What makes a good restaurant? It’s a pretty basic question, and one that I imagine is on most people’s minds, even if you aren’t actively aware of it. With a new restaurant, such as EO, this question and the search for answers are more to the forefront. What it boils down to, if you’ll forgive the cooking metaphor, is an enjoyable experience, comforting food and even a little inspiration.
EO, or Eloge de l’Ombre (no, I don’t know what it means either), is located on the 14th floor of Abeno Harukas, Osaka’s latest very tall building — the tallest in Japan if you discount the Skytree. The food is French, the atmosphere formal and the inspiration is the late Bernard Loiseau, a guiding light to many chefs, including Hiroshi Yamaguchi, head chef at the award-winning Kitano Hotel in Kobe and also owner and chef at EO.
As far as I could tell, Yamaguchi wasn’t cooking the day I had lunch, although an enormous soundproof glass pane separates the diners from the kitchen. The designers have done well to obscure the fact that EO is located in a food court of sorts: Hundreds of little glass balls dangle from the ceiling and the walls are painted like a cave, as if you have entered a grotto. The restaurant wants to take you away from the hustle and bustle of coming through crowds, of elevators and escalator rides. It worked, until a child screamed for a few minutes straight somewhere beyond the entrance. Pity the poor parent, and the rather serious maitre d’, who looked like he wanted to go out there and strangle the indolent.
One more note about the decor: Each table was enlivened by a leafless tree twig set into a branch, which reminded me of my deceased bonsai plants, or the possibility of what decorative use can be made of dead matter. See, inspiration.
I went with the prix-fixe menu for lunch. There were three options, and one was already sold out. The cheaper option costs just under ¥4,000. For dinner it’s the same setup, with prices ranging from ¥8,000 to ¥15,000 (excluding drinks).
I nearly choked on nostalgia when the amuse-bouche arrived and my server announced that the red smidgen on the pate ensconced in a pastry shell was rhubarb. This single dish was followed by one that certainly bore a Frenchman’s signature for its color and composition: tuna tartar on a bed of couscous accompanied by avocado. Encore another single dish: cold soup of potato and crab in an over-sized espresso cup. My French server came prematurely to take the cup away, and nearly fell over apologizing.
For my main I chose duck, a breast and thigh, one from France and the other from Aomori; the accompanying mead was made from ume (Japanese apricot) and honey. Yamaguchi tries to work to the seasons and source food accordingly: This is French food with a Japanese twist. Dessert — pineapple marmalade and coconut mousse — was as entertaining and delicious as all that proceeded it. EO is off to a great start.
J.J. O’Donoghue is an Irish writer living in Kyoto.