At the risk of sounding slightly elitist, I must confess that I see hotel restaurants as places to be avoided. This is not only because hotel restaurants tend to be overpriced, they often serve uninspired food in anodyne surroundings. Only if I am staying overnight in unfamiliar territory and am desperate for a bite before retiring for the day, or need a foolproof meeting place, do I take the “easy option” of dining in-house.
So, I was pleasantly surprised when we dined at Café California, on the ground floor of the Sheraton Miyako Hotel in Tokyo. We chose it for purely practical reasons — because we needed to park our car relatively close by. Among the candidates, Café California had received high marks in online commentary from diners.
I wasn’t expecting much when we entered the hotel lobby. For one thing, the name did not inspire confidence. A restaurant describing itself as serving “fusion cuisine” and calling itself “Café California” immediately brings to mind bland California rolls and Thai chicken pizza.
Secondly, Shirokane, where the Sheraton Miyako is located, is not the most accessible or happening part of town.
But belying its run-of-the-mill name, the dishes at Café California were, on the whole, an inspired mix of French and Japanese flavors, and the atmosphere, service and prices were just right for a casual Sunday dinner.
There is a prix fixe course for Y4,800 and a steak course for Y6,800, but we opted for the French-Japonais course for Y6,500, which sounded more intriguing.
After an unexciting though perfectly acceptable amuse bouche of salmon rilette on dry toast, we were pleasantly surprised by an exquisitely arranged cold appetizer of swordfish with pickled vegetables, a few chrysanthemum petals and a leek-based sauce. The sour vegetables complimented the swordfish beautifully while the sauce added a piquancy that awakened the tastebuds.
What followed was the most unexpected part of the course meal– a leek soup served in a champagne glass. The consommé had been infused with the leek to enhance the soup’s flavor, which was superb, and the chef topped the amber-colored soup with a soft meringue of egg white and a thin slice of grilled cheese. This unusual interpretation of consommé was both surprising and inspired but most importantly, delicious.
The main course was a minced beef patty, which may sound rather mundane, but this one was topped with a generous slice of foie gras.
The carbohydrate course that came next was definitely worth the added calories. It began when a young lady rolled over a massive wheel of parmigiano cheese. She then filled the hollowed center of the cheese round with a plain risotto, quickly sliced off bits of the cheese, which had become soft from the warm Arborio rice, and cut it expertly into the rice.
The risotto was excellent, with just the right amount of cheese. But what made it special was the fuki-miso provided as a condiment on the side.
Fuki is a wild vegetable much loved in Japan for its slightly bitter taste. The fuki was mixed with miso to make a bitter, sweet and savory paste, which, when mixed into the risotto parmigiano, made for a uniquely Japanese flavor.
The restaurant may be called Café California but the dishes served are much more sophisticated than its name would suggest. And while the décor is nothing to write home about, Café California offers a comfortable environment in which to have a pleasant meal.
The next time we need a restaurant with convenient parking in the Shirokane area, or even if we just want a casual but high quality dining experience, Café California will definitely be one of the first candidates on our list.
Address : Ground floor, Sheraton Miyako Hotel Tokyo
Phone : 0120-95-6661
Website : https://www.miyakohotels.ne.jp/tokyo/restaurant/list/cafe/lunch_test.html
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.