Whether you are looking to impress your partner or entertain a business associate, L’Embellir in the heart of Aoyama would be a good choice for several reasons.
To begin with, it is conveniently located just a few blocks from the Omotesando crossing on the narrow boutique-lined lane that leads to the Nezu Museum – a walk that never fails to provide a glimpse of some of the most creatively decked up Tokyoites around.
Even if you don’t wear Prada (and I most certainly don’t) the sight of the fashion-house’s iconic Herzog and de Meuron-designed flagship store down the lane and all the top designer names that come into sight along the way to the restaurant are bound to put you in sufficiently snobby mood to appreciate the elegant yet comfortable decor that greets you as you make your way inside.
The service is smooth yet friendly and the food is both imaginative and comforting.
On the evening we visited in May, dinner began with a peculiar looking black cracker, which turned out to be a galette of nori (dried seaweed) from the Ariake Sea and conte cheese. It was crisp, light and different.
This was followed by a gorgeous spring garden of flowers and vegetables, in the middle of which sat a crisply fried ayu, which is known as sweetfish in English, but is actually slightly bitter. The ayu was accompanied by an avocado and aubergine dip.
Unfortunately, the flowers were not of the edible type, but the ayu was simply scrumptious, with just the right amount of kick from its bitterness tempered flavorfully by the dip.
Like any self-respecting French chef in Japan, Naoto Kishimoto, the chef and proprietor of L’Embellir, made his pilgrimage to France and trained at establishments such as La Promenade in the Loire Valley and Faucher in Paris.
Kishimoto’s creative spirit brings up some interesting combinations of flavors, such as in the wasabi gelée of crunchy taira-gai (pen shell clam) combined with a selection of spring vegetables, which was perfectly accented by a grilled cucumber sauce.
And as would be expected in any restaurant of a certain standard, the presentation was as pleasing to the eye as the food was to the palate.
After the taira-gai, came thinly sliced asparagus with a carbonara sauce, which was creamy but not heavy.
Then came marinated aubergine, uni (sea urchin) and tomato in a gelée of soft shell turtle soup, grilled okoze (stonefish) with a celery and grapefruit étuvée (stewed), a tender slice of wild duck with salted kelp and rosemary, followed by dessert.
Although each dish was quite small, it all added up to a lot of food.
Yet, somehow, miraculously, I was able to finish the desserts of yoghurt sorbet with rice soufflé, followed by a stunning concoction of mango, lychee and loquat, which was aptly named “dessert exotique,” as well as the small cakes and kouglof, a dry fruit-filled cake from Alsace, which is said to have been a favorite of Marie Antoinette and is one of Kishimoto’s signature cakes.
Kishimoto also has a bistro next door, called Bis, where he serves tapas and a wide selection of á la carte dishes.