With so much great French cuisine in Japan, what can a hot new restaurant do if it wants to stand out from the crowd? Having a catchy name certainly helps, and so does a good location. Le Sputnik qualifies on both counts. More importantly, it also boasts a very talented chef.
Yujiro Takahashi is a bright new star in Tokyo’s gastronomic sky. He first rose above the horizon as head chef of the excellent Le Jeu de l’Assiette in Tokyo’s Ebisu-Nishi neighborhood, where he retained the restaurant’s Michelin star for the five years of his tenure. Having earlier spent three years in Paris at the renowned Ledoyen and then the iconic bistro Chez l’Ami Jean — as well as gaining patisserie experience at Maison Kayser — he has paid the necessary dues, and more.
Still in his 30s, Takahashi has finally made his move and opened his own place. He’s got a great location too: just five minutes from the Roppongi Crossing, but tucked away down a secluded side street that few people bother with, save for the locals. That hasn’t been a deterrent. Although Le Sputnik opened in late July, the word is out already and the buzz is growing.
Much of that initial interest has focused on Takahashi’s superb omakase (leave it up to the chef) midday menu. Comprising eight courses — plus extra nibbles, and demanding at least two hours at the table — it is obviously not aimed at the eat-and-run office crowd. But for a special occasion or a leisurely weekend lunch a deux, this is currently one of the best options in the city.
Once you are installed at your table, the meal kicks off with a series of striking amuse-bouches. First off, Takashi’s citrus-marinated scallop in a thick turnip-infused foam that looks halfway between cotton candy and a lollipop; then a churro of deep-fried sweet potato paired with a tiny ice cream cone made from purple sweet potato filled with mousse of boudin noir (blood sausage) and a dab of apple jam; and a couple of small wakasagi (smelt) fish deep-fried as frites, nestled on top of a birds-nest tangle of crisp burdock strips.
The courses just keep coming: Sashimi-grade mackerel served on a rich Roquefort sauce accented with jade-green pistachio oil, served under a glass globe filled with swirling cherrywood smoke; a crepe stuffed with four kinds of mushroom, plus foie gras, a poached egg and mushroom sorbet — with extra truffle grated on top; fillet of iwana (char) on black-rice risotto with morsels of sazae (turban shell); and delectable roast Hokkaido venison, with a powerful red wine jus reduction.
The desserts are also outstanding, especially the beautiful Mont Blanc with its dusting of cassis powder. And throughout, service is prompt, informed, friendly and relaxed. So, what’s not to like? The dining room is chic and comfortable, but try to avoid being seated in the two-person private room. Not only does it feel claustrophobic, you miss out on glimpsing the action in Takahashi’s spotless kitchen.
Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com.