By contrast, its French restaurants are a lot less extraordinary in that they mostly operate on a similar scale as elsewhere. One exception is L’Alchimiste, which is no bigger than some of the Kaiseki restaurants in the city.
Located in a quiet area not too far from Roppongi, L’Alchimiste is a small restaurant run by a couple: Kenichi Yamamoto looks after the food, and Makiko Itsuka the wines, and service. The handful of tables that make up the restaurant are simply dressed, and the look of the dining room bears some resemblance to Le Bigarrade’s. The decoration is plain, and the careful use of space emblematic of Tokyo: the wines, for instance, are stored in wine fridges hidden in a cupboard by the door. The content of these fridges reflects a trend for natural, and artisan wines that has taken Tokyo by storm recently. This means that the wine pairing for the menu is most interesting, and features a number of wines that you don’t often see outside of France.
The service here is some of the warmest, most kind, and friendly we have had in Tokyo. Surely, the chef’s partner looks after the room alone, but it almost feels like you are eating at a friend’s house, not at a restaurant. This, alongside the intimate atmosphere of L’Alchimiste makes it a special place in Tokyo.
When it comes to the cooking itself, the cuisine here is based on good quality products, and combinations that sometimes push the boundaries. With Mr Yamamoto having spent time with Nicolas Le Bec, Michel del Burgo, and Inaki Aizpitarte, he has an impressive CV to say the least. Whilst the food is not as daring as that of Le Châteaubriand, or as classical as del Burgo’s, it feels like Yamamoto has found a middle-way between these, and serves a cuisine that is very much spontaneous, and evolves with the daily changing menu.
With a menu that is updated every single day, and risky combinations, Yamamoto takes a lot of risks. A canapé in the form of an éclair filled with foie gras cream is shockingly good. The pastry is exemplary, and would not look out of place in the finest Parisian pastry shops. The foie gras cream is deeply flavoured, without feeling heavy. The combination of textures, and flavours here is remarkably well judged, and makes this quite an exciting entry to the menu.
Much more successful is black pudding, which is served as a rectangular block. Seasoned perfectly, and paired with red garnishes that all add acidic, fresh touches to the comparatively delicate flavour of the black pudding, this is a prime example of the cooking’s more experimental side. Given the combination of flavours, and textures, this is a dish showing that breaking the so-called boundaries clearly pays off.
Yamamoto’s cuisine shows a simplicity, and sense of restraint that make it a joy to discover alongside the great wines served here. One such example is scallop, which comes simply in its shell, served with a puree, raw vegetables, and some micro-herbs. The quality, and cooking of the scallop are exemplary, and therefore do not require anything else. This presentation brings back memories of dishes that showcase scallops in a similarly sober manner at the Sportsman, or Hedone.
L’Alchimiste is a charming restaurant if there ever was one. Its food is simple, adventurous, and based on good produce. The cooking, the tiny team, minimalist décor, and warm ambience, mean that this is a restaurant that really should not be overlooked. There are very few restaurants in Tokyo that make you feel this welcome.