive), which had a loaf of special bread of some sort from the Rabuchon bakery. Ah, the irony. Exchange one kind of dough for another. And then some more photos:

From Robuchon Le Chateau

3 stars, count ’em:

From Robuchon Le Chateau
From Robuchon Le Chateau

It was 5pm by now. A day well spent.

From Robuchon Le Chateau

The Chateau by night:

From Robuchon Le Chateau

I thought the service was good. Very polite and professional. The staff were multilingual (Japanese, English, French – and possibly other languages) and spoke English for our group. They weren’t at all haughty or arrogant. And they were so accommodating with regard to photography. Everyone in the restaurant was taking photos of everything that was put in front of them and the staff happily took photos for people and were happy for people to snap away. As for the price, well let’s just say I dropped some yen, but it was worth it for a bucketlist experience. And that’s the point of a bucketlist. If you had a month to live, what would you want to do? If I had a month to live – climbing the corporate ladder, getting married, buying a house, buying the latest gadget etc would not be on that list. Instead, I’d be traveling, eating, traveling, eating and then repeat. All with good company, of course. I’d want to see and eat as much as I possibly could. So, yes, money would be no objection. A Murakami quote from one of his books comes to mind: “A real gentleman never discusses women he’s broken up with or how much tax he’s paid”. In my case, “A real lady never discusses men she’s been broken up with or how much she’s paid for a meal.” Sadly, my blind date with Joel will be just a one-night stand. Following the above maxim, I mustn’t discuss this either. However, I will treasure the receipt. (They of course, will split the bill accordingly to what each guest consumed. This is one place where you don’t want your guests doing a runner on you and leave you footing the entire bill! FYI, there are no banks nearby to rob.) Le Chateau Website. I also recommend that you try and get your hands on and watch a neat documentary called: “Michelin Stars: The madness of perfection”. It’s a fascinating and interesting doco providing an insight into the history and secrecy of the Michelin headquarters and it’s anonymous judges with a “licence to eat”. The pursuit of perfection and the chase for a Michelin star even drove one chef to suicide. I came across this documentary on a long-haul flight (in-flight documentary) a year or two ago. It was aired on Australian tv last year. I think it’s a BBC production. Get your hands on it and watch it if you can. Super interesting.

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