Chef Hiroyasu Kawate is serving French-inspired food at Florilege, an exciting French-inspired restaurant in Tokyo.
It’s as if Tokyo has a thing for France. There are francophile shops, patisseries and boulangeries throughout the city.
Tokyo has also embraced high-end French restaurant culture – its restaurants sport more Michelin stars than those in Paris. This is no mere coincidence and no fault of the Michelin rating system. The Japanese use the finest local ingredients prepared with the kind of precision that has made them famous throughout the world.
They have learned from the greatest French chefs including Pascal Barbot, Michel Bras and Joel Robuchon. (Bras and Robuchon have restaurants in Japan.)
It would be a mistake to assume that the Japanese culture is entirely about impersonation. Japan’s world-class French cuisine is still uniquely Japanese – exhibiting flavors, colors and presentations that could only come from the land of the rising sun.
Unlike in France, top Tokyo restaurants incorporate local ingredients such as fish just caught in the Sea of Japan and fresh bamboo shoots. Following in the sushi tradition, dishes may be cooked rare to less than rare.
This is why we wanted to try a high-end French restaurant during our first trip to Tokyo. Our first choice was Florilege.
We made the reservation at Florilege Tokyo two months in advance since the restaurant only seats 20 people. We were curious enough to try this small, relatively new restaurant that we made the expensive phone call from Philadelphia to make the coveted reservation.
Nestled in the Aoyama neighborhood, Florilege is just a short walk from the Gaien-mae train station. The chef, Hiroyasu Kawate, previously cooked at three-star Michelin restaurant Quintessence, but now he has his own restaurant where his creativity and precision can truly shine.
We arrived promptly for our 9:00 reservation to find Kawate and manager Toshiyuki Kondo waiting for us at the door. They warmly greeted us and seated us in the intimate restaurant. We each ordered a glass of Meursault and toasted the start to our dinner.
Tasting Meal at Florilege in Tokyo
We started the meal with two perfectly seasoned snap peas served atop decorative snap peas.
The amuse bouche had the texture of soufflé and the taste of an actual olive.
Now that our appetites were whetted, the fusion began with a beautiful melange of abalone, bamboo shoots, petit pois (baby peas) and comté cheese served with an abalone liver ragout. In this dish, Japan met France and brought the ingredients to another level of flavor.
Bamboo shoots and French alpine cheese. Who knew?!
We love foie gras, and Florilege’s version rocked all of our senses. Each plate had a small slice of French foie gras, three hazelnut meringues and one apple-vinegar flavored hazelnut.
As suggested by Kondo, we included foie gras and meringue in each bite. The flavors mingled to make two great things even better. In a gastronomic analogy, the foie gras served the part of the rich fatty bullet train with the light yet nutty meringue serving as its destination. The dish was unctuous, crunchy and wonderful.
As we ate the Spanish mackerel with kumquat and shungiku (seasonal vegetables), we learned that Chef Kawate had thoughtfully included the shungiku to give us exposure to local Tokyo vegetables. The fish was specially sourced, not from the eponymous Tsukiji market, but from western waters in the Sea of Japan.
The guinea hen was served with spinach in a red wine sauce with sesame. For this dish, the spinach was prepared two ways – pureed and pan-seared.
Since the restaurant didn’t want to waste any precious parts of the guinea hen, we were the lucky recipients of a bonus course featuring ravioli with guinea hen gravy.
Dessert at Florilege in Tokyo
The first dessert course was a passion fruit mousse served in the shell with a hard sugar glaze on top and sorbet on the side – another example of local ingredients prepared with French precision. We can attest that this dessert tasted as good as it looked.
We couldn’t resist the second dessert course. With chocolate nibs inside and both foam and cream on the side, the dessert was both interesting and delicious. Thankfully, Kondo was joking when he apologized for serving us burnt omelets. There was nothing burnt tasting about this dessert.
If two desserts weren’t enough, we ended the epic meal with glazed strawberries and coffee.
The goodbyes from our hosts were beyond gracious. When we got to the bottom of the long stairwell, the chef and manager were outside, bowing and waving us gently into the night. We walked about 100 feet from the restaurant and decided to look back before turning the corner, and sure enough, the chef and manager were STILL BOWING!
If we could, we would bow back now in appreciation for our terrific meal at Florilege Tokyo.
Update: Since our dinner, Florilege has been awarded a Michelin star and has moved to a new location. The new address is 2-5-4 Jingumae | B1, Shibuya150-0001, Préfecture de Tokyo
Hungry for more? Check out our article about Tokyo’s Ramen Street.
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