Uncork the Champagne, fill your glasses and raise a toast. At last, there’s something to celebrate — and it’s not just the recent lifting of the ban on alcohol in restaurants. After a long, tortuous gestation, and a considerable drum beat of anticipation, Sezanne has finally opened its doors.
Any new high-end French restaurant in Tokyo is big news among the city’s well-heeled gastronomes. But Sezanne’s official unveiling on July 1 inside the plush Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi means much more than just the birth of a fine-dining venue. It signals the arrival of a young chef of considerable accomplishment.
Daniel Calvert has worked in restaurants for more than half his life. Raised in southeast England, he started his career in London (including at the two-Michelin-star Pied a Terre), rising through the ranks in New York (Per Se; three stars) and then Paris (Epicure at Le Bristol; also three stars). But it was his five-year tenure in Hong Kong at Belon — leading the neo-Parisian bistro to fourth place on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list and gaining a Michelin star of his own — that really put his name on the map.
Now, at the “ripe” age of 33, he is helming the restaurant of his dreams in Tokyo, albeit well behind schedule. He was originally due to arrive last September, but didn’t get out of quarantine until late November. By that time, the hotel was about to start a major refurbishment, pushing back the opening to June, and then a further month when the latest emergency intervened. But there’s no question the wait was worth it.
Sezanne — it’s named after a town in France’s Champagne region — occupies the space formerly known as Motif, but it’s not a straight like-for-like swap. Out went the bland, tired hotel decor and in came suave furnishings and contoured earth tones courtesy of top Hong Kong designer Andre Fu. Calvert had the kitchen moved, bringing it closer and visible to diners. An exclusive private dining room has also been added.
More crucially, the extra months have allowed him to train his new kitchen crew to a level he says he now feels happy with. It has also given Calvert more time to source the premium ingredients that underpin his cooking and to develop his elaborate degustation tasting menus.
From the opening finger foods — so perfect with that flute of vintage Champagne — to the closing mignardises bite-sized pastries, Calvert’s cuisine is beautifully composed, plated with almost architectural precision and deeply satisfying. Grounded in classic French technique, but reflecting the range of his experience on three continents, the dishes he has unveiled to date are outstanding.
He intersperses the elevated decadence of Petrossian ossetra caviar layered with avocado mousse and accents of sudachi citrus, or foie gras perfectly poached with apricot and sweet Sauternes wine, with the umami-rich comfort of tiny ravioli stuffed with sweet Cevennes onion and Iberico ham. But it’s the more substantial dishes that will linger longest in your memory.
There’s an escabeche of saba (mackerel) that has been vinegar washed and lightly smoked, then served with an incision of Thai basil as delicate as any you’d find at a top sushi restaurants. Or shamo gamecock from Hokkaido, marinated for a week in vin jaune (Jura yellow wine) infused with morels — Calvert’s elevated homage to the drunken chicken of his erstwhile home.
And, as the culmination of the meal, roast ezo-shika venison. Calvert is not just smitten by the quality of the meat, he says he’s also reveling in its availability fresh throughout the year (in Europe, game is very seasonal), allowing him to try out new flavor combinations.
For the first time in his life, he’s able to pair venison with garden peas. Ditto with fresh blackcurrant sauce. This lean, tender, dark-red meat is likely to feature prominently on his menu for the foreseeable future.
These are still early days, but all the details seem to be in place. Chewy corn-flecked sourdough bread for mopping up the superb sauces; exquisite desserts soon to be further elevated by pastry chef Elwyn Boyles, another Per Se alumnus; a heavyweight wine list; and the attentive ministrations of restaurant manager Simone Macri’s team.
If you’re not yet ready for the full Sezanne experience, book yourself into the hotel’s other restaurant, Maison Marunouchi, for a simpler, more accessible and affordable taste of Calvert’s cooking. Think croque madame, fish and chips, jambon beurre (ham sandwiched inside savory millefeuille pastry) and the best crispy Southern fried chicken in the city — all in the same luxurious setting, with the same level of service and that same remarkable seventh-floor view down over the shinkansen tracks at Tokyo Station.
Pacific Century Place Marunouchi 7F, Marunouchi 1-11-1, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-6277; 03-5222-5810; www.sezanne.tokyo; open 12-1:45 p.m. (L.O.), 6-9 p.m. (L.O.); closed Mon. & Tue. (hours subject to change due to COVID-19); lunch from ¥9,500, dinner from ¥24,500; nearest station Tokyo; smoking not permitted; major cards accepted; English menu; English spoken
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