Florilège (1 Michelin star, 2016 Asia’s 50 Best “One to Watch”)
Add: B1/F, Seizan Gaien, 2-5-4 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 渋谷区 神宮前 2-5-4 SEIZAN外苑 B1/F
Tel: +81 (0)3 6440 0878
Hours: [lunch] 12:00pm-1:30pm; [dinner] 6:30pm-8:00pm (check website for restaurant holiday)
Price: [lunch] JPY6,500; [dinner] JPY12,000+; [dinner juice pairing] JPY6,000 (+8% tax and 10% service charge)
Visited: September 2016
Will return: Definitely
Every great restaurant has a character, an identity that defines its cuisine. Some restaurants build their cuisine around seasonality, like L’Effervescence in Tokyo, where every meal is a flowing expression of the season and a celebration of its best products. Others pride themselves on using the freshest ingredients, such as L’Argège in Paris, where vegetables never see the inside of a freezer, whisked straight to the kitchen every morning from Chef Passard’s three farms around France. Still others are defined by simplistic preparations that allow the natural flavors of ingredients to sing with minimal accompaniments, such as the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare in New York, where the bare-looking plates often holding just two components reflect the chefs’ conviction that less really is more.
The defining characteristic of Florilège, a 22-seat dining room housed in a quite residential area in Shibuya, Tokyo, is flavor.
At first glance, this observation might appear redundant. After all, flavor is a prerequisite for any good restaurant, hardly worth mentioning, much less being hailed as its identity. But at Florilège, flavor is not just a prerequisite – it is the centerpiece of the plate. Under Chef Kawate’s masterful directions, flavor is brought to the forefront of the stage, every one of them deliberately placed to draw our gaze and captivate our attention. It is these flavors that deliver his message for him. Everything else – seasonality, tradition, at times even balance – must take a back seat.
A single bite of Flatfish over a frozen soufflé of bitter gourd hit the palette in a burst of bitterness, coldness, and umami that made me sit up in my seat, the experience strikingly gutsy for an amuse bouche. The vigorous flavors carried on in a plate of tender Sardines with a light but lingering umami, layered with a sweet, fragrant onion foam and threads of fresh anchovy pasta with improbable depth. Confit tomatoes brought tanginess and brightness, and a crumble of dried mackerel some saltiness and texture. Each component was subtle and unobtrusive on its own, but the contours of their flavors and textures were so precise that they came together into an intense sensory experience.
Projection: Flatfish and Bitter Gourd
Taste to Over: Sardine
The height of intensity in the meal came in the form of an Oyster obscured beneath a mound of greens. Between the warm, creamy oyster, the crispy fried mountain vegetables, and the frozen lemon meringue, this was a stunning study in contrasting textures and temperatures.
Florilège is one of the first restaurants in Asia to offer juice pairing, a new staple in high-end Nordic restaurants that has yet to acquire much audience in the rest of the culinary world. What was most impressive about Florilège’s juice pairing wasn’t that the juices tasted wonderful, even though they did – it was how each glass acted as a magnifying glass for the dish it was paired with, and managed to amplify the flavors and experience.
Juice pairing for oyster: Basil, grapefruit, lime, tonic ice
One of Florilège’s signature dishes, the tender Beef Carpaccio joined forces with potato purée, gently smoked and lavishly smooth, as well as some fragrant shallot oil and a deeply flavorful consommé, offering all the familiarity and satisfaction of steak and potatoes, only a thousand times better. That sense of comfort was echoed in the small cup of flambéed red wine infused with orange and cinnamon, its sweetness and warmth reminiscent of mulled wine.
Juice pairing for beef: Red wine flambéed, orange, cinnamon
A fillet of Tilefish was cooked à la Quintessence to crispy-skinned and succulent perfection. The delicate fish took its depth from a broth of bonito and kombu, along with some lively minty notes from braised turnips, reinforced by a generous dose of spearmint in a green yuzu and lemongrass juice. In much the same vein, roasted Pork Loin from Okinawa was made exceptional by the powerful bitterness of a profoundly concentrated reduction of caramelized onions, the experience intensified by some cacao nibs and espresso jelly nestled in a colorful creation of pumpkin, soy beans and cumin.
“WA” Japanese Taste: Tilefish
Juice pairing for tilefish: Green yuzu, lemongrass, spearmint
To Share: Pork
Juice pairing for pork: Pumpkin, soy milk, cumin, espresso jelly, cacao nibs
At times, the juice pairing was more than a faithful complement to the dish – it was what led the dish from pleasantness to excellence. Softshell Turtle, confited then deep fried, was a flavorsome parcel of lean meat and rich collagen, perched on top of a delicate chawanmushi made partly with turtle eggs. But it would have started to taste boring about halfway through the course without the chai-like blend of warm tea and enticingly sultry spices to add depth and dimension.
Confit: Softshell Turtle
An exceptionally sweet and delicate Ayu was able to hold its own against a stuffing of chicken liver and a bed of foie gras and risotto with unexpected fortitude. The single stick of cucumber might have been too small to make any real difference, but the rice milk pairing made its presence felt with an assertive kick of ginger at the back. The fragrance of rice recalled the risotto, while its smoothness heightened the luxuriousness of the dish. Flecks of sea salt enhanced the flavors, as it often does to chocolate – or perhaps tequila would be a more fitting comparison – while kernels of sansho pepper, when rubbed in my hands and brought to my nose, added a transporting whisper of spiciness.
Remains of Summer: Sweetfish
Juice pairing for sweetfish: Rice milk, ginger, salt, sansho pepper
Desserts were less edgy than the savory dishes, but no less engaging. A snowball of bright and refreshing Pear Granita worked surprisingly well with noodles of dark, bitter caramel jelly to clear the palette. A creamy Homemade Burrata followed, sat next to a papery wafer of pineapple wrapped around tangy pineapple cream. Amazonian Cacao mousse and chocolate crumble were encased in a vibrant shiso jelly, the three simple elements coming together into an intriguing play on textures.
Best Season: Pear
Gift: Amazon Cacao
Tea pairing for desserts
The British writer Henry James once remarked that “there are two kinds of taste in the appreciation of imaginative literature, the taste for emotions of surprise, and the taste for emotions of recognition.” The same holds true for our appreciation of food. Chef Kawate manages to satisfy both these tastes. Over the course of the evening, I witnessed a truly fearsome combination in the young chef: a clear and precise vision of what each of his plates is meant to evoke in us, an astute understanding of what flavors to call upon to evoke those feelings, and the impeccable skills to make each of those flavors do exactly what he tells them.
Mignardise: Candied Chinese lantern berry