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

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Haute Spanish food @ Sant Pau, Tokyo

To celebrate our four years, we splurged a bit on a lovely lunch at Sant Pau, one of the few restaurants in Tokyo to receive two Michelin stars. The owner and chef, Carme Ruscalleda, hails from Catalonia in Spain, and her other restaurant in her Catalan home town of Sant Pol de Mar has received three Michelin stars to date. She holds the honour of being the fourth female chef in the world to be awarded the coveted three Michelin stars. For some reason, Spanish restaurants are not as popular as French or Italian restaurants, so I've had little opportunity to eat Spanish cuisine. Hence I'm not very knowledgeable on Spanish food, let alone haute Spanish cuisine, so what I've written here is based only on the quality, presentation and taste of the food, and nothing about the authenticity of the dishes.

The open kitchen behind glass windows next to the restaurant's entrance:

The restaurant is located in central Tokyo, only about 15minutes walk from our apartment. It has an open-style kitchen (i.e. viewable to the public), which is great because I love watching in on the action and snapping away on my dSLR. You can also see the state of the kitchen, whether everything is clean and orderly. I must admit that I do hate being watched while I'm prepping and cooking, so I wonder how the cooks and chefs in the kitchen feel, especially when occassionally someone whips out a big chunky camera to snap away at them working? The interior of the restaurant is classy and sophisticated, with the perfect ambience for a romantic meal. The service was impeccable and faultless. The waitstaff were patient and very informative about the food we ordered. Our maître d' - Ms. Yasui - was very friendly, and she spoke excellent English and Spanish (and I assume Japanese is her native language) having lived in Spain for many years. At no point from the moment we sat down, did we feel rushed at all, and each of our courses were served in a timely manner. And since I was quite visibly pregnant, I received extra attention and care from the staff and was given a nice cushion to make my seat more comfortable.

The table setting with our drinks (non-alcoholic sangria for me, extra-dry ginger ale for Rob), l-o-n-g crispy breadsticks, and olive oil, butter and salt for homemade bread. The crusty bread and butter were so good, and our bread plates were quickly refilled as soon as it was empty:

From the menu, we could choose a-la-carte dishes (priced handsomely upwards from 6,800yen per dish), or go for the set menu which costs 8,000yen for the Menu Ejecutiv and 15,000yen for the Menu Pont (only at lunchtime), 18,000yen for the Menu Gastronomic and 22,000yen for the Menu Degustacio. I liked the description of the dishes in the Menu Ejecutiv, so that's the one I ordered. Rob took a bit more time to decide whether to go for a-la-carte or the set courses, but in the end he went for the Menu Pont. Since our orders had the same items for some of the courses, I will describe and post photos of the dishes per course rather than separate them into their respective menu titles. There were so many dishes, so do forgive me because I have forgotten details of some of the food.

Tapas #1 - cold salmorejo with scampo; Tapas #2 - beef carpaccio:

The first course was Delightful Tapas: The Micro Menu, which consisted of four little dishes:
- Salmorejo, escamarla i salvia - cold Spanish-style tomato soup (similar to gazpacho) with scampo (aka Norway lobster, Dublin Bay prawn or langoustine). This was refreshing, and the piece of scampo was fresh and sweet.
- Carpaccio de bou - carpaccio of raw beef slices. The beef had a delicious smoky flavour, and it was garnished with macadamia nuts, tiny amounts of grated daikon and herbs which gave a nice contrast of texture and flavour. This was perhaps my favourite out of the four tapas.
- La pera farcida de festa Major d'estiu - Stuffed 'pear'. This was quite cute and artistic - unfortunately I cannot remember what the 'pear' flesh tasted like, but the 'pear' seed was beef meatball, the 'stem' was chocolate, garnished with a mint leave and actual pear sauce. Good balance between sweet and savoury.
- Pastis de formatge, salsa verda de mel - Cheesecake with honey parsley sauce. Interesting pairing of cheese and herb, but it worked. It was a bit rich for me as a first course, but this was Rob's favourite of the four tapas.

Tapas #3 - meatball-stuffed 'pear'; Tapas #4 - cheesecake with honey parsley sauce:

Next came the starters. Rob's Menu Pont course included two starters, and mine came with only one, but after the plates and utensils for the first starter were cleared from the table and clean ones were laid out for Rob's second starter dish, the waiter also laid out a plate and extra utensils on my side to make it easy for me to taste Rob's additional dish. The first starter was Coca Sotsobre (upside down coca) which comprised of aji (horse mackeral), tomato and almond "ajoblanco". "Coca" is apparently a type of Spanish pizza, popular in the Catalonian region. I supposed the two flat pieces of crisp bread topping the plate is the reason for the title of this course (i.e. upside down coca). The two sauces - tomato and almond ajoblanco - were ingeniously contained in separate sacs (presumably made from using a combination of sodium alginate and calcium chloride, a popular method for making innovative edibles such as 'fruit caviar' and 'liquid ravioli'), and it was fun bursting each 'yolk' to have with the raw fish. Both sauces went well with the fish, but I particularly liked the garlicky ajoblanco.

First starter: Upside down coca with horse mackeral - as served; and close-up of the 'sacs' of tomato sauce and almond ajoblanco:

Rob's second starter was Escamarla Risotto (I don't have the exact title of the dish). The seafood broth was very umami, and the scampi (aka langoustine/Norway lobster/Dublin Bay prawn) was sweet, firm and juicy as only fresh prawns can be. It was good.

Second starter (in Menu Pont): scampi risotto:

The third course was fish, and Rob and I had different items in this part of the meal. The Menu Ejecutiv (mine) fish course was Seabass with fig and chutney sauce. The seabass fillet was cooked in fig leaves, brought to the table - still wrapped in the leaves - to be shown to me, then plated on a trolley table right beside our table. The fish was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy. The chutney sauce was slightly sweet and mildly sour which was a great accompaniment to the seabass. It was a well-excecuted dish.

Plating of my seabass; and seabass with fig and chutney:

Rob's fish was Amadai with curry sauce, nuts and spinach cake. Amadai is Japanese for "sweet sea bream" although it is technically not a sea bream but rather a red tilefish. Whatever it is known as, it is a very flavourful fish, and in this dish, the fish was presented with crispy skin yet tender and moist flesh which was a nice textural contrast. The curry sauce was mildly spicy, and it went surprisingly well with the fish. The 'spinach cake' was quite spongy, but I thought it didn't really do much for the dish other than providing another texture. The roasted pinenuts sprinkled around the plate gave a lovely crunchy aspect to the whole dish. Thinking about it, this course was really a dish of texture.

Crisped skin "sweet sea bream" with curry sauce, nuts and spinach cake:

The fish course was followed by meat, and both our meat courses came with Pluma of Iberian Pork with eggplant and coffee vinegar. According to our lovely maître d', the pluma refers to the part between neck and shoulder of the pig. It was succulent, flavourful and quite fatty, which meant that it was quite rich and although the pieces were pretty small, I needed Rob's help with finishing off my portion. I loved the eggplant, although Rob didn't really enjoy the usual mushy texture of eggplants (it's not one of his favourite vegetable).

Juicy morsels of Iberian pork:

After all that food, we have finally arrived at the dessert course. With Menu Pont (Rob's), you had the choice of having either two desserts or one dessert and the cheeseboard. Because I was already feeling quite full, I was thankful that my dessert course came with only one dessert. Rob went with the cheeseboard option, titled The Cheeseboard with Contrasts, and once again I was given a plate and cutlery so I could taste Rob's cheeses. There were altogether five types of cheese - French, Italian and Spanish - and each one was paired with a small morsel of something sweet. The strength (i.e. stinkiness) of the cheese increases as one progresses from the left side of the plate to the right side, and I felt that the sweet-somethings became more important as the cheese got more stinky. Details of the cheese and their pairings are provided in the caption of the photo below. I'm a fan of mild cheese, so I enjoyed the first two and fourth cheese. The third was goat's cheese, but I personally feel that it should have been placed fourth because it was pretty strong. The last one was the strongest, most foul-tasting cheese either of us have ever eaten - and that's saying a lot because Rob has eaten a wide variety of cheese. It was no wonder that such a small piece was served.

The cheese table was brought to our table to show us the uncut hunks of cheese. On the plate, from left to right: French Comté (cow) paired with vegetals amb vinagreta d'albercocs (vegetables and apricots); French Petit Agour (sheep) paired with escuma de remolatxa i vi dolç (peach espuma/foam); Italian Robiola Fia (goat) paired with poma cuita amb ametlla torrada (apple and almond); French Roblochon (cow) paired with cabell de xiribia amb panses (parsnip and raisin); and Spanish Cabrales (mixture) paired with financier borratxo de moscatel amb mel (muscat-soaked cake):

My dessert was Chocolate with Saffron, which contained two types of chocolate (a fondant and perhaps ganache) flanking saffron-flavoured ice cream. The chocolates were rich and decadent, pleasantly offset by the refreshingly floral saffron ice cream. Rob's dessert was Ikebana (ikebana is the name of Japanese flower arrangement), which was beautifully presented and garnished with real flowers, and the main flavours were coconut and mint which complemented each other quite well. The funny thing was that we both preferred the other's dessert, so we did a swap after a couple of bites.

Chocolate and saffron dessert:

Mint and coconut dessert:

Dessert doesn't mark the end of the meal - tea/coffee with confectionery does. To begin the final course, we were served with polo de piruleta, peach and cherry flavoured ice on a stick resembling a small lollypop. Next came xupito de formatge i taronja, a cream cheese and orange milk pudding - cream cheese and orange are an excellent combination of flavours. Finally out came a platter of delightful little bites which were not only pleasing to the palate, but also to the eye. They were all innovatively prepared, and they all tasted good, but our favourite was the chocolate crumble ball, which was very flavourful and contained crunchy little bits in them.

Cream cheese and orange milk pudding:

and the platter of sweet little bites:

Close-up of the little bites: left to right - bombo wasabi (wasabi-flavoured white chocolate with black sesame seeds); crumble de xocolata blanca (chocolate crumble); marshmallow d'oli d'oliva (olive oil flavoured marshmallow); sable breton (butter biscuit); xoco-croc, cafe, Bailey's (chocolate, coffee and Bailey's); gelatina de fruita vermella (fruits jelly). The middle glass held cruixent de pega dolça i sidral (some type of cedar-flavoured stick):

And with that, we come to the end of a lovely meal. Service was excellent, the food was great and the company (i.e. Rob) was wonderful. Sant Pau is a good choice for celebrating special occasions, and unfortunately the price tag makes it too impractical to visit regularly.

No comments:

Post a Comment