The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Monday, 2 July 2007

French @ Restaurant Yonemura, Ginza

Restaurant Yonemura is perhaps the finest we've been to thus far. I booked this place (or rather, asked my supervisor to help book it for me) after I'd recently read a raving review about it. It's located in glitzy Ginza, on the fourth floor of one of the nicest department stores I've ever set foot inside. Indeed, I felt quite intimidated as I stepped inside the restaurant, dressed in my jeans and sneakers (with a nice top!), but the staff were very hospitable and friendly, and that helped put me at ease.

The restaurant is elegantly and tastefully laid out with a modern touch. When booking, you can choose to reserve seats at the counter or in the separate room - I chose to sit at the counter because the review I'd read mentions that at the counter you can observe the kitchen action in front of you. And I did not regret my counter-seat choice because we were quite fascinated and entertained watching the dozen or so chefs dashing around preparing the dishes. There were four seated at the counter (including us) and perhaps a couple of small groups in the adjacent room for lunch on this Saturday - so the ratio of chefs to patrons was about 1:1. There were no waitstaff - the chefs both prepared and served the dishes to us. I could not fault the excellent service.

View from our seats:

For lunch, we could choose from the 6000yen (~AU$60), 9000yen (~AU$90), or the 12000yen (~AU$120) courses. The food is a blend of French and Japanese styles and ingredients, and perhaps the best thing about the food is that the dishes are prepared using the ingredients available that day. This means that the menu is highly seasonal, so all the more reason for us to come back for a second visit to try a different fare. The chefs unfortunately do not speak much English (they probably know a fair bit of French though), but they still made the effort to tell us the name of each course as they were served to us. About halfway through the course and struggling with the Japanese, I asked one of the chefs if he could write down the menu, and added "in hiragana, thanks", and he was kind enough to accommodate me. In fact, we were not aware that lunch would be a 10-course meal until the chef handed to us the neatly written menu about halfway through the meal. I've spent more than an hour making sense of the names for each dish, which is not an easy feat considering the dishes have French names (try converting 'ratatouille' into its katakana counterpart, and then converting it back again!).

Soon after we were seated and ordered drinks (the ginger ale is really good), we were served thick slices of warm, freshly baked and gorgeously crusty French bread. The bread was so good, it was pretty difficult to restrain myself from filling up with too much bread at the expense of the meal. Each of the courses were carefully prepared and beautifully presented with gorgeous dishwares. And there were some really cute and ingenious pieces too. But the food: amazing, especially the first half of the meal. The latter half was a bit more ordinary, but still very good. I've given a description and the photo of each course below. Please keep in mind that I am translating from Japanese and katakana French into English so there are lots of room for error, but I'm trying my best!

First course: Gazpacho Jyunsaizoe Chèvre Mayonaisse i.e. Gazpacho with water shield shoots and goat's cheese mayo. The jyunsai (shoots of water shield) had a cool gel similar to aloevera gel, and a crispyness similiar to cucumber - we were quite intrigued by this vegetable. The gazpacho was deliciously full of flavour and the chèvre mayo added just the right amount of richness to the soup.

Second course: Hors d’œuvres no Santen Mori - three appetisers. From left: a) Mango, ham and torigai (cockle) with basil sauce; b) Tokobushi (abalone) and mushroom with escargot (snail) butter c) Fried Hamaguri (clam) with tsubu mustard. I really liked the combination of mango, ham and cockle - the sweetness of the mango went surprisingly well with the ham and cockle.

Third course: Foie Gras and Ayu Risotto, aka fattened goose/duck liver with sweetfish. My favourite dish (and yes, I am aware of the ethical issues surrounding foie gras). This is our first time trying foie gras, although we didn't know it at the time (the menu was given to us after this course). It was so beautiful, I don't really know how to describe it. We'd heard a lot about foie gras from watching countless episodes of Iron Chef, which of course left us yearning to try this expensive delicacy. The morsel of foie gras was simply pan-fried, which was a great way to introduce us to this delightful piece of foodie heaven. The texture was smooth in the melt-in-your-mouth kinda way, and the taste was divinely rich and buttery. Sorry, that's the best I can come up with (and no, it does not taste like liver pâté). Nestled under the foie gras is a small fried ayu, which is a type of river fish belonging to the salmon family known as sweetfish. It is so named because it has a sweet flesh, and is apparently highly prized (in Japan at least). The few occasions that we have eaten this fish (always fried) required us to consume the whole fish - head, guts and all. While I quite like eating the fish whole, the experience often leaves Rob wondering why a highly prized fish is eaten like so. He said that if it were not for the bitter innards of the fish, this would have been his favourite course.

Fourth course: Gyokairui Nama Harumaki - raw seafood springroll. The 'raw' in the title refers to the uncooked springroll. This was very well-made, like a maki sushi (the familiar sushi roll) with appropriate vegetables and complementary seafood. The chewy rice wrapper gave an interesting texture. This was quite a refreshing course and it worked well to clean the palate for the next course.

Fifth course: Suzuki Meunière with Tapenade and Ratatouille in Egg sauce - Japanese sea bass meunière with marinated chopped olives and vegetable sauce with egg. The ratatouille and egg is held in the egg shell, which you pour onto the fish and tapenade before eating. I thought that this was quite ordinary compared to the preceding courses.

Sixth course: Yaki-Nasu and Uni Capellini i.e. grilled eggplant and sea urchin roe/gonads with capellini (a pasta thinner than angel hair pasta). The chopped eggplant, uni and some chopped tomatoes were held in the tiny cup which you pour and mix with the capellini, which was already topped with chopped scallions and some gel. The uni was fresh and sweet, but this dish on the whole wasn't outstanding. Pasta, to me, is an everyday comfort food, whilst uni is a luxurious item - serving pasta with uni downplayed the excellence of uni.

I liked the clever and ingenious dish set - it's a cup and a saucer and lid, with a mini cup using the lid as the saucer:

Seventh course: Tanbagyuu and Kogamo steak - (Tanba beef and teal duck steak). A little research on the internet reveals that beef from Tanba in Hyogo is the best in Japan (think Kobe beef). The two meat pieces looked quite similar to each other, and we'd initially mistakenly thought both pieces were beef with different dressings. The beef steak piece was simply accompanied by its fat and a sliver of crisp-fried garlic, and the morsel of duck steak was accompanied with a creamy citrusy topping. Both were pretty good.

Eighth course: Choice between Shigureni Beef (soy-and-mirin beef) and Kare Raisu (Japanese curry rice) accompanied with ocha (Japanese tea). This was the most Japanese course of the meal. Of course, we got one of each so that we could sample both. The beef set was presented as an ochazuke which was delicious. The kare rice was also pretty good for what it was.

Ninth course: Oba and Blood Orange Sherbet (oba is another name for shiso). Served in a tiny glass, it worked well to clean our palates before dessert. I have to say, shiso-flavoured sherbet is not a bad idea!

Tenth course: Dessert accompanied by coffee or tea. We had a list of about 10 different desserts to choose from, and our choices were Orange Crème Brûlée and Fresh fruit Parfait. The crème brûlée was served with a rather bitter coffee icecream which would have been better appreciated by a coffee-lover. The parfait was quite good: sponge cake, fresh fruits and cornflakes (?) topped with good quality ice-cream. And the vanilla-infused tea is quite delicious.

This was a very good meal, and I'd say that it is probably the best yoshoku (western food) I've had in Japan. It's a bit pricey, but the excellent quality of the food and the fantastic service are enough to tempt us to return for another gastronomic feast.


  1. I've spent about more than an hour making sense of the names for each dish, which is not an easy feat considering the dishes have French names (try converting 'ratatouille' into its katakana counterpart, and then converting it back again!).
    I lol'd when I read this. Yeah, I can imagine how interesting things would have been :P... that looked absolutely delicious, and to be honest, $60-$120 is what I would expect from a multiple-dish meal in Ginza. I felt so out of place in Ginza... even in my nicest clothes I still felt like a hobo.

  2. Ack, how did I miss this comment?
    Yeah, I'm allergic to posh-upper-class-fashion districts, and we agree that we'd probably never set foot in Ginza if not for the food. I'd happily suffer another allergic reaction just for another gastronomic experience :P