Im­pe­rial Tokyo

DINE and Destinations - - IMPERIAL TOKYO -

Ja­pan’s famed city is at once mod­ern and tra­di­tional, and al­ways re­gal By Adam Wax­man

Be­neath Tokyo’s neon sky­line is a utopia of fash­ion and gas­tron­omy. Each neigh­bour­hood, a unique labyrinth of shop­ping and eating, from un­der­ground food gar­dens to ver­ti­cal cityscapes, of­fers ev­ery­thing un­der the sun. A map of Tokyo’s trans­porta­tion sys­tem looks like a mag­ni­fied mi­crochip, and one taxi fare can cost as much as a suc­cu­lent wagyu steak. “Where to stay” is key. From the myr­iad op­tions, I look to where the Queen of Eng­land has stayed, and go there—to the sto­ried Im­pe­rial Ho­tel.

In­side the art deco styled Old Im­pe­rial Bar, I si­dle up for a frothy Mt. Fuji cock­tail with a cherry on top, rep­re­sent­ing the iconic snow­capped moun­tain and the ris­ing sun. It was once re­ferred to as the Wright Im­pe­rial Ho­tel, be­cause of its Frank Lloyd Wright de­sign, but a struc­tural ren­o­va­tion in 1967 gave it a mod­ern tweak. To­day the ho­tel is a vir­tual mu­seum of art deco. It’s a sur­prise to see relics in the main lobby, as well as fur­ni­ture, paint­ings and rooms de­signed or in­spired by Wright. There is even a Frank Lloyd Wright suite. A favourite of celebri­ties, the Im­pe­rial is home to many firsts. Be­neath the ho­tel is Ja­pan’s first shop­ping ar­cade, of­fer­ing Ja­panese arts and tra­di­tional items from se­lect shops. It is also where the “buf­fet” was in­tro­duced to the Ja­panese as “Vik­ing” style din­ing. Over­look­ing the grounds of the Im­pe­rial Palace on one side, it is within walk­ing dis­tance from the Ginza shop­ping area on the other, and houses 13 restau­rants.

Dap­per, uni­formed-wait staff bow at La Brasserie; ex­cept for this cour­tesy, we could very well be in Paris. Toulouse Lautrec-style paint­ings on the wall, velour ban­quettes, white table­cloths, pol­ished sil­ver­ware and min­eral wa­ters from France, Italy and Ja­pan set the stage for the spe­cial menu served to Queen El­iz­a­beth II. Scot­tish smoked salmon is sliced table­side and dou­ble con­sommé is a twice, re-fil­tered clear and ro­bust con­flu­ence of chicken and beef stock. When The Queen came to Tokyo and stayed at the Im­pe­rial Ho­tel, the chef learned of her favourite foods and cre­ated prawn wrapped in sole, and draped it in a light grat­iné sauce of fresh cream and stock made from prawns. Queenly fare, in­deed. An­other orig­i­nal menu item was made for the Rus­sian opera singer Feodor Chali­apin, who craved steak but suf­fered a bad toothache. The chef made a very soft filet by soak­ing it in onion juice and sautéing it with onions. Like Chali­apin, I rel­ish ev­ery ten­der morsel of this uniquely textured and aro­matic filet, hap­pily lost in trans­la­tion be­tween oishii and très mag­nifique. For dessert, our waiter, a proud in­ter­locu­tor, pre­pares flam­ing cher­ries ju­bilee with res­o­lute fo­cus and care.

Jack­ets are re­quired, and pro­vided, at the pop­u­lar Les Saisons, where ser­vice is im­pec­ca­ble. Both Ja­panese and French cuisines re­quire metic­u­lous de­tail—the two marry well—and flour­ish with the vir­tu­os­ity of renowned French chef Thierry Voisin. Paté of wild duck with quince en­robed in liver with an onion purée and poached pear is a rich med­ley of bold flavours and tex­tures. Bril­liant shell­fish sauce height­ens crisply seared red tile­fish perched atop a sea­weed but­ter-scented potato and gar­lic sea urchin. Re­lent­lessly court­ing our palates, the chef presents an as­sort­ment of cheese, fol­lowed by del­i­cate pra­line mille-feuille and a lus­cious scoop of hazel­nut mousse. We are be­daz­zled.

Wak­ing up with fa­mil­iar com­forts and ameni­ties, I gaze out the win­dow at the hus­tle and bus­tle be­low. In the 1920’s, Art Deco emerged as an em­brace of mod­ern in­dus­try and tech­nol­ogy. Within the dizzy­ing in­ten­sity of this 21st Cen­tury mega­lopo­lis, there is ease and respite in the Im­pe­rial Ho­tel’s em­brace of this clas­sic mo­tif.

Culi­nary Art at Les Saisons Les Saisons Gold Flecked Grouse En­tree Cher­ries Ju­bilee at La Brasserie The Din­ing Room at Les Saisons­pe­ri­al­ho­ www.ilove­

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