At the end of a tiny alley in Minato-ku, Tokyo, lies a small piece of France. Across a Buddhist temple and open since 2010, L’Effervescence brings a Japanese interpretation of French cuisine. At the helm of this restaurant is Shinobu Namae, born and raised in Tokyo, but trained by some of the very best modern day chefs.
Chef Namae originally intended to become a journalist rather than a cook. As part of his student life, he took a part time job in a local Japanese restaurant and eventually stayed in the culinary business. After a few years he advanced to sous chef and was sent to New York to gather experience and inspiration. It was on this trip that he came across an eclectic vegetable dish of Michel Bras in one of his books. Chef Namae was so moved by this dish, he decided to take up contact with Michel Bras who was just opening his restaurant in Hokkaido at that time. Although he had never cooked any French dish before, Chef Namae ended up working five years for Michel Bras. He performed so well that Heston Blumenthal allowed him to come and work for him in England. After a year as pastry chef at the Fat Duck, Chef Namae returned to Tokyo to open up L’Effervescence and become executive chef for the very first time. As a tribute to his own culinary exploration, a copy of the book by Michel Bras stands in the lounge area of the restaurant, signed with a personal note by the legendary Chef himself.
The training Chef Namae enjoyed is easy to recognise on the plate by the use of molecular techniques behind his dishes. However, the respect for tradition and nature based on Japanese Shintoism remains a vital element. A good example is the use of all body parts of the ayu, a seasonal Japanese fresh water fish. Next to the body of the fish, both the head and guts are served as well. The first is dried into a crunchy bite whereas the latter is used as the basic ingredient for a consommé to accompany the dish.
All through the dishes, creativity and tradition are carefully balanced. The dinner menu contains French classics such as foie gras and a cheese plate but all are part of a broader setting: classic yet refined and with some playful elements. For instance, not all olives you receive with your drinks are the same and in between two courses there is a modern version of green tea that tricks the eye and tongue. Another creative experiment is the interpretation of apple pie served in a fast-food box, down to its fourteenth version and accompanied by a poem written by the Chef himself.
To match all these flavours in the glass, L’Effervescence has made a distinctive choice for lower tannin wines. Most are biologically grown and of French origin, although there are some excellent organic Japanese wines that fit right into the menu. In addition, some dishes are accompanied by Japanese sake, a combination which at times easily surpasses standard wine.
All things considered, L’Effervescence brings a very refreshing interpretation of French cuisine. Through a Japanese lens and with some new ingredients, traditional dishes become even more refined. Given only the short time Chef Namae and his team have been around, this restaurant is definitely a place to keep an eye on.
Written by Sebastiaan