Pierre Gagnaire at ANA Intercontinental Tokyo: Lavish lineup of artistic dishes
Pierre Gagnaire is a living legend of modern French cuisine, known for being one of the very first chefs in what can be called the fusion or nouvelle cuisine movement. Even now when so many chefs have come to practice similar styles, he stands out with special star status and appears to be a step ahead of the rest.
The Tokyo location of his eponymous restaurant is on the 36th floor of the ANA Intercontinental Hotel and has 2 Michelin stars. With 10 restaurants worldwide, Gagnaire closely oversees the creation of every menu but the kitchens are headed by his trusted disciples. The executive chef in Tokyo is Yosuke Akasaka, who worked with Gagnaire for years in France, before returning to Japan when Gagnaire’s restaurant opened in its previous location in Aoyama back in 2005. Only 33 years old, Chef Akasaka is young for a chef in his position, but his ability to execute the style of Gagnaire and passion for telling stories through food has garnered him praise all around.
You enter the restaurant through an intimately narrow doorway where to the side is displayed a giant photo of the chef (whose rock-star good looks with scruffy beard and piercing blue eyes certainly must have helped build his legendary reputation). The restaurant’s interior is modern and refined but very welcoming in subdued tones of beige and grey, against which the crisp white table cloth glows luminously. Tables by the large windows that wrap around the restaurant offer spectacular city views that include Tokyo Tower. There are also inner sofa seats for two that offer diners the cozy experience of sitting side by side. Small porcelain flower vases whimsically shaped like bulbs of garlic decorate tabletops, adding to the enchanting mood.
Gagnaire’s signature style offers a dizzying number of small dishes in each course, reminiscent of Japanese kaiseki cuisine, a culinary art form that balances the taste, texture and appearance of food in an intricately prepared presentation. In addition to the elaborate course menus that start with five appetizers and end with five desserts for which the restaurant is known for, they started an a la carte menu for the first time this fall. The rather hefty prices (appetizers 4,500 yen~, fish 7,000 yen~, meat 8,200 yen~) reflect the fact that each dish is comprised of many elements, which differs from the normal concept of a la carte ordering.
My recent dinner started off with the amuse—bite-sized morsels served on a sleek oval plate that interestingly included a small glass of popcorn (which seems to appear on Gagnaire’s menus from time to time) with a sophisticated flavor of black pepper and other spices. Next came the “cocktail de poche,” the appetizer course consisting of five different dishes. The dishes are laid out before you in separate white dishware of all different sizes and shapes, joyfully crowding the surface of the table like a cluster of artwork on a gallery wall. I was instructed to eat in counter-clockwise order starting off at the wide-rimmed plate at the 6 o’clock position, which held a light sauerkraut salad of pig ears topped with shreds of nori, with little cubes of red radish dotting the rim of the plate. A narrow canoe-shaped dish to its right held a small fillet of grilled saury (“sanma” in Japanese) on top of a mound of chunky red pepper pulp with enoki mushrooms. Other dishes were a single scrumptious cube of grilled quail cocooned inside a slice of lotus root, a small bowl of savory sorbet, and a bowl of lusciously creamy chestnut soup.
My main dish for the evening was venison from their new a la carte menu. The perfectly roasted piece of fine meat was first brought to the table to be seen as a whole, then taken back to the kitchen to be sliced up and prepared, and when it reemerged, it was one of the most beautiful plates of meat I have ever seen. Cut up into perfect little medallions with dark pink centers, the venison along with some grilled shrimp were positioned on the plate with such precision that it conjured images of a Japanese rock garden. Drizzled over it was a rich caramelized sauce, dotted with leaves of broccoli sprout for accents of color. The accompanying “satellite” dish to the venison was a civet made of pork with taro puree forming a little ball, sitting in a bowl of wonderfully rich dark wine sauce.
As for desserts, describing it fully would merit a full-length article on its own, so will not go into it in too much detail, but I will mention that there is a pre-dessert course before the main dessert course. The pre-dessert consists of a plate with five bite-sized morsels surrounding a single spoonful of ice cream. The main dessert course is another extravaganza, with five distinct dishes ranging from refreshing jelly and fruit elements to rich chocolate confections, offering an amazing contrast of colors, textures, flavors and temperatures. Along with coffee or tea comes a final serving of delicate wafers and chocolates to linger over, providing a perfect closure to the extensive dinner.
The spectacularly beautiful and artistic dining experience at Pierre Gagnaire is perfect for celebrating a special occasion with a loved one, or for sharing a leisurely and memorable dinner with a group. The restaurant has 60 seats, with two private dining rooms for a party of 6 or 4.
ANA Intercontinental Hotel Tokyo 36th Floor
1-12-33 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0052
Tel: 03-3505-1185 (reservations 9 a.m.-7:30 p.m.)
LUNCH 11:30-14:00 (Last order) / DINNER 18:00-21:00 (Last order)
Closed every Monday.
(From Jan 7)
LUNCH 12:00-14:00 (Last order) / DINNER 18:00-21:00 (Last order)
Closed every Monday and Tuesday.