Abysse (1 Michelin star)
Add: 1/F Aoyama TMI, 4-9-9 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo 港区 南青山4-9-9 AOYAMA TMI 1F
Tel: +81 (0)3 6804 3846
Hours: closed Wednesday; [lunch] 12:00pm-1:30pm; [dinner] 6:30pm-8:30pm
Price: [lunch] JPY4,500; [dinner] JPY9,000 (+8% tax and 10% service charge)
Visited: September 2016
Will return: Yes
It is no longer the rare chef who decides to take a step back from meat and focus on vegetables. Over the last few years, vegetables have become the new hot kid, welcomed and sought after, be it in chef Alain Passard’s famed halls of L’Arpège in Paris, or the uncomplicated Greenwich Village dining room of Nix in New York that has been all the rage since it opened earlier this year.
Few restaurants, however, have turned their attention to seafood. The most notable exception is chef Eric Ripert’s three-Michelin-starred Le Bernardin in New York, but even Chef Ripert allows a place or two for meat on his menu. There are probably few other restaurants in the world that dedicate their attention as unwaveringly to seafood as chef Kotaro Meguro’s Abysse in Tokyo. The 30-year-old chef, who previously trained at Le Petit Nice in Marseilles and Quintessence in Tokyo, forgoes meat dishes entirely on his menu, turning an unwavering focus to the fruits of the ocean.
The menu started with a chilled ginkgo soup cradling some soft-shell turtle jelly, swirling together into a bright and refreshing blend of umami and bitterness.
Chilled ginkgo soup, soft shell turtle jelly
The bread was accompanied by an exceptionally fruity olive oil from Provence.
The first course was a vibrantly colored plate of botan shrimps from Hokkaido and octopus from Ehime. The botan shrimps were strikingly sweet and gelatinous, while the octopus were tender but didn’t add too much in terms of flavor. These were adorned with little bundles of sea grapes that exploded in tiny bursts of brininess and umami, as well as some chicory and figs. A drizzle of sweet beetroot juice and a quenelle of mascarpone mousse tinged with a hint of wasabi completed the dish.
Hokkaido Botan shrimp, Ehime octopus, sea grapes, chicory, fig, beetroot juice, mascarpone mousse with wasabi
In a shocking contrast against the bright colors of the previous plate, the pan-fried hamo was served in a stark ocean of blackness. But the dish possessed more dimension than the colors would let you believe – salty with a purée of eggplant and squid ink, sweet with a crumble of eggplant skin, and dark with some charred trumpet mushrooms.
Hamo, squid ink infused eggplant purée, eggplant skin crumble, trumpet mushrooms
A signature at Abysse, the soupe de poisson was made with lobster and no less than seven kinds of fish, daringly spiced with cayenne, anise, saffron and, in an inspired touch, orange. The complex and powerful flavors lingered persistently, carrying a memory of the profound ocean depth after which the restaurant was named.
Soupe de poisson, cayenne, anise, saffron, orange
After the intensity of the soup, the delicate flavors of the silver pomfret felt a bit too timid and subdued, but built slowly in umami. Variations of pistachio crowded the fish, the verdant blend of oil and purée studded with roasted whole pistachios, while plump little parcels of butternut squash added pops of color and sweetness.
Silver pomfret, pistachio purée and oil, roasted pistachios, butternut squash
For dessert, a delicious dacquoise was crowned with Nagano grapes and sheathed beneath a canopy of vanilla jelly, sat on a bed of cream cheese powder. A light and elegant dessert that showcased the amazing flavor of Nagano grapes.
Dacquoise, Nagano grapes, vanilla jelly, cream cheese powder
Chef Meguro’s dedication to seafood showed in his understanding of the ingredients. My meal gave the impression of a kitchen that knows its way around what the ocean has to offer, delivering flavors that were uncomplicated but delightful all the same. If my lunch was anything to go by – and if the fully booked dining room on a Monday afternoon was any sign – Abysse’s decision to focus on the great ocean depth certainly paid off.