Make sure you have plenty of time when you arrive at Est. You will want to look around, get your bearings and, above all, take in the remarkable vista that greets you as you emerge from the elevator.
You are up on the 39th floor, within the portals of the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Otemachi, and you have the city at your feet. The Imperial Palace lies below, with the metropolis sprawling to the far horizon where, if the weather gods are kind, you may spot the unmistakable silhouette of Mount Fuji.
That’s the aperitif: now it’s time to eat. Est lies farther back on the same floor, reached via a short passage lined with books on food and culture. By the time you reach the elegant dining room — with massive west and south-facing picture windows that encompass both Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower — your appetite is well primed for the creative modern French cuisine of chef Guillaume Bracaval.
He boasts an impressive CV. Prior to Est, which opened after some pandemic-related delay in September last year, he was for seven years executive chef at the two-Michelin-starred (and now sadly closed) Cuisines Michel Troisgros in Shinjuku. Before that, he worked his way up via several top restaurants in Paris, including L’Ambroisie and Arpege (both with three stars).
His time at the latter was formative, he says. Arpege’s visionary chef, Alain Passard, had taken the radical step of removing virtually all meat from his restaurant, instead placing vegetables grown at his own farm in starring roles. It was a stance that resonated deeply with Bracaval, who hails from a family of farmers in northern France.
Not only is his menu at Est proudly vegetable-forward — though he still serves superb fish and meat dishes — it is also bravely locavore. Unlike many chefs in Japan who rely on meat, cheese and other ingredients flown in from France, Bracaval champions local ingredients and has developed a network of producers who supply most of his needs from inside Japan.
The appetizers include light crackers made inhouse from local rice, which you nibble on with a tofu-based “cream.” Then a serving of “hummus” that uses organic soybeans rather than imported chickpeas: the dark, savory powder sprinkled over it evokes black olive tapenade but is actually dried moromi, the mash from soy sauce production. To cut back on air miles, he even makes a point of offering no imported mineral water brands
This autumn, one of his star vegetables has been roasted chestnut squash, which he pairs with ricotta cheese and covers with a veil of umami-rich culatta ham. Another highlight of the current menu is Hokkaido veal, which Bracaval artfully wraps in a tight layer of romaine lettuce, then slices open to reveal tender, pink meat encased in a rim of vivid vegetal green.
Not everything at Est is sourced locally, the contents of the excellent wine cellar being the most obvious exception. So, too, the coffee that he uses to brilliant effect to accent the sauce adorning his cod and other fish dishes. And then there are the Alba white truffles — some the size of small grapefruits — which, for an optional (and hefty) supplement and for as long as their season lasts, are shaved liberally over your main dish at the table.
The final courses are the work of Est’s talented pastry chef, Michele Abbatemarco, who has worked with Bracaval for many years now. Light, colorful and eclectic, his desserts dovetail perfectly with Bracaval’s vision, featuring surprisingly successful combinations, such as slivers of kabu turnip or Jerusalem artichoke together with muscat grapes or lychees.
Est’s upcoming holiday feast (Dec. 23, 24, 25 and 31) will see Bracaval pulling out the stops to offer what he terms a “more classic” style of cuisine. It will feature black truffles, generous amounts of caviar and, as the centerpiece of the meal, his magnificent pithiviers, enclosed pies filled with three kinds of meat: mallard from Niigata, Iwate guinea fowl and Kagoshima pork.
That level of splurge is the exception rather than the rule, however. At Est, you are treated to elevated dining that has all the poise and perspective you expect in a hotel of this caliber, but little sense of unethical excess. This week it won its first Michelin star, and that’s just one more reason to give it plenty of your time.
Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Otemachi 39F, Otemachi 1-2-1, Chiyoda-ku 100-0004; 03-6810-0655; est-tokyo.com. Open daily 12-3 p.m., 6-10 p.m. (L.O.); set menus from ¥11,000 (lunch) and ¥22,000 (dinner); closest station Otemachi; smoking not permitted; major cards; English menu; English spoken.
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