Tokyo is a great city for fine dining. It is the most Michelin starred city in the world and always dominates Asia’s top 50 best restaurants. That said, sometimes finding a great fine dining restaurant experience in Tokyo can be completely bamboozling. The sheer number of restaurants can be somewhat overwhelming. Then there’s always the holiday budget to take into account. Is it really worth it to blow the price of the plane ticket on a single meal when there’s also so many cozy local places to eat at and shopping still left to do? Not to mention all those bastions of Japanese cuisine that seem impossible to reserve a table at unless you are located in Japanese and speak fluent Japanese.
So I came up with a simple two-step process to take away some of the stress.
1. Online bookings: Japanese of English, it’s pretty easy to figure out most online bookings systems. I preferred booking through the restaurant’s website directly. I’m not that fond of third party websites like pocket concierge that charge a premium for English language bookings.
2. Lunch specials: Many fine dining restaurants offer a cheaper lunch course. Rather than splashing out for just one expensive dinner, I love being able to sample a few different shortened tasting menus for the same price.
Le Sputnik ticked both of these boxes perfectly. I was drawn in by the amazing rose dish splashed across the restaurant’s website and also the painless booking. I’m not completely sure how I came across this website, but I have the vague recollection of browsing a few Eater and Japan Times articles before coming upon Le Sputnik and being intrigued.
To start we actually had a glass of celebratory champagne. What were we celebrating? Being in Japan and eating well I guess!
Cured fish atop a very zen garden-esque rock was a light little nibble to kick start things. I think Melbourne has spoilt me for fresh sashimi style dishes, because as good as this was I found myself missing the acidic tang of some my favourite cured kingfish dishes back home.
Baguette from Maison Kayser with a salted butter. This is as close as it gets to an authentic French baguette in Tokyo. Instead of the usual light fluffy bread, this had the crunch and chew that most Europeans look for in a good loaf.
Deep fried smelt atop deep-fried gobo (burdock). The entirety of this was edible, but we were advised not to devour the whole thing as there was still plenty more food coming. Maybe I just don’t appreciate the earthy taste of gobo but this dish just didn’t do it for me. It was fried with a light touch, crispy and not at all greasy but I wasn’t all that into the flavour.
Saba with blue cheese sauce and fig. This arrived in a dome, with billows of smoke swirling around inside. It was unveiled theatrically and we were left with something as pretty as a picture. Saba is a fish with a very strong and distinct flavour profile so it was a bit of a shock with the similarly strong fig and blue cheese sauce. However, I soon came around to it.
Foie Gras with orange and espresso jelly. Now, this is really where the meal came into its own. Soft fatty seared foie gras is always a pleasure to eat. The addition of slightly bitter coffee and sweet citrus fruit cut through the fat, to make this incredibly moreish and just rich enough to keep going back for another bite without feeling overwhelmed. The soft jelly seemed to melt into the foie gras whereas the crumble provided some welcome textural contrast.
Buckwheat crepe with poached egg, mushroom ice cream and a sprinkle of truffle. My face immediately lit up as this dish was being explained to us. This dish was a combination of everything I loved, crepes, eggs and mushrooms. In my mind, this was brunch gone fine dining in the best way possible.
Sea Bass in a squid ink sauce with cabbage. Little known fact, I love Japanese cabbage. It’s so much sweeter and softer than Australian cabbage. I could probably eat half a cabbage by myself! Cooked like this, and paired with soft tender fish and an intense savoury sauce it was even better!
Venison from Hokkaido with a red wine reduction. We ate incredibly well on this trip, but I can say with confidence that this is the best single dish that we had on the entire trip. The meat was shockingly not gamey at all and the sauce incredibly rich and bold.
I’m not too sure what this dessert was called, but it was an absolute masterpiece, both to look at and to eat. Crisp crystallised sugar broke apart to reveal juicy berries. The sorbet was fresh and light, exactly the sort of dessert I wanted to enjoy after eating a little bit too much on a warm Spring day.
Petit fours and tea finished off the meal and kept the highs going. The green tea dusted choux cream was a delightful little bite but I was more taken with the houjicha cream served in a small dish with a side of olive oil and salt. The creamy houjicha was already perfect on its own. The salt made it a touch more interesting but I preferred the houjicha cream by itself.
As each dish came out the meal just kept getting better and better. I will admit that I wasn’t wowed at the start, as I found the first few bites falling flat. However, by the end I was completely won over. The unusual flavour combinations and complex elements reveal an ambitious younger chef, keen to come up with something novel. Sometimes I found this a little bit too much. Certain elements seemed to be added for the sake of inventiveness rather than to actually improve the dish. Despite this, no matter how strange everything was grounded in solid skilled cooking and the hits far outshone any misses.
Ps. At 6,500 yen plus 10% tax, the 8 course lunch is the most amazing value for money!