Molecular Gastronomy in Tokyo

I had a pretty awesome Saturday. I slept in late, then hit the gym. Swam 1km and did a 7km jog (and walk). In the afternoon, I went to the Tokyo Photography museum to catch the last weekend of the World Press Photo exhibition (a yearly photo exhibit which I try to go to see each year when I can). There was a lot of people there. Memo to self: don’t go on the last weekend of an exhibition. I thought I’d see the women’s Olympic triathlon at a sports bar or something. Tried two pubs. One wasn’t open yet (at 5:30pm) and the other was only showing the rugby, and not a single Olympic event! Went home and managed to see the event on my “tv”. Dinner was the highlight of the day. A late dinner at 8:30pm was a 20-morsel journey of molecular gastronomy. Food meets science. I think molecular gastronomy is pretty fascinating. At the end of the day, cooking is technically a science of processes and chemical reactions. Dining at the Tapas Molecular Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel had been on my Japan bucketlist for a while now. The main deterrent was it’s price tag. However, when a friend organized the event a couple of months back, I was definitely in. There are 2 seating sessions per evening. 6pm and 8:30pm. We were booked in for the 8:30pm. Seats are limited to 8 people only. It’s more than food, it’s a performance show. A magic show of sorts. The Tapas Molecular Bar is technically the bar that’s in the Lounge of the hotel on the 38th floor, the same place where they serve afternoon tea which I did a couple of years back.

From Molecular Gastronomy

There was 6 in our party, and then a couple on the end. The food and the way it’s served is crazy and wacky. However, it does not compromise on taste or flavour. Arguably, the flavours are enhanced by the techniques they use. As we sat down to the counter, we were faced with beakers, test tubes and pipettes.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

This was the aperitif – a red shiso mojito.

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We had to squeeze the contents of the pipette into the test tube, shake and then drink. It was very, very shiso-ey. All the food is served at the counter, in front of you, by two chefs (although a lot of the mis en place has already been done). They explain in both English and Japanese the technique and process involved and you’re free to ask them questions.

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Next up were two snacks. 1) Caramel popcorn.

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This was just bizarre. They have to prepare each one individually. It tasted exactly like corn soup (very corny), but powdery and then was coated in a caramel syrup.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

Second snack was caprese – a dehydrated tomato skewered by a pipette filled with cheese. You had to inject the cheese as you ate the tomato.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

There are 10 courses in the degustation part of the menu. They used a lot of tweezers and liquid nitrogen to prepare the next few dishes. The presentation of these dishes were amazing. Beautiful and creative. New soba – a jelly soba with wasabi and soy sauce foam and karasumi. Karasumi tastes like cheese, but is actually fish eggs.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

The soba dish was delicious. Was definitely one of my favourites. So flavoursome! Who knew foam would taste so good.

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Gotta love the silverware – skinny forks and a scalpel-like knife. Super fine and sharp.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

The soba was followed by the crystal salad – dehydrated salad components with dressing that had been frozen and quinelled onto the plate. The salad was also really awesome. I can’t tell you how flavoursome all this food was. There was just so much flavour and taste and a variety of textures. The salad lacked height though. Everything was so finely sliced.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

That went down a treat:

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Delicate work. Food surgery:

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Next up was the squid ink soup. Earlier during the evening, the chefs prepared squid ink balls. They squirted squid ink blobs into calcium water to soak and form balls.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

They later used these squid ink balls for the squid ink soup.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

Here are the stages of the squid ink soup: The components – a squid ink cracker (which was tasty), the squid ink balls which now looked like mini kidney sacks. and octopus legs.

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They they add broth to the dish:

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You then pierce the squid ink ball to release the squid ink:

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And then we added something to it and stir. I cannot recall what it is. I thought it was a mustard, mayonnaise of sorts, but it had a cream-like texture. Stir it all through. The dish was surprisingly yummy, especially since I don’t really like squid/octopus. I ate the legs and had a few spoonfuls of the soup. The soup was tasty, but the flavours were very strong. It was very squid inky. Like I said, there was no compromise on taste. If anything, all the flavours were accentuated and were quite strong. Despite the small portion of the soup, I couldn’t eat it all. Next up was the cryptically-named dish called “Summer Mountain Stream”. Watching the chefs prepare this dish was like watching them make a diorama or collage. Check this out:

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

So pretty. The rocks weren’t edible, but the fish and the crab were. I didn’t care much for the coating on the fish. Unusual flavour. But made better with the green jelly sauce. The baby crab was a little more awkward to eat. You had to eat the whole thing in one go, and all of it – shell, legs, body and all. It had been fried in oil and again was really tasty. Very, very crunchy, I might add. We’re now about halfway through the culinary journey. Uni and fennel – powdered, dehydrated uni (sea urchin) with the use of liquid nitrogen, served with a hot fennel broth which they poured from a teapot. There was also fennel tied to the spoon to add to the aromatics.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

Try each component on its own, and then mix the uni into the fennel soup. Very unusual flavour combination. The next dish was called “Beach” and ended the four-dish seafood section of the degustation.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

There was a scallop with a clam sauce. The scallop was delicious. Have a thing for scallops, I do. The shell came complete with a pearl which contained a yoghurt sauce of some kind inside when pierced. Even the sand was edible. Did not care for the sand.

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For the gazpacho that followed, the chef injected the tomato with liquid:

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The gazpacho:

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

This was one of my least favourite dishes. It was a frozen tomato, injected with something served on more of that “sand”. My tastebuds were not happy with this dish.

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Chef at work:

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The next three dishes were my absolute favourite of the evening – these were the meat dishes. Hell yeah. Give the girl some meat. The whole meal had been carb free and I’m not sure that I was yet full. The next three meat morsels were divine. First up was a dish mysteriously called “Smoke”.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

Smoke had been captured under the glass klosh.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

When you lifted off the lid, I took an inhale – a very woody aroma. Underneath the klosh was chicken and gooseberries. This dish was awesome. But the next dishes got even better.

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Next up was sholompo which technically means a dumpling but is soupy and juicy on the inside. It’s the squirty kind of dumplings. To our surprise, we were served up lamb. We were told to eat the thing in one go. The inside of the lamb with be all squirty. Simply delicious.

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I could have had me a dozen of these.

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The final dish of the degustation was the piece de resistance, simply titled “wagyu”. Mmmm drool.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

The potato mash puree was so light and fluffy. The wagyu had been roasted at 58 degrees for 6 hours. My only complaint was the tiny petite portion of wagyu. I could have had me a whole slab of this. And a yummy red wine jus. Pure culinary magic. And here is a magic trick of my own… Now you see it:

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Now you don’t!

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The great disappearing act. Except it lacks the prestige. “It’s not enough to make it disappear. You have to make it come back” – a line from the movie “The Prestige”. You must see that movie! Food bliss:

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I absolutely love that every course is served on different plates and serving ware. That’s a whole lot of washing up! Now onto the desserts. And what’s molecular gastronomy without MORE liquid nitrogen!

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

The chef’s made a mint puff – which was like a mint marshmallow. This thing was freaky. You placed the puff on your tongue and chew fast. The liquid nitrogen can kind of freeze your tongue. Your tongue goes a bit of a numb tingling sensation, but as you eat it, all this “smoke” comes out of your nostrils. It’s pretty insane.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

Then the dessert wheel is brought out:

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

On the top shelf was cappucino-flavoured fairy floss.

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On the next layer was the NY cheesecake and olive oil gummy.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

The cheesecake was good, but the olive oil gummy – what were they thinking. It was very olive oil. Even the thought of consuming a jelly lump of olive oil makes my blood curdle a bit. I had a tiny bite to taste, but pass. Sparkling chocolate which contained popping candy inside and then a berry meringue.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

Nice views from the 38th floor:

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The next dessert dish was the pina colada ice-cream. Deliciously refreshing. Enjoyed this dessert.

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The final dish of the evening was “Fruits”. We could see them prepare fruit such as oranges, lemons and lime. How were they going to jazz up some citrus fruit, we wondered.

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They instructed us to eat one of the strawberry halves, one lemon wedge, one lime wedge and one lemon wedge. Obviously, these were really sour and not what you would call an enjoyable dessert. We then had to take a sip of water (which they also provided). We then had to put the red berry in mouth for about 1-2 minutes without breaking the seed inside and just keep it in our mouths. They even had a egg timer going. This red berry they told us was called a “miracle berry”. Once the time was up, we had to remove the see from our mouth. We then had to eat the remaining lemon, lime, and orange wedge. Amazingly, the citrus fruits tasted super sweet. The miracle berry makes whatever you eat afterwards sweet. This effect can last up to about 2 hours. It was amazing how the lemon and lime tasted so sweet! Wow. I was impressed.

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If you consume red wine afterwards, it makes it taste like port. Everything tastes so sweet afterwards. What a sweet way to end the night! The other Japanese couple in our seating session, it was the guy’s birthday so they did a little cool birthday surprise trick for him at the end of the night. Won’t give you any spoilers, just in case, you decide to come here for your birthday, which would indeed be a treat. My first foray into molecular gastronomy was enjoyable. Definitely interesting and creative and pushes the boundaries of food and science with some unusual taste sensations and flavour combinations.

From Molecular Gastronomy
From Molecular Gastronomy

The Tapas Molecular Bar received one Michelin star for the last four years, but was not awarded a star this year. The menu changes with every season. We had the summer menu. But it would be really interesting to see the offerings for the other seasons. Seating is only limited to 8 people. Two seating sessions per evening. I recommend the later session. The earlier session has a very strict time limit to make way for the 8:30pm session. But with the later session, you can sit and linger at the bar for a bit at the end of the meal. I’m undecided whether it’s value for money though. It is incredibly pricey, but there is a lot of food and a lot of ingredients go into the preparation of the course. And the price does not include drinks, so drinks on top plus the service charge, make it overpriced. You’ll definitely need to save your yen for this one. Good to try the once, but based on price, will not be in a hurry to relive this kind of dining experience. Still, the food was pretty incredible and definitely has entertainment factor.

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