Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

Celaravird: Edible works of art from an adventurous chef

by Robbie Swinnerton

Dinner at Celaravird runs to a strict schedule. At 6:30 p.m., guests start to converge on the restaurant. Some climb out of taxis; others make the uphill hike from the nearby train station. By 6:45 they are expected to be at their tables, the buzz of anticipation growing as preprandial drinks are served. Then promptly at 7 p.m., the meal begins. It’s show time.

Chef Koichi Hashimoto’s creative cooking is like an interactive performance, in a setting that is always easygoing and relaxed. He offers only one tasting menu — a sophisticated multicourse meal that unfolds for up to three hours — and there is only one sitting each evening.

You need only glance at Hashimoto’s compact open kitchen to understand why: Space is at a premium and his crew have to clear the equipment for each course before embarking on the next. But there is another reason: He doesn’t want to spoil the element of surprise.

Some dishes are miniature landscapes, evoking sandy summer beaches or austere temple gardens. You may be served a single giant droplet resting at the base of a jade-green lotus leaf. The stones in your “rock garden” may turn out to be edible. Your dessert might even resemble a traditional Japanese hand-held firework.

Hashimoto hails from Osaka and originally trained in French cuisine. But working in Spain had an even greater impact on him — especially the season he spent at ElBulli, the celebrated (and now long-closed) modernist restaurant in Catalonia, whose cooking epitomized the term “molecular gastronomy.”

Hashimoto did more than just learn the complex techniques developed by ElBulli’s legendary chef, Ferran Adria — most notably his trompe l’oeil spherifications, where liquids are formed into balls that taste quite unlike their appearance. Hashimoto has picked up on the same sense of playfulness, the idea that a meal can be fun as well as filling.

Back in Japan, he joined the Tapas Molecular Bar in Tokyo’s high-end Mandarin Oriental hotel, helping it to win a Michelin star. But for his own restaurant, he has adopted a more low-key approach. Celaravird opened in 2014, hidden away in the leafy, residential Uehara district.

One highlight of Hashimoto’s 10-dish autumn menu is “Fallen leaves in the forest,” a glass box on which he composes an elaborate edible diorama of fall flavors, revealing a pig searching out truffles and other seasonal accents. The meal also features avocado “moss” swathed in dry ice “mist”; a substantial risotto of rice and barley adorned with a single whole shrimp; an excellent main course of roast pork; and, in closing, two dessert dishes.

There was one other factor behind Hashimoto’s decision to keep Celaravird under the radar, away from the city center: to keep prices down. His menu is currently ¥7,800 (plus table charge and tax), although you are required to take the drinks pairing menu, which is an additional ¥4,500 for wine (mostly Japanese and organic) or ¥3,500 for the alcohol-free alternative (juices and teas).

Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com.