Friday, November 28, 2008

l'Auberge de l'Ill, Roppongi

Well, now I have some inkling what 3 stars in France would mean. The recently-released Michelin guide rates l'Auberge at 1 hoshi, which feels distinctly miserly after today's lunch. I can imagine taking today, amping it up, adding some courses and doubling the price, and then we'd be about right. This will sound weird, but I felt that Y5000 was prefectly reasonable for the food and service I received, and I would recommend l'Auberge to anyone who can imagine spending Y5000 on lunch (note that this is weekdays only. The weekend lunch plan is more expensive.). The 'head office' in Alsace is 3-star, and has been so for 41 years (as of press time), making it the second-oldest of France's 3-star 'dynasties' (Troigros and Bocuse, I think). Evidently it's known for being amazing with a warm and casual flair, whereas many of the other 3-star places are not so warm, nor so casual.

From the outside, l'Auberge looks the business. I'm told it used to be The Georgian Club, whatever that means; the expansive (for Tokyo) area for getting out of your limousine, the huge columns and the impressive facade all conspire to make you feel very serious about your arrival. Inside, we were shunted into the waiting room before making our grand entrance. This is a cramped and overdecorated little salon done up in reds and pinks, with Louis someone armchairs and a cute bar. I truly suspect that this is just to make the experience more impressive...but it works!


We made a grand entrance. There's no getting around this - you enter through double doors at the head of a large, curved, double-sided staircase. You overlook the dining room, which is large, airy, and decorated with various 4-meter-high portraits and enormous chandeliers. You will feel like you're in a chateau, no question. As the waiter escorts you down said staircase, you can't help but notice that you're the only men in the room (aside from the staff). I always end up in restaurants with no men...


We started with butter. 2 kinds. One stamped with the Auberge logo. On a slab of chilled marble. The bread is delicious, and the butter would be a suitable amuse by itself since it's so tasty. The actual amuse was 3 bread-and-meat confections - one a tiny, perfect cube of fried chicken, another a minute pepperoni pizza, the other a little chou.

The serious food started with a parmesan mousse, topped with prosciutto and surrounded by parmesan foam. Then two nicely-grilled shrimp tails with a little salad and a delicious, tiny, square crab cake shaped just like a square of chocolate. The really serious thing was the main - Tasmanian salmon cut into a long rectangle, wrapped with spinach, wrapped in spring roll skin and fried. Or maybe not spring roll skin - it was so perfect.... Surrounded by a complex mix of sauces - one side finely-shredded cabbage and bacon (referencing Choucroute Alsacienne, no doubt), the other side finely-scrambled eggs (I don't know how to do this, but I wish I did - so soft, so scrambled...I have a feeling they were double-boiled.), the whole thing surrounded by white wine. It was so perfect that conversation basically stopped except for grunting about how perfect it was.


Pre-dessert: blancmange topped with rose-wine granite. Dessert was fancy - stewed grapes (巨峰, even) topped with custard, topped with a quenelle of ice cream, topped with grape mousse. Topped with a series of white and purple (grape, one imagines) meringue sticks (you can see these in Tabelog pictures). My colleague skipped dessert in favor of cheese, served from the trolley, including a St. Marcellin that was creamy to the point of runny, and delicious to the point of conversation-stopping.

Service: exacting and attentive without being distant. I mentioned that we needed to leave in order to get back to the office, they clarified exactly what time we wanted to leave. After a slight pause, our dishes came more or less in sequence, just after we finished the prior ones. This left us with sufficient time to drink our coffee at normal speed while the girls who came in just before us were receiving their salmon. As with the salmon, we had to stop talking (again) in order to focus on how impressive this was.

Can you spend Y5000 on lunch? It's not easy. This is so clearly a ladies-who-lunch place. But it's awfully, awfully good, and I would have to say that both the price and service charge were well justified. Dinner is terrifyingly expensive, but I would feel safer about it now that I've sampled the more reasonable wares over lunch.

Definitely more than 1 star. Expect it to go up next year.
03-5785-8880

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