Japan has a long history of noticing subtle seasonal changes and taking each as an opportunity for celebration. The appearance of cherry blossoms in early spring may be the most well-known example, but October’s tsukimi (moon-viewing) festival is also culturally significant.
In celebration of tsukimi, Palace Hotel Tokyo in the Marunouchi district is serving a seasonal “Moonrise” afternoon tea, created in collaboration with renowned shoe designer and artist Noritaka Tatehana, who rose to fame when he was commissioned by Lady Gaga to produce custom heel-less platform shoes. Tatehana’s work is held in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection and shown at galleries around the world. Designing food, however, is new to him.
The Palace Hotel Tokyo’s signature afternoon tea, available year-round, gives the British tradition a Japanese twist, with pastries and finger foods lined up neatly in a jubako, the tiered lacquer box that inspired the modern bento box. “Moonrise,” Tatehana’s special edition, which is available until Oct. 31 for ¥4,800, adds to that local twist.
“I tried to use Japanese aesthetic concepts,” he says, “(the ideas of) flatness and uniformity.”
For “Moonrise,” Tatehana used those aesthetics to create a “moonlit” version of the hotel’s classic afternoon tea, with a navy blue color scheme that runs through the place setting and into the jubako itself.
The first tier is a dessert box filled with perfectly uniform sweets topped with a moonbeam design made from sprinkled sugar. But this is the only direct reference to any cosmic bodies: “Stars and crescent moons are cute,” he says, “but I didn’t think that was the right mood for a mature audience.”
The second box, at first glance, seems to contain a single sheet of chocolate embellished with turquoise sugar. But when you crack through that thin sheet, there’s a layer of colorful desserts waiting below.
The final savory box isn’t part of Tatehana’s design, and contains classic Palace Hotel Tokyo treats — an East-meets-West fusion including a salmon temari-zushi (ball-shaped sushi) and croissant sandwich. The cherry on top is a jewel-like cocktail made with Kyoho grape liqueur and Earl Grey liqueur. The sweet grape flavor is balanced with a spicy ginger ale.
Describing his inspiration, Tatehana says he wanted Japan to meet Western cuisine halfway: “Expressing the moon using Japanese sensibilities, but not forcing Japanese flavors on customers too much by serving mainly traditional Japanese sweets.”
He also didn’t want to do anything too obvious: “When I thought of what reminds us of the moon, it was the light in the dark night — not necessarily the shape itself. It’s easy to picture the moon as a crescent, but you can express the same thing without describing its shape.”
Tatehana’s decision to enter the culinary world relates to a Japanese phrase that describes the necessities in life: i-shoku-ju (clothing, food and shelter).
“These things are all linked: people live in houses where they wear clothes and cook food,” Tatehana says. “I work with clothing already and this time I tried out food, so my next move is going to be about shelter. Transmitting Japanese culture that fits the contemporary needs of people all around the world is significant to me.”
For more information, visit en.palacehoteltokyo.com restaurant/palace-lounge.
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