Saturday, November 8, 2008

Merveille, Nihonbashi

I approach this 100th review with some trepidation (And a busted liver.). After all, Merveille IS my favorite restaurant. This is really a weird thing to say - it's a French restaurant in Japan, and I don't like to have favorites in anything. But I've been going to Merveille for almost 5 years (I can't remember if I ever went before moving to Japan, but it's possible) and it's never let me down. Here's why:

Food, service, atmosphere, price. Merveille gets it all right for me better than anywhere else I've been. This has survived through various changes of staff, menu and dining partner, so I'm tempted to conclude that Matsumoto san (chef 松本一平) and I are soul mates. Perhaps in a previous life I was an Egyptian princess and he was a cat. Or something a little more Roman involving wolf-children...

I always complain about this, so let me start with price. Used to be the daily set menu was Y6000 or Y6500; now it's Y7000 (this is amuse-appetizer-fish-meat-dessert-petits fours-coffee). For Y8500 you get to choose your appetizer and meat. For Y12,500, bells and sirens go off and confetti and balloons drop from the ceiling. Or something. Tax included. NO service charge. All the Nihonbashi water you can drink, from a silver pitcher, when your glass is empty. And...wait for it...Y2100 corkage on BYO wine. If you're Australian, I know you're wondering why it isn't $5, but the ability to bring your own is a major and unexpected advantage in Yapan. The in-house wine list starts around Y5000 and has bottles to fit all budgets above that. I have exactly one complaint about Merveille, and that is that the glass wine is always a very small pour; avoid it unless you're desperate.

Atmosphere is also of the style I like (in fact, I'm now wondering if I'm just looking for places that are like Merveille). Probably seats about 30, plus a private room for 6. White walls, weird little artworks involving pencil-drawn elephants. Soft lights. Green carpet. Window to the kitchen. Staff in waiter-y semi-formal.

Service - again, if I could have warm, friendly, a little casual but very professional service everywhere I went, I'd be a much happier guy. The descriptions of food are long and loving - a little quick for me because they're so long and loving! Things are prompt - the menus, the bread, the refills - and this is even when it's full, which is always. In fact I tried to go for lunch on a recent Friday and was turned away for fullness! At 11:15, so it was clearly full of bookings.

And now an extensive treatise on the food. Somehow I've managed to forget half of what I ate, but I'll endeavor to reconstruct (thanks for the help!).

Amuse: I feel like this is slightly upgraded from the past (along with the prices, but hey). It was a tiny, tiny pastry chou filled with rillette, accompanied by a small savory blue cheese creme brulee. The brulee was adequate, but the rillette was one of those 'perfect mouthfuls' that made me say "I hope the whole dinner is like this!"

Appetizer: Two crossed our table. I'd like to say mine was more memorable - meat in aspic, basically, 'marbre' style. In practice, this was foie gras and (I think) pork terrine-d in port wine jelly. The pork chunks were the highlight, tasting like they had been confit-ed. I suspect other participants may have found the pumpkin mousse topped with blancmange topped with uni topped with consomme jelly to be more memorable; it was certainly good, but less memorable for me because it's one of the key elements of the Merveille style.

Fish: No option; scampi tails in Americaine sauce. Not really something that requires a further option, wouldn't you agree?

Meat: The first thing we saw when we came in was the table next to us receiving their Hokkaido "Louis Vuitton" pork roast. This looked magnificently roasted, sauced and topped with something green and negi-like. So we ordered lamb roast (in my case, which was tolerable but not da bomb) and quail, stuffed with foie gras and roasted until it pled for juicy mercy. This was really good, and I readily conceded to defeat in the 'who ordered the tastier dish' battle.

Dessert: Not the strongest suit at Merveille. Actually, I think the strongest suit is the fish, which in my shining memories is white-fleshed and juicy, reclining provacatively on a bed of vegetables, and sporting extraordinarily light yet crisp skin. But I digress. I'm told that the desserts were a montblanc (and I've forgotten the special ingredient already since last night) and a fruit tart (all the rage this season. The tatin at Viron is quite good...why does Viron get only a 19 for food in the new Zagat?).

Look, I can't make you go, and I don't especially want to force you. It's already the case that you should call ahead, and with a day or two notice, especially for things like Saturday lunch. If we try to go on the same day, give me priority OK? It's my favorite restaurant.

Closed Wednesdays, open Sundays

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