restaurant review

Les Saisons at Imperial Hotel Tokyo - A legend in the making

By Maki Yasuda

Les Saisons is the flagship French restaurant of the Imperial Hotel Tokyo, arguably the most prestigious hotel in Japan, founded in 1890 at the direction of the imperial palace. Brilliant chef Thierry Voisin took the helm of its kitchen in 2005, and has truly done the hotel proud. Having come to Les Saisons straight from Boyer Les Crayeres, the multi-Michelin-starred mecca for gourmands in Reims, he has brought with him the best of Europe and merged it with the dining culture of Japan with finesse, earning him a place in the Michelin Tokyo book as well.

The same year that Voisin arrived, Les Saisons underwent major refurbishment to assume its current lavish form. Elegant and warm but noble and stately, it is a comfortable setting for groups of business executives, but works equally well for couples celebrating special occasions, or those just seeking to splurge on fine dining. The service is friendly and personal, as is the charming Voisin himself, who I had the pleasure of being greeted by.

Voisin’s cuisine occupies a magical space between classic and contemporary, and every garnish and touch of sauce has a reason to be there. There is a masterful continuity running through the course, each course like a movement of a symphony that comes together as one great performance. I admit that I so thoroughly immersed myself in the enjoyment of the dinner that I didn’t take much notes, but such is the trait of outstanding food that I can vividly recall each and every dish.

Starting off with an ample glass of champagne, we were served a dainty amuse-bouche consisting of a single mini ball of a croquette atop a silver spoon. “Be careful of the filling of liquid cheese,” the server told us. Indeed, it was not just some stretchy mozzarella he was referring to, but cheese with the consistency of soup that bursts in your mouth from the scrumptious morsel, like a xiaolongbao. The cold hors-d’ œuvre of asparagus mousse was refreshing with a glass of beautiful crisp Sancerre. The following salad of queen crab with beets was sophisticatedly arranged on a jet-black plate - a genial nod to Japanese cuisine - and lovely with a glass of exemplary Meursault. The pan-seared foie-gras was cooked to perfection, a good reminder for me of why people insist on eating this stuff. The foie-gras was impressively fresh, and no wonder, as it is flown in from France every week to ensure optimal freshness.

Next came a welcoming simple grilled Japanese sea perch with a light foam sauce that called for full use of the sauce spoon. The meat main was chicken stuffed with morels, a recipe that Voisin inherited from Les Crayeres, paired with a Marsannay that was a prime example of a Bourgogne red that is young but delicious.

The climax of the dinner was the black truffle pie (see photo below), also a specialité from Les Crayeres, and one of the most remarkable pastry creations ever invented. This is usually not part of the course, but it is on Les Saisons' à la carte as their “must have” dish. It consists of a whole black truffle topped with fois-gras that is encased in pie pastry, sitting on the plate in a pool of dark truffle sauce. It is an absolute joy to cut open the puffy golden ball to reveal the dark inner riches and release its earthy aroma, and each bite is truly one to savor. (And savor it one should, at a price of 24,000 yen. It is also possible to order a smaller version).

Dessert was a treat for the eyes as well as palate: perfectly resembling a pop-art cherry, a delicate bright red candy bauble packed with light fluffy mousse studded with liqueur-steeped cherries. The crunch of the outer shell with the cold cream was perfectly balanced.

Over petit-fours and tea at the end of the dinner, I chatted with executive sommelier Minoru Wakui, who has been with the Imperial for close to 40 years. He showed me the wine list, which is very thorough, and also unique in having selections from every part of the world. He explained that such is the Imperial way in caring for guests, that they do not want to offend anyone by not having a wine from their country.

Wakui said that one of the best times to come to Les Saisons is during truffle season from late September to February, when they have a special all-truffle menu. The truffle pie during that time becomes an even more spectacular experience, releasing a wonderful intense fragrance that fills the whole room. He also recommended the salad with truffles, for which the truffles are hand-torn, not wimpy shavings. Truffle lovers, book early, as many Tokyo gourmets already have the Imperial truffles marked in their calendar.

Les Saisons (81-3-3539-8087) Imperial Hotel Tokyo, Main Bldg
1-1, Uchisaiwaicho 1-chome, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8558

Breakfast: 7 a.m. - 10 a.m. Lunch: 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. Dinner: 5:30 p.m. - 10 p.m

Lunch: 6,800 yen - Dinner: 16,800 yen - (Tax inclusive) *A 10% service charge will be added to your bill.

Seats: 94 (plus four private dining salons)

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