Let’s hear it for lunch. Long, leisurely sessions at the table, with multiple courses and an equal number of wines to go with them. And then at the end, lingering over coffee and conversation. That’s the way it happens every Saturday at Chic Peut-etre.
In truth, you are always going to eat well at this great little restaurant on the nether side of Nihonbashi — any day of the week, lunch or dinner. But there’s something special about booking in here for the best part of the afternoon, till the shadows start to lengthen, and just indulging.
In part, it’s the location. Hatchobori is a low-rise neighborhood, not far from Ginza or Tokyo Station, but with none of the glitter and buzz. On weekdays, it hums with quiet purpose. But at the weekends, it sleeps. From your table you see no movement on the street outside. There is no sense that you are idling while others work.
Ensconced in Chic Peut-etre’s intimate dining room, it feels more like a private club. The longer you’re there, the more owner Kazuhito Hoshi relaxes into his role as host, not just sommelier. Give him free rein and he will pamper you with some surprising pairings of spirits as well as wine.
But the core reason for being there is, of course, the food. Chef Yusuke Namai’s modern-French cuisine is far too good to hurry over, let alone try to cram into an office lunch hour. And it’s way too creative to shoehorn into the standard starter-main-dessert format.
Over the course of more than three hours, he delivers up to a dozen dishes, ranging from simple appetizers to creations of considerable complexity.
We nibbled first on crescent-shaped Lucques olives from Longuedoc, then on slivers of 12-month-aged sausage made from French Basque rare-breed pigs. A small, freshly baked cheese wafer hidden under a mound of roasted caraway seeds was followed by tiny, mushroom-infused sponge cakes covered with lardo (cured pork fat) and served on a mound of fresh whole champignons.
There was also a small cube of duck liver encased in salty-caramel popcorn and topped with savory Chantilly cream, which Hoshi ably paired with rich Ratafia de Champagne; and a cooked “salad” of botan-ebi shrimp covered with squares of lightly cooked carrot and heaped with slabs of meringue infused with lemon and acidic sea buckthorn berries from Finland.
And those were just the starters. Next came a dish of monkfish liver wrapped in Savoy cabbage leaf, much like a deluxe seafood take on classic chou farci (meat-stuffed cabbage). Namai served this with a sauce of fermented buttermilk that, like the sea buckthorn, was a lingering influence from a recent brilliant collaboration with Finnish chef Sasu Laukkonen.
For the meat course, Namai pan-fried juicy, tender chunks of lamb wrapped in spinach, with piquant merguez sausage, Japanese mushrooms and baby broad beans on the side.
And then, to close this superb meal, a light grapefruit granite, soft coffee mousse scattered with crisp meringue, coffee and a glass of single malt whisky (1995 Mortlach).
Elated and satiated, we made our way out into the early evening.
Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com.
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