First impressions are everything. At Ode, it’s the gun-metal gray wall by the front door and the row of white orchids lined up against it. Even before you go in you can tell chef Yusuke Namai’s new restaurant has the look and style to match his aspirations.
There’s plenty more to impress once you get inside: the sleek, wide counter surrounding the spacious open kitchen; the light-filled dining room; the glimpses through the window of the neighboring temple. But most impressive is how at home Namai looks in this new setting.
Over six months elapsed from leaving the excellent (but cramped and chintzy) Chic Peut Etre in Hatchobori until he resurfaced here on the edge of Hiroo. The good news is that he put that hiatus to use. He’s returned brimming with ideas and a raft of recipes as fresh as his restaurant.
The menu unfolds over a leisurely two to three hours, comprising a dozen dishes at dinner (eight at lunchtime). From the very first appetizer — served in a small gem case, it’s a surprise homage to Namai’s favorite manga series from his youth — to the final petit fours with your coffee, the meal is a superb showcase for his innovative modern French cooking.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Namai never went abroad to learn his trade. His formative years were spent under Masa Ueki, first at the groundbreaking Restaurant J off Omotesando and then up in Karuizawa. He credits Ueki as his main inspiration, especially the way he incorporated ingredients, both Japanese and from other parts of Asia, that had never before been tried in French cuisine.
That freedom to be eclectic is evident in Namai’s new tasting menu. One of his most memorable dishes is based around sanma (Pacific saury) confit marinaded with sherry vinegar and cumin, which he serves on a “boudin noir” puree made from the bitter fish innards mixed with pork blood and caramelized onion.
But it’s the finish that makes it special. He covers the fish with shards of meringue that incorporate the sanma offcuts (and a little bamboo charcoal), to create an ash-gray hue that matches the plate it’s served on — and almost perfectly camouflaging it in Ode’s overall color scheme. This is so good, and so strong visually, it’s likely to remain one of Namai’s signature dishes for the foreseeable future.
Among the many other stand-outs: carrot churros topped with uni (sea urchin); delicate “flowers” of crisp potato on savory sable cookies, with caviar from Kagawa Prefecture; and autumn katsuo (bonito) paired with a puree of roquefort and apple. All are striking, on both the eye and the palate.
Ode may sound fancy but at heart it is very approachable, just like its chef. There is rock music (quietly) on the sound system and no pressure to put on airs or designer clothes. If you do want to dress up and splurge, you’ll find an impressive wine list with well-chosen pairings. It’s a great place to celebrate anything — not least Namai’s brilliant return.
Lunch from ¥6,000, dinner from ¥13,000; Some English spoken; Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com.