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Quintessence in Tokyo, Japan - 3 Michelin stars

Rating: 91.
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Extraordinary (96-100)
Outstanding (93-95)
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Tokyo currently has twelve three-star restaurants, of which four have held this accolade since the first edition of the Michelin guide Tokyo was published in 2007 (2008 guide). One of these four is Quintessence, located in Tokyo's Shinagawa ward/district, a difficult but not impossible restaurant to book. When I was in Tokyo I stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel and this was one of the first restaurants on my wish list that the excellent concierge service managed to book. Executive chef at Quintessence is Shuzo Kishida (b.1974) who originally started his training in Japan in the early nineties but moved to Paris in 2003 to work at Pascal Barbot's l'Astrance (then 2 Michelin stars) where he became sous chef the following year. At the end of 2005, Shuzo Kishida returned to Japan and not long after, he opened Quintessence.

Quintessence is generally open for lunch and dinner from Monday through Saturday, although usually they're closed on Mondays twice a month and occasionally they don't serve lunch on Thursdays. So it's best to check their website for the latest opening hours. The restaurant offers a multi-course "carte blanche" menu which is priced at ¥11,340 (£78) for 7 courses at lunchtime and at ¥23,760 (£164) for 13 courses at dinner. I had lunch with my husband at Quintessence in March 2018.

Lunch started with a chicken soup flavoured with chanterelle mushrooms, various "sansai" spring vegetables, and chopped fresh herbs. An elegant soup with lovely concentrated chicken flavours and a nice crunch from the vegetables.

First course of the tasting menu was a light goat's milk bavarois, simply served with some golden-green olive oil from Provence, lily bulb scales, macadamia nut slivers, and a light seasoning of sea salt. A delightful flavour pairing; the olive oil blended in wonderfully with the creamy bavarois and the sea salt lifted all the flavours. 

Second course was an original and refined take on a classic Peking duck pancake. Served on a thin pancake was a rectangular slice of tender duck meat, followed by a thick slice of duck foie gras, garnished with sticks of fresh cucumber, sweet potato crisps and caramelised hazelnuts. Superb foie gras, with a meltingly soft texture, complemented wonderfully by the crunch and elegant sweetness of the potato crisps and hazelnuts and the cucumber lended just the right touch of freshness. A sublime dish (instructed to be eaten by hand) with a fantastic build-up of flavours and textures and a great  balance between surprise/playfulness and finesse/profoundness.

This was followed by Sawara aka Japanese Spanish mackerel, a seasonal fish available from late autumn till late spring. The sawara was cooked whole before being cut and served with a simple sauce of tomato and baby leeks seasoned with yuzu. Also on the plate was some cabbage topped with an intensely flavoured black garlic sauce. Beautifully cooked sawara with deliciously crisp skin and the "steak" cut had a wonderful mi cuit centre. Flavourwise the sawara offered a rich but not oily taste experience (more tuna-like than mackerel) which went well with the accompaniments. Overall a good dish but I was not keen on the yuzu seasoning and I did not find it refined enough. 

Fourth course was expertly cooked "domestic" pork with incredibly tender and succulent meat, served with peanut and celery fritters topped with shredded cabbage and spinach, and finished with a Vin Jaune sauce. An excellent dish with distinctive flavours that worked well together, the peanuts bringing a lovely extra flavour and texture to the plate, but once again a dish that could do with more refinement. 

The meal was concluded with two desserts. First up was a coconut flavoured mousse served with pistachio nut oil and a coffee sauce; a nice combination, although a bit high on the bitters. This was followed by a delicious meringue ice cream (made with milk and Italian meringue) with a thin coating of a concentrated seawater sauce, the latter creating a salted caramel-like flavour effect.

Quintessence offers quite a restrained cuisine, that is not about decadence but about modesty and impeccably sourced ingredients. Yes, the quality of the produce was undeniably outstanding, but however marvellous the ingredients were, none of them were lifted to true haute cuisine status by the chef and both the fish and meat courses lacked finesse and complexity. Simplicity and moderation may be highly valued in the Japanese context, but throughout the meal I waited for 3-star brilliance to arrive, and it never did. That disappointment aside, Quintessence still delivered an excellent meal with tasty and thoughtful dishes and I especially enjoyed the clever simplicity of the goat's milk bavarois and the meringue ice cream. I had a good time, but altogether the meal did not reflect a 3-star experience.

6-7-29, Kita-Shinagawa, Shinagawa-ku,

Posted 07-06-2018


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