Hidden from street view behind an imposing silvery office building, Narisawa, which has three stars from Michelin, is unassuming.
Featuring very little other than walls in plain white and dark wood, the décor is not merely minimalist, it is stark.
But what is lacking in atmospheric embellishment is more than made up for by the beauty of the food served. It is not for nothing that chef, Yoshihiro Narisawa, once called his restaurant “Les Creations de Narisawa.”
Upon being seated, we were presented with a porcelain pot on a plate, decorated with delicately portrayed monotone flowers and a crescent moon and surrounded by fresh leaves and the bright orange calyx of a Chinese lantern plant.
There is something resting on top that looks like a mound of butter.
It turns out it is actually the bread that is to accompany our meal and it is being fermented right on our table. Sure enough, as the meal progresses, the bread rises to become much bigger than it initially was and eventually, it is taken away to be baked in the kitchen.
The theme of our meal is the forest, which means every dish is presented as a re-creation of something from the forest.
The first course really looks like something out of a forest – on top of a tray that resembles a thinly cut log there is a small cup that looks like a hollowed tree trunk, a sprinkling of green and black powder interspersed with leaves and something that looks like tree bark. It is beautiful but does not resemble anything edible.
We are told to drink the water first, perhaps to purify our taste buds.
The green and black powder is okara, or soy pulp, representing the soil and green of the forest. It covers a layer of tofu yogurt that smoothes the dryness of the soy pulp. The bark-like sprigs are fried burdock skin.
The clear soup that follows features Okinawan ingredients, such as a kind of potato that is only found on the southern island, first mashed, then reassembled into a fluffy fried ball. The broth is made from sea snake. We are asked whether we would like to see a sea snake and a specimen is duly brought to the table. It is black and ugly and does not exactly whet one’s appetite. But the broth is truly special.
Although the theme is the forest, it doesn’t stop chef Narisawa from serving a dish of sea urchin and botan shrimp in a yuzu vinegar sauce. It is served in the shell of a sea urchin and topped with petite purple flowers.
The bread is ready and we are back to the forest theme. Steaming hot and aromatic, it comes with whipped butter covered in powdered spinach and olive and made to resemble moss-covered soil.
The next dish – squid in a black dressing of paprika, olive oil and lemon juice – returns us to the ocean. The dressing is freeze-dried into a powder and presented in what looks like a steaming bowl, but is in fact freezing. The powder turns into a black sauce when sprinkled over the squid.
What followed was perhaps the most beautiful and un-food-like dish I have ever seen. Kamonasu eggplant from Kyoto topped with pink and red flowers and covered in a transparent sheet of gelatinized tomato sauce. It resembles a festival mikoshi or palanquin, and is aptly called Gion, after the Kyoto district famous for its geisha.
Almost too pretty to eat, this creation is as soothing to the palate as it is to the eyes.
The next three dishes – langoustine in a vegetable garden, hamo (daggertooth pike conger) with peach and string beans and grilled pigeon – were equally tasty and beautiful to look at.
The two desserts were a passion fruit and mango concoction and peach in champagne. By the time the coffee arrived and the dessert trolley was rolled around, it was nearly 2:00.
Everything served at Narisawa may not be to everyone’s liking, but the creativity and care put into the preparation and presentation of each dish will certainly challenge anyone’s notion of what constitutes a memorable meal.