“Coulicious.” It’s an unlikely, unwieldy name for a signature dish — but not half as improbable as that of the restaurant itself: & ecle. How can you possibly take it seriously? Two good reasons: the man in charge is Olivier Rodriguez; and his food tastes fantastic.
This self-styled “neo-bistro” opened recently in a luxury mini-mall in the backstreets of Aoyama and the reasons the food is so good will come as no surprise to anyone who has dined at Signature, the sleek French restaurant on the 37th floor of Tokyo’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Under Rodriguez’s tenure as head chef (from its inception), Signature retained its Michelin star seven years running. Still in his early 40s, Rodriguez is a veteran of numerous multistarred operations, including the venerable Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence and its equally high-end Ginza outpost.
But now he has ditched his chef’s whites and his haute cuisine repertoire in favor of casual work clothes and a more down-to-earth setting. This is the neo-bistro style, and so is his simpler, back-to-basics style of cooking.
Reflecting his Mediterranean roots, the food is colorful and light. It is also prepared from superb organic ingredients. In place of olive oil or butter-rich sauces, Rodriguez uses coulis — the thick but easily digestible concentrates of pureed vegetables — which he pairs with just about every dish on the menu.
So far, so very French. But the key ingredient in his new signature dish brings Japan to the forefront, too. Rice — brown, red or black — is paired with seafood, vegetables, mushrooms or meat, each matched with a different coulis. From the current menu, look for the black rice topped with soft squid and served with sweet onion coulis. Or, even better, anise-infused red rice, crowned with slivers of fennel bulb and morsels of chorizo, with a fennel coulis.
These are just two of the variants on the theme of the so-called Coulicious. It’s a clunky name, but in the hands of Rodriguez, these rice-coulis combinations are delicious and wholesome.
To get a full idea of what Rodriguez is doing and the superb ingredients he is sourcing, abandon all misgivings and order the five-course dinner menu (¥5,500) — it will not disappoint.
Among the appetizers, the Kiyora poached egg stood out. Perched on a cracker made of whole grains and walnut, it floated on a smooth coulis that was strongly aromatic of maitake mushroom. The fish course of Hokkaido turbot direct was also excellent with its concentrated parsley coulis, but the highlight of the meal was the main course: a rare shoulder cut of Shiga beef with a spicy green-pepper coulis.
The cheese selection — a good blue, a couple of hard types and some fine soft goats cheese, all sourced from Japanese farms — is worth checking out. And so are the desserts, especially the Cremet d’Anjou with its eye-popping two-color dragon fruit coulis.
A lot of thought has gone into this menu and it certainly pushes the boundaries of French cuisine into left field, just like the restaurant’s name. It turns out that the ampersand is pronounced as in English, while ecle is an abbreviation of the French word eclectique. It may look awkward, but once you know what it means “and eclectic” starts to make plenty of sense.
Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com.
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