Apparently when Narisawa made it to number 20 in the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list, the phone started ringing off the hook with interest from western diners in Tokyo. Up from #27 the year before, Yoshihiro Narisawa’s stark, elegant restaurant has been on the list for five years. Its cuisine, featuring highly seasonal and sustainable ingredients, already had a strong local following.

Narisawa is a small restaurant. On the night Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband wended their way to Aoyama-Itchome, it played host to just 18 guests. The room is painted white, with dark timber panelling. There is no art on the walls, no music playing. Yet it doesn’t feel cold or sterile. The kitchen, behind a glass wall, is visible to diners (well, for most of the evening, before more dark timber sliding doors covered it over) and there’s a sense of calm.

Everyone speaks English – including our French waiter Anthony, from Burgundy. A little later we chatted with another English speaker, Ryan, who just happened to be from Melbourne (like your humble blogger). Ryan was usually to be found behind the glass as the first non-Japanese chef hired by Narisawa – the demand from English-speaking diners since the awards ceremony meant on this particular Saturday night where all but three tables needed English interaction, saw him don a waiter’s apron. It was a fillip for Greedy Girl’s blogging requirements, given the menu descriptions are designed to convey more of a sense of the dishes rather than specifics.

Settling in with a bottle of Rene Geoffroy Premier Cru Brut champagne (very fairly priced at around A$130) we looked over the ‘Spring Collection’ menu subtitled ‘evolve with the forest’. Narisawa (the chef) is dedicated to environmentally sensitive and sustainable practices. Indeed, one of the restaurant’s other awards (apart from the honour of being named best restaurant in Asia) is the Sustainable Restaurant Award.

The celebration of nature fuses Japanese ingredients, particularly a range of local edible flowers, with French cooking techniques. Narisawa (again, the chef) left Japan in his late teens to hone his skills in France, Switzerland and Italy. His restaurant (which also has two Michelin stars) was originally called ‘Les Creations de Narisawa’. But, enough of the background and on to the food.

This is a theatrical experience and perhaps a major reason why all the other interior aspects are kept so low key. The focus is absolutely on the food. With the Japanese diet leaning very heavily on fish, there is only one meat dish. But this goes well beyond any traditional Japanese food – indeed, the only rice on the menu is to be found in some delicate slices of black rice bread.

First up a canister, looking for all the world like a giant aromatherapy burner, was placed on the table, surrounded by fronds and leaves. This was our special bread, ‘Forest 2010’ (the date indicates when the dish was invented) ‘bread of the forest’ baked at the table. The natural yeast proved in the warm container and started to bubble out the top.

Narisawa Tokyo

Forest 2010

Once risen, the dough (spiked with citrus and Japanese pepper) was levered out using chopsticks into a stone bowl heated to 300-degrees.

Narisawa Tokyo

Lever out the dough

It baked at the table. About 10 minutes later, the wooden board keeping the heat in was lifted to reveal two small loaves.

Narisawa Tokyo

10 minutes later, voila!

And then presented, accompanied by butter coated in olive powder. It had an amazing flavour and texture. The bottom was crusty from the heat of the bowl and there was a strong taste of Mandarin. It was both sweet and savoury. Extraordinary.

So then to the first of the dishes. The first three elements were presented together, consisting of ‘moss’ made from green tea and carbonised bamboo, served with a container of spring water infused with cedarwood and oakwood. It was topped with crispy burdock root, tempura vegetables and edible flowers.

Narisawa Tokyo

Moss, crispy burdock root, tempura vegetables, edible flowers.

It was served with Chiayu (sweet fish). On the glass plate, the two tiny fish looked as though they were still swimming. The taste was not as strong as Greedy Girl thought it would be and despite her reluctance to deal with whole fish (particularly the eyes), she happily bit its head off.

Narisawa Tokyo

Chiayu (sweet fish)

The other dish was ‘Sumi’ grilled onions coated in carbonised leek powder. This was an unqualified ‘yum’.

Narisawa Tokyo

‘Sumi’ grilled onions coated in carbonised leek powder

Then we went on to ‘spring garden’. This was incredibly pretty. A mixture of leaves, Japanese fruit tomatoes (quite rare, apparently), snapper sashimi, green asparagus spears and an anchovy butter, it was absolutely delicious. The bread was used to good effect mopping up the golden butter left in the bowl.

Narisawa Tokyo

Spring garden

Next up was ‘Ash 2009’ – Japanese squid with ash made with paprika and lemon, submerged in liquid nitrogen. Again, this was delicious and the theatre as the ‘smoke’ plumed across the dish was delightful. The lemon flavour was quite punchy. The squid itself was resistant to the bite, but tender.

Narisawa Tokyo

Ash 2009

When booking, and again at the start of the evening, we were given the opportunity to rule out ingredients. One listed on the menu was ‘fugu’, Japanese blowfish from Hagi in Yamaguchi. The Simpsons got it right. Apparently if it’s not cut correctly it is quite lethal. Ah, what the hell. Greedy Girl had a good run. This was served deep fried with salt and pepper, with a small Japanese citrus fruit (Greedy Girl thinks it was called sudachi), a cross between lemon and lime on butcher’s paper. We were instructed to eat with our hands. We didn’t need the finger bowl provided, having licked our fingers clean. OMG. This was spectacularly good.

Narisawa Tokyo

Fugu. OMG. So good

Next up, another of the toys appeared.

Narisawa Tokyo

Luxury essence 2007

This was the ‘essence’ of ‘Luxury essence 2007’ served with langoustines. Sashimi langoustine was presented in a bowl with baby peas and broad beans. The hot essence made from pork, Chinese ham and a whole chicken was poured over the top. It was again, sublime. The broth was full of flavour, the langoustines poached perfectly in the liquid and the vegies were crunchy and fresh.

Narisawa Tokyo

Poured over sashimi langoustine

Greedy Girl was seriously beginning to struggle. Up next was rockfish from Odawara Bay. Served with fukinoto foam (apparently this plant is one of the first to emerge from the snow to signify the arrival of spring). The foam was made from the bulb of the plant while the vegetables on the plate came from the shoots. This was too strong for Greedy Girl, who was nonetheless persuaded to try the skin which was crispy like crackling. Gluttonous husband to the rescue here, who finished both plates.

Narisawa Tokyo

Odawara Bay rockfish

And then to meat – ‘Sumi 2009’ Hida beef. It is first presented as the blackened fillet, charcoal cooked while being basted in butter and olive oil, coated with carbonised leek. It’s then carved to reveal the final dish.

Narisawa Tokyo

After carving the beef

The beef was quite pink inside and had a soft texture and excellent flavour. Gluttonous husband was amazed to hear it had been cooked for 20 minutes. It was served with white asparagus, onions, sancho flowers (which apparently blooms for only two weeks of the year) and sauce bordelaise. It was delish. We were also given a small pot of ‘sake granita’ and recommended to take a spoonful between mouthfuls of the beef to cut through the richness. This was way too strong for Greedy Girl and even gluttonous husband pronounced it a bit too much. However, with repeated dips of the spoon he ‘warmed’ to the combination. Hmmm. Perhaps it was the sake that was doing the ‘warming’.

And so to ‘dessert’. First up was a ‘non dessert’ – a Salty dog. This was a cocktail with Japanese grapefruit (pulp and juice), confit grapefruit skin and vodka, with a salt and sugar rim on the glass. Oh dear. Greedy Girl was starting to feel a little tired and emotional. It was, however, very refreshing.

Narisawa Tokyo

Salty dog

Then to dessert proper – strawberry sorbet with cubes of seasonal strawberies, served with ginger, arrowroot, sake sediment and frozen milk shaved over the top. It wasn’t overly sweet and a very light dish.

Narisawa Tokyo

Strawberry sorbet

And there to the final frontier – petits fours and a delicious vanilla sponge offered in honour of Greedy Girl’s birthday (complete with candle). Blissfully there was no rendition of ‘happy birthday’ (in Japanese or any language for that matter). The cake was again a triumph of lightness – it needed to be after so much food.
We then chose from the petits fours trolley, accompanied by the greenest green tea Greedy Girl has ever seen.

Narisawa Tokyo

The petits fours trolley

It was then on to the selection of tiny macarons, washed down by the tea. Of the nine types, five were chocolate based, one was white chocolate with lavender, one was cafe creme, one vanilla caramel and one salted caramel. Gluttonous husband availed himself of that one and pronounced it amazing. Grrr, said Greedy Girl. Ryan our friendly Melbourne expat to the rescue, emerging from the kitchen with two more. Sigh. Greedy Girl was fit to burst. The tea needed to work digestive miracles.

Narisawa Tokyo

Macaron heaven

Narisawa Tokyo

Not retouched: the actual colour of the green tea

This was an extraordinary meal and a great value experience at around A$210 each for the food. Narisawa is a restaurant absolutely at the top of its game and, blissfully, does not allow smoking inside – a real bonus when it comes to Tokyo.

Book well enough in advance to secure a spot. It’s one of the world’s great food experiences absolutely worth jumping on an aircraft for.


Minami Aoyama 2-6-15, Minato-ku, Tokyo

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