Friday, February 5, 2010

Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai's La Rochelle, Tokyo

"Knowing that you are from Australia, Sakai-san has especially prepared two variations of the entree for you", Vahid, our waiter of the evening, said to us.

"Sakai? Iron Chef Sakai? He is here? Like, right now? Can we meet him?"


Only some seven hours earlier, we were leaving La Rochelle in bitter disappointment. Having just been told that the restaurant was fully booked for a wedding reception, our hope to have lunch there was crushed. The option available was dinner later that evening.

Dinner. That meant the meal would be a lot more expensive than anticipated, and the attrocious foreign exchange rate at that time was certainly not helping. That also meant we would have to change our plans for the rest of the day and make a trip back to Shibuya again later in the evening. With a heavy heart, we rejected the offer and left.

But while descending from the 32nd floor of the Shibuya Cross Tower where the restaurant was located, the fugu-poisoned spirit of Chairman Kaga spoke to me. "You have come so far. Just go with your heart. Allez cuisine!".  Mr foodwink, who must have been spoken the same, nodded in agreement without a flicker of hesitation.


So there we were at Sakai-san's restaurant again later that day. Like many fans of Sakai-san, we had been dreaming of this moment for a long long time. After being seated for a short while in a waiting room blessed with the views of Tokyo's night skyline, we were politely ushered to the main dining hall where it was already almost full. There were three menus on offer, and we opted for the six-course Image menu featuring an amuse bouche, two entrees, two mains and a dessert (sorry, my pictures do not do them justice).

And we loved each and every dish. The Delacroix of French cuisine was a true master. An innovator. A skillful artist. The dishes each carried a refreshing but refined symbiosis between Japanese and French flavours. And artfully presented as expected of Sakai-san. We were highly impressed.

Amuse bouche was an enticing gathering of cod fish mousse, parma ham stick, oysters with nori (seaweed) sauce and crumbed, deep-fried cherry tomato. The first entree included abalone slices (mr foodwink's had smoked salmon instead), asparagus and a refreshing lobster salad. The second entree was an interesting combination of pan-fried, melt-in-the-mouth foie gras, sesame-coated scampi on poached turnip, paper-thin turnip chip and a spectacular wild duck consomme.

The meal got even better with the succulent pan-seared snapper on a bed of Japanese rice cake and served with a refreshing seaweed sauce. This was followed by fillet of kuroge wagyu (Japanese black cattle) with tempura asparagus, potato rosti and champignon sauce. Mr foodwink opted for the sirloin version with eggplant chip which was equally satisfying.


Then came the cheese cart. Sakai's amicable chesse sommelier introduced various varieties of cheese to us like prized possessions. Although we are no regular cheese-eaters, we thoroughly enjoyed his recommendations, including the accompanying poached peach which was prepared right in front of us. By this stage, we were feeling extremely full.

But all was forgotten when the desserts came, chosen by Vahid based on his various chats with us throughout the evening. Mine was the chocolate platter with chocolate mousse, chocolate shells with cream and mandarin ice-cream. Mr foodwink's was strawberry shortcake with fresh berries and citron macaron. All served with the kawaii-est coffee art. I almost didn't want to drink it.

By the time Sakai-san left the kitchen to greet us, other patrons had already left. Gushing like a star-struck teenager, I told Sakai-san how I had always been a huge fan. How I loved everything I had that evening. How professional and impeccable the service was. How his helpful staff had recommended a sushi restaurant to us and even printed us some maps. And how he had not changed a bit since the Iron Chef days. If memory serves me right, the last one invited a few chuckles.

Leaving the restaurant, all service staff accompanied us to the lift and bowed as a sign of gratitude. It was one of the best meals we have ever had. We both felt that such an enjoyable evening was priceless. And that we will be back for more.

Level 32, Shibuya Cross Tower,
2-15-1 Shibuya,
Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo.
+81 3 3400 8220
Bookings are highly recommended.

Hope you have enjoyed this series of food memories from Japan. Until next time, stay safe and eat lots.

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19 comment(s):

joey@FoodiePop February 5, 2010 at 8:52 AM  

Cool story! Love the pics and especially the teddy bear pattern in the latte! LOL. Was I disappointed it wasn't Hello Kitty? A little! ;-)

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella February 6, 2010 at 11:17 AM  

How absolutely fabulous to get to meet him while he was there and isn't that lovely how he prepared something special for you! :D Congratulations! :D

Seok Chin February 6, 2010 at 8:11 PM  

Love the blog..great pictures, detailed descriptions....makes me drool~

grace February 7, 2010 at 2:49 AM  

haha allez cuisine! love the masterchef references =P

la rochelle sounds faaabulous

foodwink February 7, 2010 at 9:17 AM  

Hi Joey - Thanks! Haha, that didn't cross my mind. But you're absolutely right, Miss Kitty would have been much much cooler than a no-name Teddy Bear :D

Hi Lorraine - I know, it's such a fabulous meal and I feel lucky to have experienced it.

Hi Seok Chin - Thanks a lot babe! Comments like yours keep this blog going <3

Hi Grace - It's no laughing matter. The spirit of Kaga did speak to me, allez cuisine style.

Makes me wonder whether there's a capsicum in my fridge that I could bite. Right now. BRB.

Phuoc February 7, 2010 at 1:25 PM  

Oh I love Sakai as well! I'm so jealous that you got to dine at his restaurant. And to meet him as well!? Mega jealous! I will definately keep it in mind for when I go to Japan.

foodwink February 8, 2010 at 12:14 AM  

Hi Phuoc - Thanks for your lovely comments. I know, I was very lucky to have met Sakai.

And glad to know that a trip to Japan is in the planning. You'll love Japan - it's simply AMAZING!

Betty February 8, 2010 at 10:20 AM  

what an AMAZING dinner experience you lucky little thing! :O)

japan is on top of my travel list i hope to go sometime later this yr

Leona @ Pigged-Out February 8, 2010 at 12:46 PM  

OMG I LOVE IRONCHEFF!!!! Your so lucky to have met him and far out the food looks really good! not to mention the cute bear on your latte.

foodwink February 9, 2010 at 7:53 AM  

Hi Betty - You'll LOVE Japan! I'd like to visit Osaka and Kyoto if Jetstar permits, haha.

Hi Leona - Thanks for your lovely comment. I know, I feel extremely lucky to have met him. He's really nice in person too <3

Shanks February 9, 2010 at 1:46 PM  

Soooo envious of you - What a great experience. I bet you're glad you went back for dinner ;)

Gummi Baby February 9, 2010 at 7:48 PM  

Oh sainted one! You've eaten at Sakai-san's restaurant! I'm a HUGE fan and miss him on the current series. I can only dream! :D

foodwink February 10, 2010 at 12:23 AM  

Hi Shanks - Thanks for your comment. Absolutely, so glad that we went back. And so lucky that they were not fully booked for dinner :)

Hi Gummi Bear - Thanks for your comment :) I miss Sakai-san and the Iron Chef series too. The American version annoys me.

Ms Sentimental February 28, 2010 at 1:31 AM  

I've known Iron Chef Sakai in the show 'Iron Chef' and the first time ive watched him cook.... i knew it he's the best chef for me,, even if i havent tasted his cuisine i can see it from his foods that it tastes great! he's always my best bet everytime he have battles i always wanted him to win... and the funny thing is... his restaurant is my name 'Rochelle', that is no wonder why i liked him we shared something in common, i am so looking forward to visiting tokyo and be able to dine-in in my i mean in this restaurant :)

diamondsinchampagne March 9, 2010 at 12:16 AM  

I have just read through all your posts on Japan. You have given me so many ideas, thank you!
We already have a booking for La Rochelle, so can't wait.
My boyfriend will die when he hears about the eel! He adores it.

Saving Capulet May 16, 2010 at 5:56 AM  

oh goodness how lucky, I've always been a fan of hiroyuki ever since i saw iron chef eons ago!

Anonymous June 20, 2010 at 12:05 AM  

Your account is similar to the one I had in the early 2000's. Although it's fine dining and the dishes are fabulous, it's the personal touches that make the experience. You feel at home when you're there and Sakai-san seems to be there a lot as we were able to meet him as well. He was extremely personable like an uncle or something. Just someone who wants to make fabulous meals for people with none of the ego or hautiness of some celebrity chefs. Highly recommended.

Pearl August 11, 2010 at 2:21 AM  

hi i came across your blog and fell in love with it!! i'm planning a HK/Japan trip and will definitely try the places in your blog. I was wondering for Sakai's restaurant, how much it was? thanks!!

homeladychef January 19, 2011 at 2:27 AM  

You are lucky man!!! I am so damn envy you!!! I went to Tokyo last year and I didn't go to this restaurant, just passed by its advertisement!

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