Thursday, February 26, 2015

l'Auberge de L'Ill, Nishi Azabu (オーベルジュ・ド・リル トーキョー)

You can't go wrong with this as an introduction. You're walking down a perfectly normal, maybe even a little grubby, street in Nishi Azabu after getting off the train at the quiet end of Nogizaka and walking through the tunnel by the museum, and suddenly you see something that looks a British aristocrat's house. This was built in 1995 and originally housed the Georgian Club; I don't know the details of the transition.
I do know that the dining room is as grand as ever, even if the drapes show a little wear in places. It feels for all the world like they're going to clear out the tables and host a ball at night. Everyone gets to make a grand entrance down the central staircase, but this being Tokyo most people aren't watching. The crowd for weekday lunch is women. I was the only man until a couple came in at the end. There were birthday lunches, mother-daughter-treat lunches, tables that looked like hostesses, and people on their big trip to the city. Other than someone and I, everyone was still firmly seated at 2 PM, 2 hours+ after arriving. This is all about the superlative atmosphere, and soaking it up at leisure.

We got the mid-level lunch course, which differs in quality but not length. Your minimum option here is about Y5k per person, including tax and service, so be warned. We thought the upgrade was worthwhile because of the duck and dessert.

The financiers may have had anchovy in them; definitely a hit of something salty. The little flatbreads were onion and bacon, I think, which would be a nod to the mothership l'Auberge in Alsace, which is one of the longest-running three-star restaurants in the world.
Hard to see what's going on here, so let me fill you in. It's a cocktail glass with a white balsamic mousse at the bottom, and another mousse of skybeans on top. With little 'ears' of skybean halves and a drizzle of olive oil. Eat from the bottom, get some of each mousse, delicious. Put me in mind of something at Quintessence, although I see that was totally different.
It being that season, there were white asparagus spears with hollandaise. Delicious sauce. Even better was the ballotine of rabbit and bits, a lot of flavor from liver and some pistachio chunks. Puzzling were the salad bits in the middle, which looked like nothing so much as ribs cut from wilted lettuce, complete with brown edges. I think that was my only complaint of the meal, which is not so bad.
Especially when this was SO GOOD. Have you ever had confit duck breast? I feel like I may only have had legs. Absolutely delicious, with that square of perfectly-crisped skin on top. Excellent sauce and vegetables. Well worth the upgrade from the swordfish that all our neighbors got in the entry level course.
This upgrade was also excellent compared to the cookie and custard sort of plate that others got. I'm often annoyed by chefs getting too into the Japanese experimentation as opposed to sticking with their European concept. In this case it's a twist on sakura mochi, which is cool. Cherry mousse topped with sakura essence cream, and highlighted by little crisps of salted cherry leaf. With a rapidly-melting quenelle of green tea ice cream on the side. This was very good, and completely acceptable as a mild departure from the path.
Coffee is nice in the sense that it's served from a pot, tastes good, and is refilled by the staff. This is why people spend an hour on their coffee, which is certainly baked into the price.
Mignardises were fine. The lavender macaron was the only standout. Oh, the little marshmallow was strawberry flavored and very sweet.

Just like the whole experience of dining here (minus the strawberry part). The service is great, and from the moment you step in, it's like you're in a dream.


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