[Tokyo] L’Effervescence

L’Effervescence (2 Michelin stars, Asia’s 50 Best No.16)

Add: 2-26-4 Nishi-azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo 東京都 港区 西麻布2-26-4
Tel: +81 (0)3 5766 9500
Website: http://www.leffervescence.jp
Hours: [lunch] 12:00pm-4:00pm (L.O. 1:30pm); [dinner] 6:00pm-11:30pm (L.O. 8:30pm) (check website for restaurant holiday)
Price: [lunch] JPY7,000/10,000; [dinner] JPY18,000 (+8% tax and 10% service charge)
Visited: September 2016
Will return: Definitely

My lunch at L’Effervescence was the perfect illustration of why French cuisine can be as uniquely Japan as sushi, kaiseki, tempura, and ramen. With his Japanese heritage and European training (under both Michel Bras and Heston Blumenthal), Chef Namae is able to strike a balance between French flair and Japanese simplicity. His unassuming restaurant tucked in a quite alley in Nishi-Azabu pays homage to both the traditions and techniques of French cuisine, and the spirit of Japanese cuisine that allows the natural flavors of ingredients to speak for themselves.

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Chef Namae’s brand of cuisine was evident from the very start of the meal. French wine was mixed with Japanese sake for a welcome drink. Olives were served next, the first one plain, the other two infused with kuro-moji, a kind of spicebush that brought some sweet and woody notes.

img_7953-editFrench wine and Japanese sake

img_7957-editOlives, plain and infused with kuro-moji (spicebush)

The amuse-bouche was a meeting of Japanese ingredients and French techniques. The meltingly tender conger eel sat comfortably amongst the sweet pumpkin purée, bright cherry vinegar jelly and a whisper of basil foam, while the sorbet in the smaller glass, made with sake and sudachi (a kind of Japanese citrus), cleared the palette with its acidity and light alcoholic tang.

img_7959-editimg_7961-edit1. Amuse-bouche: Conger eel, pumpkin, basil and sudachi

At times, the food at L’Effervescence exceeds the boundaries of both Japan and France. My first course was presented in a red box that most people probably last saw at McDonald’s. A play on a McDonald’s favorite, Chef Namae’s 25th apple pie recipe layered the apple filling with sweet and delicate Kegani crab, which was just in season, livened up with a hint of mint. “Just like apple pie” indeed, but so much more refined, elegant, and delicious.

leffervescence-22. “Just like the apple pie #25”: Kegani crab, celeriac, mint

For the bread service, L’Effervescence put their own spin on an American cream cheese spread, mixing it with whipped tofu and drizzling some fruity Japanese olive oil on top. The smooth and tangy spread worked wonderfully with the light and chewy sourdough.

img_7973-editimg_7975-editWhipped tofu and sour cream, olive oil, sourdough

Chef Namae is well-versed in the art of balancing the flavors and techniques of different culinary cultures, but his true talent lies in his deep connection with nature. The food at L’Effervescence honors not only the work of chefs, but also of farmers and foragers, and ultimately of Mother Nature herself. My lunch at L’Effervescence was a flowing and eloquent expression of the season, taking us from energetic flavors of summer towards rich flavors of the coming autumn.

Summer is the best season for eggplant, since all the rainfall results in higher water content in the eggplant. L’Effervescence puts this gift of the season to excellent use in a plate of chilled eggplant, that was ineffably juicy and refreshing. The brightness of the chilled eggplant was heightened by the acidity from some pickled myoga, a kind of young ginger that is sweeter and less sharp than its elder and more common cousins. White miso, which has a strong connection to eggplant in Japanese culinary traditions, brought depth to the vibrant flavors, as did some thin slices of abalone with high notes of smokiness and umami. A swirl of dill sauce added some fragrance and richness. All these elements came together into a balanced dish that coursed with energy.

img_7978-edit3. “A cool breeze”: Chilled eggplant and abalone, dill, white miso and myoga

“A Fixed Point” is the ultimate ode to seasonality and a definite signature at L’Effervescence, being the only permanent dish on the menu that is served every single day, lunch and dinner. The turnip is cooked the same way across the year, but the flavor changes through the seasons. During winter, the turnip is at its sweetest, since it produces glucose to keep itself from freezing. Over the course of spring, it turns more bitter, and in the summer it becomes slightly spicy, protecting itself from little bugs. The taste of the turnip is also affected by the amount of rain – the rainier it is, the juicier the turnip. Since the turnip changes day by day, every “fixed point” is in fact unique, reflecting not just the season, but a special point in time in that season. Each turnip is the perfect expression of the present moment.

img_7983-edit4. “A fixed point”: 4 hours cooked Tokyo turnip, parsley, Basque ham & brioche

The turnip was cooked for 4 hours and finished with butter to give it more aroma. Despite being cooked for 4 hours, it was still very crunchy and juicy. As promised, the summer turnip was tinged with a hint of spiciness, while its sweetness and bitterness were balanced by flecks of salty Basque ham. Tiny cubes of brioche supplied texture, and parsley cream some fragrance and creaminess.

img_7989-edit4. “A fixed point”: 4 hours cooked Tokyo turnip, parsley, Basque ham & brioche

Where the vibrant eggplant was a reminder of the fading summer and the balanced turnip a manifestation of the present, the next dish was richer and earthier, very much a herald of the coming autumn. Hamo (conger pike) is a kind of sea eel that reaches its fattest and most delicious at the beginning of autumn. The tenderness of the conger pike was underscored by its charred, crispy edges, while its fattiness was accentuated by the bed of earthy beetroot purée and a sweet and umami-rich “caramel” made from amaebi (sweet shrimps, a.k.a. spot prawns). These rich flavors were enlivened by sharp jolts of acidity from the crunchy ribbons of fermented kohlrabi and a dressing of rice vinegar, and some freshness from a drizzle of verdant sansho oil.

img_7995-edit5. “At the beginning of autumn”: Conger pike fry-grill, lacto-fermented kohlrabi, beetroot, amaebi caramel, mountain’s wild sansho oil

Rather than racing full speed towards the height of autumn, Chef Namae invited us to “slow down” with a memory of summer, presenting us with a clean and lively chilled edamame soup layered with flavors from both the land and the sea. The sweetness of sea urchin and the deep oceanic flavors of lobster met the meaty but delicate influence of wild boar jelly, followed by a lingering note of fresh and citrusy lemon balm at the end. The clean and elegant flavors were a well-timed respite for the palette.

img_7998-edit6. “Slow down”: Chilled edamame soup with wild boar jelly, spiny lobster, sea urchin, lemon balm

Acting as a palette cleanser of sorts, the tiny cup of chawan-mushi was comforting in its warm, deep flavors, the silky egg custard made exceptional by the flavorsome duck and barnacle consommé. The clear broth twinkled with chives, which left a clean and refreshing aftertaste, as did the fresh wasabi on the tip of the spoon to be swirled into the consommé.

img_8007-edit7. “Grandma’s taste”: Tiny chawan-mushi, duck & barnacle consommé, fresh grated wasabi

Before the main course, we were asked to pick a knife. The blades are all the same, but the handles are made of different materials. I picked the third one from the left.

img_8012-editimg_8016-editKnife selection

The main course saw autumn in full swing. Tender pigeon was char-grilled to a fierce smokiness, and served alongside earthy taros, leeks, and mushrooms. A shard of burnt chicory, made in the image of a fallen leaf, added another dimension of darkness and a hint of bitterness. These were accompanied by a rich and flavorful pigeon liver sauce, and, in an inspired touch, a clear but umami-rich jus made with asari clams (Japanese littlenecks), which added depth but at the same time brightened the dark flavors. This dish was bold and intense, but far from overpowering, its complexity inviting us in again and again.

img_8024-editimg_8026-edit8. “Surrounded by beautiful autumn scenery”: Char-grilled pigeon, asari clam jus, taro, leek, chicory like a fallen leaf, guts’ sauce

The salad drew us back from anticipation of autumn to the present moment with its 47 fruits, vegetables, and flowers of the season, which changes daily depending on what the chefs receive from suppliers, farmers, and foragers, as well as what they find at the market that day.

img_8034-edit9. “East & West”: Salad of 47 vegetables

The colors and textures of this salad changes with the season. Since we were at the end of summer, we still had some very bright and colorful vegetables. The bitter leaves were dressed with a light vinaigrette, the other vegetables some salt and olive oil, while the fruits and flowers were left untouched. Each piece was presented at its best, coming together into a perfect reflection of the present point in time.

img_8045-edit9. “East & West”: Salad of 47 vegetables

Dessert was a Japanese rendition of an Italian classic. The tiramisu was tangy with goat milk, spicy with marigold flowers, and zingy and slightly bitter with a jelly of Macvin du Jura. These sharp flavors were rounded out by sweet and fragrant Kyoho grapes, sweet purple potato purée, and a light and creamy goat milk sorbet. Every bit as intricate and robust as it looked, this was a true marriage of Japanese and Italian flavors.

img_8051-editimg_8056-edit10. “Marriage”: Goat milk Tiramisu, Kyoho grape, purple sweet potato, Macvin du Jura, marigold leaf and flower

The next dessert featured a strikingly juicy ball of melon on a bed of vanilla cream. The celery sorbet on top, combined with the rhubarbs on the bottom which reminded one of the texture of celery, created an illusion of savoriness that was quite intriguing.

img_8064-edit11. “In the cool of the evening”: Melon, vanilla, celery, rhubarb

Every meal at L’Effervescence ends with a matcha tea ceremony. Watching the French maitre d’ Zac preparing matcha with practiced, precise movements was a most appropriate finale to a meal at L’Effervescence.

img_8074-editimg_8083-edit12. Mignardises, Matcha & ”World Peace”

Peanut milk was served to balance the bitterness of the matcha, along with some mignardises.

img_8097-editimg_8091-edit12. Mignardises, Matcha & ”World Peace”

Finally, a little gift to take home: turnip and peanut cookies. A lovely and fitting souvenir.

img_8106-editSouvenir: Turnip and peanut cookies

My meal at L’Effervescence impressed me with its distinctive vision of Japanese-French cuisine as a celebration of seasonality and of the Japanese terroir. The chefs took the best gifts of nature and showed off their excellence with impeccable techniques and a little imagination. With its strong character and its poised and compelling flavors, it is little wonder that L’Effervescence is the second highest rated French restaurant in Tokyo on Tabelog (after the three-Michelin-star Quintessence) and No.16 in Asia’s 50 Best.

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