Big In Japan
Christian Tate travels across two continents for a meal at Gordon Ramsay at Conrad Tokyo and comes back wishing he’d stayed for dessert
There’s a certain irony in the fact that I spend an inordinate amount of time in London seeking out the perfect sushi, yet after travelling 10,000 miles to Tokyo I find myself enjoying my very first meal at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant – particularly since I live within walking distance of not one, but nine establishments under the management of Ramsay.
Here at Resource we have made no secret of the fact that we love this man – he’s one of our favourite chefs and we’re glued to his TV shows, even if we had to watch the slaughter of his two pigs, Trinny and Susannah, from behind the sofa. Resource highlighted the opening of Gordon Ramsay at Conrad Tokyo way back when, so it was inevitable that, finding myself staying at the hotel a year later, I would book myself a table and see what all the fuss is about.
The Conrad Tokyo occupies the top 10 floors of one of several gleaming new skyscrapers overlooking the bay in the city’s Shiodome district – it’s a little off the beaten track, but no more than a short taxi-ride away from the bright lights. Stepping out of the lift into the 28th floor lobby, with its huge triple-height windows, it’s impossible not to stop and stare for a moment to take in the view – Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge spreading out across the bay and a myriad of twinkling lights in the distance. Down the hall and through Cerise, the brasserie which also comes under the Gordon Ramsay banner, the view from the restaurant is no less impressive, though perhaps a little less romantic – a wall of glittering skyscrapers stretches from floor to ceiling with hundreds of tiny identical offices on show like a Warhol print.
The décor of the restaurant is contemporary but cosy, with warm dark wood, soft white linen and subdued lighting creating a comfortable atmosphere that contrasts well with the cold hard steel and glass on display outside. I’m told that Gordon was involved in every stage of the development of the restaurant and I can certainly see him giving his seal of approval to this location.
So having settled ourselves in and admired the view, both inside and out, my guest and I were treated to a tasty amuse bouche while we perused the menu. I was a little worried at this point as I half expected to be presented with some terrible fusion menu – you see I’m a bit of a food fascist when it comes to mixing and matching influences and ingredients. I’m all for experimentation, but I’d rather visit a restaurant that believes in cooking great food with good ingredients rather than making some bold culinary statement – thankfully Gordon seems to agree with me. The ingredients may be local, but the cuisine here is unashamedly French.
Having eventually made my selection from a menu that may just about have contained all of my favourite foods, it was time to tuck in to a small but perfectly formed serving of delicious lentil soup with truffle shavings while we waited for our appetisers to arrive. Having polished this off perhaps a little too quickly (it was delicious though – did I mention that?) my appetite was truly whetted for what would come next. My dining companion had opted for pan-fried pied de cochon with ham hock and morels, more truffle shavings and a hollandaise sauce, whereas I had been sorely tempted by both the pan-fried sea scallops and the ravioli of duck confit but, eventually, after much deliberation, settled on my old favourite, a ballotine of foie gras with Sauternes jelly, artichokes à la grecque with szechuan pepper brioche.
I must confess to having a particular weakness for foie gras, but on tasting my companion’s pied de cochon I thought that perhaps I’d made the wrong choice this time; not that the foie wasn’t truly tasty, with the sauternes jelly being the perfect accompaniment, but that little pig’s foot was absolutely delicious – cooked to perfection with a melt-in-the-mouth texture, and the ham hock providing a distinctive meaty flavour – although I couldn’t help spare a little thought for Trinny and Susannah at this point!
Next up was the main course, and I’d had similar trouble making my mind up here, too – with a menu that includes oven roasted pigeon with braised cabbage and a port jus, and roast loin of Kirishima pork with sage and onion, anyone who knows me would tell you that I’d certainly have a dilemma choosing.
Thankfully there was a third way – roast fillet of New Zealand beef with braised ox cheeks, horseradish pommes purée and a truffle Madeira jus. Sound tasty? It certainly was. And despite being a voracious meat-eater my favourite part was the horseradish mash – light, fluffy and tangy, but subtle too – adding an extra dimension of flavour to a simple, classic dish. My fellow diner chose wisely too, opting for Scottish salmon two ways – pan-fried with basil ravioli, and a confit with paysanne of vegetables and basil velouté.
This salmon was truly terrific with a texture unlike any other I have tasted – smooth and tender, flaking apart, but yet still pink and barely cooked – delicious.
Now one thing I must say is that the dishes are beautifully presented, which gives an illusion of tiny neat packages presented on the plate, however the portions are in reality pretty generous – both myself and my companion were too full to contemplate another course (well, OK, we contemplated it, but decided that a cocktail in the Conrad bar was the healthier option!). It’s a shame really, because looking over the menu again now, back home in London, the hot chocolate fondant with seasonal berries or marinated pineapple ravioli would certainly go down a treat.
Also on offer here is Ramsay’s trademark chef’s table located in a prime position, backstage in the kitchens. The head chef here is Andy Cook, one of Gordon’s protegés who has been shipped in from London along with other key staff such as the restaurant manager and sommelier to make sure that the dining experience lives up to the standards set at Gordon’s other restaurants around the world. But if there’s one thing that’s missing from Gordon Ramsay at Conrad Tokyo then that is inevitably going to be Gordon Ramsay himself.
With restaurants in London, New York and Tokyo, and several TV shows on the go, it’s a worry that Gordon is spreading himself ever more thinly across the globe. However, if he can maintain the quality of food, ambience and service that I have experienced in Tokyo across all of his restaurants then Mr Ramsay is going to have a lot of happy customers whether they can catch a glimpse of the man himself or not.
Now, I must go and book myself a flight to New York – I’m ready for my dessert!