Once past the bustling commercial complex that is Tokyo Midtown and the imposing National Art Center on a side street to the left, there is little to entice pedestrian traffic down Gaien Higashi-dori, the street that connects Roppongi to Aoyama.
Gallery Ma in the Toto building, which holds interesting exhibits strictly for the initiated – such as a show that was on this summer of architect Kenzo Tange’s photographs of his work in progress – and the bookstore just below it, are a draw for architecture enthusiasts.
And the Toto showroom is itself a pleasure to stroll around in, although there is a limit to how much time I can spend looking at bathtubs and bathroom fixtures, since I am neither building a house nor renovating.
But now that I have, belatedly, discovered Restaurant Feu (レストランフー), I suspect there will be more occasions to visit the quieter side of Gaien Higashi-dori.
An elegant French restaurant just opposite the Nogizaka subway station, Feu serves creative but not too overwhelming food in a sophisticated yet relaxed atmosphere.
We visited for the first time on a cold but sunny afternoon and were greeted warmly by the professional and friendly staff.
The main dining room is light and airy, with tall windows in the front providing a view of the street life outside.
Our table was at the other end of the room, but nonetheless, the windows allowed very pleasant sunlight to stream into the room, giving the place an airy, almost Parisian feel that is unusual in Tokyo.
To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting to like the meal at Feu, given that it was billed as a restaurant serving dishes with traditional French cuisine as their base and run by a chef who trained at the famous Côte d’Or and Hotel Albert 1er.
However, chef Hiroyuki Matsumoto (46), who has been head chef at Feu since 2006, knows that tastes have shifted away from the heavy cream and butter soaked meals of yesteryear and offers fare that is more widely appreciated by contemporary diners, particularly in Japan.
Our Y3,000 lunch course began with a tiny kikuimo (Jerusalem artichoke) potage infused with truffle oil, which was lighter than it might sound, with just the right amount of kick from the truffle.
Then came a beautiful salmon and dandelion salad, which was the highlight of the meal for me.
Chef Matsumoto cooks the salmon using a technique pioneered in France known as cuisson sous vide. Essentially, this means the salmon is vacuum-sealed in plastic, submerged in a water bath that is heated to 65 degrees centigrade and kept at that temperature for a few hours.
Prepared thus, the salmon was tender and tasty throughout, with a texture like raw or smoked salmon but without the latter’s overpowering saltiness or smokiness.
Dressed with bright green leaves and marigolds, and served with a side of chicory salad and an ultra-thin galette, the salmon appetizer was easy on both the palate and the eye.
Our main dish was roasted quail with a sabayon sauce on a bed of risotto. The sauce was not at all heavy and the quail was roasted to a perfect crispiness.
Dessert was another pleasant surprise – estragon ice cream in a strawberry soup topped with a nut-encrusted cracker. The crisp and nutty cracker made a great companion to the light and flavorful ice cream.
To accompany this great value lunch, I chose a glass of the Chateau Bernadotte 2004, a very drinkable wine, which was one of two red wines offered by the glass.
It could have been that we were lucky to come across a lunch menu at Feu that was not as heavy as most French meals tend to be. I admit I slightly cringed when the maître d’ suggested the house specialty – beef in a red wine sauce – which I invariably find too rich to finish.
But given the success of our first meal at Feu, I might even be tempted to give that dish a try the next time I visit.