Monday, December 22, 2014

Tokyo - Day 3 - Lunch at Beige by Alan Ducasse

After our first two days in Tokyo, the first of which we spent a very long day staying awake after arriving in super early, and the second day we woke up super early to make our way to studio Ghibli, our third day was a little bit more relaxed.



Despite not needing to meet first thing in the morning, I still rolled awake at some stupidly early hour, picked up my usual boiled egg and onigiri from the convenience store, caught up on emails then met with the others to check out Shinjuku Gyoen/Shinjuku National Garden. 



The park was a pleasant and lazy 15 minute walk from our hotel; after a couple of rainy days, Tokyo decided to play nice and gave us glorious weather to walk around the park. And take lots of pictures. The park is actually quite large, and makes a lovely oasis in the middle of all the hustle and bustle. Although we were here for easily an hour, I felt like we hardly made a dint in exploring the garden!

After our park visit, we made our way to Ginza, what some might dub as the 5th Avenue of Tokyo. During the day, it’s filled with ladies who lunch, browsing the endless supply of designer boutiques. Before lunch, we popped into Dover Street Market; which is technically a shop, but feels like an art installation with 7 floors of amazing brands and fascinating architecture. Worth checking out if you’re into design, fashion and/or both!

On the weekends, the main street actually closes down during the day at well, so makes for great people watching and general wandering as well!

Our main reason for being in Ginza though, was for lunch. Which was a little bit fancy. Ooh my.


We approached the Chanel building, and went around the side (don’t go into the Chanel store like I did!), where the small and intimate entrance for Beige by Alan Ducasse awaited us. 

Honestly, I have to thank Bernard for the tip. For dinner, it’s still a little on the pricier side (but I guess a bargain really if you compare to Australia), but for lunch, for around $60 you get a really amazing meal, and one heck of an experience! I mean, how many Chanel’s in the world let you eat on the top of their building?



The whole experience is branded Chanel, from the second you step into the elevator, with each button carrying the famous Chanel insignia. The female toilets are indicated with a Chanel handbag, and the male toilets with a Chanel silk tie. I have no doubt that the polite, softly spoken and very gentle waiters and waitresses are also all dressed in Chanel. 



The decor is simple, light and bright (although a little too beige for our interior designer for her liking), with a nice quiet hum. We were surrounded by ladies who lunch, dressed sharp, giggled behind their hands and compared their Louis Vuitton wallets. And here we were, the BrandWorks management team in the midst of it. It was surreal, and simply fabulous.



So bubbles were definitely required!


As we ponder the menu, we receive the first of our two amuse bouche, delicate little tarts, with perfectly crusty shells, topped with a bit of lightly pickled vegetables. 

For lunch, you can opt to order ala carte, or to get real value out of your dollar, go for one of the set menus. For 5500 yen (around $60), you choose an appetiser, a fish or a meat main, and one of the desserts from the ala carte menu, along with coffee or tea at the end with petit fours. If you’re a little bit more hungry, the 9000 yen menu (around $100) gets you an extra main course.

It may not sound like a lot of paper, but you really get, so much more!



Take our second amuse bouche for example. I was simply in awe at the way they served it to us ; one head waiter, flanked by two other waiters, putting down the first three bowls on to the table in perfect timing, followed by the other two bowls, followed by the pouring of a chestnut soup into our bowls, perfectly in sync. I wish I could explain it better, but it was like being witness to an elegant dance. 



But more than presentation, the food was delicious too. Being in the heart of autumn, this dish perfectly encapsulated the season, a warm chestnut soup poured over a rich zucchini pudding, a soft pastel orange colour with a smooth mousse like texture, and a paper thin zucchini chip on the side. When the waiter mentioned zucchini, he must have seen the surprise on our faces, as he quickly explained that as the zucchini’s get older, they turn orange, promptly bringing one out to show us…which are absolutely ginormous! What do they feed them in Tokyo?



Although I’ve had cheese trolleys before, at Beige they have bread trolleys, or more like mobile bread counters really, which silently glide to the table. 


For my appetiser, I choose the delicate chicken broth, with chestnut flour pasta and duck foie gras. Naturally, there has to be some fanfare when served, and my chicken broth is gently poured over my dish ensuring it is steaming hot. Whilst I didn’t notice much of a chestnut flavour out of the pasta, it was perfectly cooked. 


The slice of the zucchini however, was punching with flavour, intense and very sweet, it reminded me very much of a roast pumpkin. The foie gras complimented this richness, which was very lush and the barley that also accompanied the plate, just soaked up all of the chicken broth’s flavours. I was surprised at how mild and gentle the broth was, a nice compliment to the richer flavours in the dish, and was so lovely and clear, not oily at all.



For my main, I opted for the Soi fish cooked in a bouillabaisse stock with turnip, courgette and celery, rouille. So simple in presentation, but so much here that was so well executed. The fish was cooked just perfectly, the knife cutting through like butter, and I simply loved the intensity of the bouillabaisse stock, which was more like a sauce, the essence of ocean bottled up and concentrated. One of the other elements I very much enjoyed on this dish was the celery, which was lovely and soft, with a rich sweetness. 


The spit-roasted duckling from Dombes breast, with seared raisins and onions also looked delicious, with it’s stunning blush. 

Even though our meals didn’t look very big, we were all surprised at how full we were getting!



But when the option to look at cheese comes along…we have to have a sneak peek. Like the ninja-gliding-bread-counter, the cheeses also effortlessly glide over, the vast selection making it a very hard decision to narrow it down to just one or two to try!


Our petit fours arrive at the same time as dessert; practically perfect macarons, cassis and chocolate, and strawberry and raspberry. Although the soft pastel colours make them appear quite mild…wow, these were full of flavour! 


And how cute are the little Chanel themed chocolates? My favourite were definitely the ones with the Chanel No. 5 logos. I couldn’t resist popping a couple of these, as the quality of chocolate was definitely there. 

But ah, dessert. Although there were 4 options and 5 of us, we ended up only trying two different types of desserts.





Firstly, the Baba, a lovely and lightly spiced sponge cake, served up in the cutest little silver dome. The diner then chooses if they want rum or Armagnac with it, the baba is then liberally doused in the alcohol of choice, followed by a healthy dollop of cream. Yum.

I of course, being the chestnut nut that I am, had to get the ‘Contemporary Mont Blanc with Earl Grey’. 



It arrived to the table looking like a spaceship, with an earl grey mousse and cake at the base, topped with chestnut puree, meringue sticks and served with earl grey ice-cream on the side. Oh my. So much I simply loved here. Although I’m normally the first to scoff down dessert, I definitely prolonged the experience here, taking little spoonfuls to savour each delicate mouthful. The intensity of the earl grey was definitely there, and all the textures throughout the dish were just stunningly smooth or lovely and dense. 




Oh! But we’re not quite done yet! We still have that choice of tea or coffee at the end right? Well, when you ask if they have any herbal tea…they bring all the herbs to you. Literally. A stunning array of green abundance on a silver tray, where, with white cloths on, the waiter will snip and combine fresh herbs into a small glass teapot for you. You can choose to customise and be particular, or you can just ask them to put a bit of everything in, which is what I did. What I found was probably the most interesting addition was rosemary, which I would normally think would be too savoury, but when intermingled with the other herbs, added a lovely depth and complexity to the flavours. 

After that meal at Beige, it was kind of hard to get on with the rest of the day, as I constantly dreamt about earl grey mousse’s. 




So we decided to walk off lunch and made the design mecca to Aoyama and Omotesando, where we marvelled at the architecture and interior design in the area. The Prada building in Aoyama is stunning in the setting light, the curved glass reflecting all sorts of stunning colours. 



We also stopped by Omotesando Koffee, which is literally hidden off the main road and down in the residential area of Omotesando. Hardly a sign or an indication that you might be near it, except for the intense smell of roasted coffee, and at 6pm at night, a light in the dark. 


Omotesando Koffee is not a fast experience, especially when you have 7 people waiting for coffee to be made by a one man band! Although the coffee drinkers in the group felt that the coffee wasn’t as amazing as they would have liked it to be, it’s still a very strong offering. I could also imagine in the middle of the day, Omotesando Koffee would be a lovely area of respite, with it’s cosy little garden, pared back aesthetics and overall zen appeal. 


Goodness. I was to share two days worth of travel in Tokyo in this one post, but one just cannot take shortcuts when discussing Beige. Next up though, a visit to Tsukiji market, and discovering the simply adorable Shimokitazawa suburb. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Nora




Nora doesn’t feel like a cafe. With a bright, white and minimally decorated entry, with just the few pops of colour here and there, you might think you’re in some gorgeous homeware retail shop instead of an eatery.


Even the menu is accompanied with a ‘look book’, that provides blown up macro shots of the food, and tiny little previews of what the dish might look like. It’s like as if food and fashion met each other and had a baby. 


I visited Nora with a couple of colleagues before heading into work, and the 5 of us quickly occupied most of the small cafe, which had quite limited seating. Would definitely recommend keeping your numbers low if you're intending to visit, you might not fit otherwise!


The small menu made it quite easy to order since many of us were there; we almost got one of everything!



Although there was no chai latte to be had (they had run out!), everything was okay when I got to know their House Breakfast tea, with ceylon, red poppy petals, chamomile, lavender and blue cornflower petals. Not just beautifully presented in it’s glass teapot, but I instantly fell in love with this tea that was so floral and sweet on the nose, which also translated to the palate. Just stunning. One of the best teas I’ve encountered this year!




For breakfast, I decided to try the lightly smoked and jasmine cured salmon, with young coconut, nashi and nasturtium. This wasn’t a plate, this was a work of art! A gorgeous array of colours and textures, it was a lovely light and bright start to the day, although I must say I probably could have used a little bit more salmon to bulk up the meal for me. 


The bacon dish with onion consomme, rice, pickles and corn smelt amazing when it was popped down, although I thought it was surprisingly modest in size for breakfast, although it did look like my colleagues who ordered it had solid thick cut chunks of bacon underneath the garnish.




I had quite a bit of food envy at my friend who got the ‘Flakes’, with polenta, wild rice, quinoa, crystallised nut and milk. She struggled to finish the serve, and when I chomped on it, I just loved the nuttiness and all the crunchy and varied textures throughout the dish. Definitely what I would order next time!


I did feel a little sorry fro my friend who ordered the ‘Flour, Water and Salt’ dish, although it sounds awesome on paper, sourdough with semi churned butter, chicken liver parfait and jam, it is a very tiny looking serve. I guess once eaten, it is probably enough for one person for breakfast, but on presentation alone, it’s a little bit sad looking. 


Nora is definitely not your average cafe, I would never bring Brad here as I highly doubt he would be full enough from any of the dishes he would be likely to order, and would never likely order the dishes that would fill him up (like the Flakes). If you want wholesome, comforting breakfast food, I would not recommend Nora for you. However, if you are looking to have something different from the usual Melbourne scene (like I frequently am these days), Nora definitely pushes your breakfast boundaries and dishes up something a little bit different. 


Plus that tea was amazing. That and I missed out on charcoal tarts because we were in for breakfast!

Nora
156 Elgin Street
Carlton 3053

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