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Saru: Fresh ingredients take center stage at bistro

by Robbie Swinnerton

The little enclave underneath the expressway flyover at the intersection of Shirokane and Ebisu has always attracted an interesting and idiosyncratic selection of restaurants. Saru fits in there perfectly.

The concept is as straightforward as the rustic wooden furniture. Saru calls itself a “fresh bistro.” That means comfortable, confident cuisine blending farmhouse French and trattoria Italian, based around quality ingredients all sourced from within Japan, especially from Nagano, the home prefecture of owner Nobuyuki Saruta.

The homemade pâté de campagne is excellent, especially as it is prepared from Hokkaido venison. So is the jamón serrano, sliced off whole hams cured not in Spain but the wilds of Saitama Prefecture. There are oysters flown in from Hokkaido, hamaguri clams from the Chiba coast and salmon from the uplands of Nagano, plus a good selection of Japanese cheeses to go with the (multinational) wine list.

Those are just the starters. The main event at Saru is the signature lightly smoked meat or fish dishes. Grass-fed beef (from Gunma), mochibuta pork (Miyagi), Ezo-jika deer (Hokkaido) or Shamrock chicken (Aomori) — they all taste great, and the flavors are only heightened as the heady perfume of the apple-wood chips is released into the dining room.

3-49-1 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-6450-4836; saru-shirogane.root-ltd.jp; 12-2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.-1 a.m. (LO); Sat. till 11:30 p.m; Sun. 12-10:30 p.m. (LO); nearest station Shirokanedai; no smoking; ¥3,000 per head (plus drinks); major cards OK; English menu; some English spoken.