With over two weeks left till our official vacation, Justin and I decided to arrange a short two-night break in Tokyo last weekend, and it was absolutely amazing. We checked into our favorite stacation spot on Friday afternoon and lounged in the room before getting ready for dinner.
This time around, we wanted to explore untapped food scene of Tokyo, something that had good reviews, but hasn’t made the popular “Top 10” lists compiled by expats, tourists or famous influencers. We picked Amour – one Michelin-starred restaurant located in the detached cozy house in Ebisu. “Bonsoir. Bienvenue dans notre restaurant”, we heard as the maitre d’hotel opened the doors to greet us. We were asked to wait for a few minutes on the first floor.
I had just enough time to take a few photos of the action-packed kitchen through the large glass windows and meet the chef Yusuke Goto, when we were escorted upstairs to our table. The interior featured elegant restraint: bare white walls, classic music playing in the background, white tablecloths and just a few pieces of vintage furniture as an accent. Even though it was way past the sunset when we arrived, I imagined how the afternoon light would flood the space via the floor-to-ceiling balcony windows, while the lush garden outside created a beautiful view any season of the year. With limited space (only 5 tables and one private dining room), it definitely felt quite intimate – like we were visiting someone’s home. Albeit, the ambiance is quite refined – ideal for a date or a special celebration.
Amour is a French restaurant helmed by a young chef Yusuke Goto who was awarded a Michelin star in 2013 after having opened Amour for only 6 months and has maintained it ever since. Chef Goto received his culinary education in France and honed his skills in restaurants like Christian Etienne and Relais de la Poste in France, as well as Quintessence, Ginza L’ecrin and Otowa Restaurant in Japan.
Amour has a unique concept that makes it stand out from other French restaurant in Tokyo. Chef Goto skillfully marries a concept of kaiseki dining with French haute cuisine. He uses the best of Japanese seasonal ingredients as a nod to Japanese sensibility and cooks them using French cooking techniques. The restaurant offers three set lunch and dinner tasting menus only, plus a selection of wines.
Before the meal commenced, we both received envelopes sealed with restaurant’s logo in the back. Chef’s greeting and the menu of the night was inside – seemingly effortless yet such a pleasant touch. Each course has a name – which is anything but prosaic – aiming to stimulate your imagination and evoke .
We started with The Sound of Ripples: appetizers served in conch shells that rested on pebbles, meticulously arranged in the black basket. It was not only visually evoking, but also acoustically stimulating, since a small stereo (probably hidden under the pebbles) was playing a sound of waves softly crushing against the shore. Not to say that the food was lacking in any way. Small pies – a perfectly baked buttery dough with that enticing golden crust – had a filling of whelk and turbo shells paired with cheese and hazelnut. It was a perfect mouthful of heaven that couldn’t get us more excited for the rest of the dinner.
We proceeded to Harvest, beautiful dish served cold. It paired corn blancmange, chicken consomme jelly and Hokkaido sea urchin. Dried seaweed from Saga prefecture was served on the side and we were advised to mixed it into the main dish. This hit all parts of my palate in a wonderful happy way and left a lasting impression. Smooth mouthful was a beautiful balanced combination of sweet and salty mixed with umami.
Next, A Limpid Stream featured sweetfish and crab meat spring roll that was complimented with a melon and ginger sauce. The latter added a lot of dimension to the dish, while the roll packed ton of flavor – sweetfish, in particular, was shining in every bite.
The Sea God’s Place followed next. Winter melon, crab and abalone served with a stock of softshell turtle and crab. Japanese edamame added a nice texture while wasabi provided a perfect accent.
We absolutely loved Nostalgia: lobster meat, tomato paste and lily bulb covered with an amazing lobster bisque. Justin noted that it was served at a perfect temperature and its savory flavors made my tastebuds sing. I particularly loved how well the lobster was cooked – it was so tender with that melt-in-your mouth texture. I think I would go back just for Harvest and this dish alone to Amour.
The Summer Vacation featured beautifully cooked tilefish with the most perfect crispy skin, and a slice of eggplant which had been lightly smoked – a novelty for me. The sauce of white wine, butter and umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum) provided brightness and acidity, tying the whole dish together.
We took a little break and cleansed our palate with A Memory of a Summer Day – a watermelon smoothie with caviar lime – before the final savory course was served.
Last but not least, the piece de resistance of the night arrived first on a big platter as a whole, and afterwards was plated beautifully with jus de cannard, organic vegetables from Kyoto, fermented onion, radish and smoked paprika sauce, plus black olive powder for a good measure. We loved everything about this dish: the addictive crispy skin of the duck and its smoky flavor, a thin layer of rendered fat under the aforesaid skin that gave rich flavor to the lean meat which was tender and juicy, thrilling the palate with every bite. Vegetables were equally moreish and added brightness to the dish. It was a perfect ending to the savory part of the dinner and its taste lingered on my palate a while.
I’m happy to say that desserts at Amour continued in the same excellent vein. A Summer Love, served chilled, married three of my favorite ingredients: peach, lychee, Jasmine tea, creating a perfect harmony and a beautiful mouthful of summer. Tapioka was also added for texture. I did wish it was a tad sweeter, but even without that the dessert was wonderful.
The final “main” dessert was a tropical mélange of pumpkin Crème Brule, lemon meringue, pine apple, passion fruit and mango, plus a sorbet of all three. Light as air, it was a smack in the face with the most wonderful combo of tropical flavors that went so well together and served as a palate cleanser of sorts. A perfect ending to the very harmonious dinner.
We topped it all off with a stunning platter of petite fours and coffee in the end.
The best part was how the rich flavors lingered on my palate long after the plate was gone which prolonged the enjoyment of the dinner. I absolutely loved how every dish at Amour was complex yet maintained a sense of identity. Each ingredient spoke for itself yet complemented the other, while the flavors were balanced yet exciting and bright and truly delicious. Every plate showcased French finesse and despite multiple courses, the meal never felt heavy or too much.
Jaime recently wrote a great post about the superiority of food in UK over that in America because dishes in the States generally tend to be too heavy/big, and I think I could say exactly the same about food in Japan – emphasis here is on seasonal produce and chefs let the ingredients shine, not smother them in sauces, fat and deep-fried batter. In addition, courses are perfectly sized.
Last but not least, I cannot help to note how impeccable the service at Amour was. Our wonderful server explained each dish in fluent English, which made the experience even more enjoyable. Not sure how Amour remained overlooked by the masses, but we were quite happy to uncover this gem. It definitely falls into my “I’ll gladly revisit” category.
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