Craftale: A young, talented chef takes flight among Nakameguro’s cherry trees


Special To The Japan Times

There’s a new generation of chefs emerging in Tokyo. They’re young, innovative, up-to-the-minute and self-assured, and they’re starting to make waves. Most are still flying under the radar. In the case of Shinya Otsuchihashi and his brilliant new restaurant, Craftale, things are not going to stay that way for long.

In part, that’s due to the prime location. Perched on the second floor of a sleek new building overlooking the cherry trees lining the banks of the Meguro River, Craftale has a view to kill for, especially when the blossoms are at their peak. But the main reason for making the 10-minute walk from Nakameguro Station is Otsuchihashi’s confident, creative contemporary French cuisine.

He was barely past the age of 31 when he opened Craftale last September, but he has experience aplenty to go with his youthful enthusiasm. At 19 he made his first trip to France, to study in the gastronomic center of Lyon. Since then he has worked both in haute cuisine — notably at Joel Robuchon’s three-Michelin-starred chateau restaurant in Ebisu — and in smaller, less rarefied locations, such as Saturne in Paris and Restaurant Anis in Tokyo’s Hatsudai neighborhood.

Book yourself in for the simplest of Otsuchihashi’s lunches (weekends and holidays only), and you’ll find the influences from both ends of the culinary spectrum. A recent ¥3,000 three-course meal opened with one of his intricate, artistic platings. Juicy morsels of duck were served with slivers of carrot and white beet, freeze-dried foie gras powder and a dab of concentrated mikan (mandarin orange). Think duck a l’orange, but allowed to take wing to a whole new level.

By contrast, the main course was a hearty version of hachis Parmentier: beef tendon slowly simmered in red wine, served under rich, creamy mashed potato, and topped with slices of roast sirloin. This was an elevated version of basic bistro comfort food, but the desserts returned to more creative territory, with a selection of ice cream, fresh fruit, chocolate brownie and shards of meringue, which you “cook” at the table in Korean-style stone bowls, either super-heated or super-chilled.

But it is the seven-course ¥7,000 dinner menu (also served at lunch if ordered in advance) that really showcases Otsuchihashi’s skills. Allow yourself 2 ½ hours at a minimum, and be prepared for surprises, starting with his signature appetizer plate of scallop chips served on a dramatic dais of striped zebrawood and spiraling out on a leisurely flight of culinary fancy.

Otsuchihashi says the name Craftale is a mashup of the words “craft” and “tale” (and nothing to do with artisan beer). It’s also an anagram of the French word fractale (fractal) and pronounced similarly. Much like his cuisine, there are lots of repeating patterns to figure out here from which to derive deep satisfaction.

Between March 19 and April 12 — around the time when the cherry trees will be in full bloom — Craftale will open daily for both lunch and dinner (except April 6), serving a special eight-course menu (¥10,000). Normal service will resume from April 15.

Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com