If you live in Asia and keep up with the ever-evolving culinary world, then S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna’s annual award ceremony is one event you don’t want to miss. In March, the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, 2018 edition was finally revealed and there were two names on it that I was particularly thrilled to see – DEN and Florilège. We had a great dinner at DEN a few months ago and believe that the accolade (#2 in Asia!) is well deserved.
As for Florilège, it’s incredible how far the restaurant has come. It’s safe to say that in just a handful of years, Chef Hiroyasu Kawate established himself with aplomb. Named 3rd among Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants and earning the coveted two Michelin stars, Florilège, thanks to Chef Kawate’s hard work and talent, has evolved into a frontrunner among Asia’s restaurants.
The first time we visited the restaurant, Chef Kawate was hosting a four-hands collaboration with Hertog Jan and it was nothing short of amazing. Two power minds cooking up a storm in one kitchen – every dish set fireworks on our palate. After a fantastic dinner like that, we knew we had to come back, I was keen to try the chef’s original menu. The 5th wedding anniversary night seemed like a perfect occasion.
Even though we had been here before, I was still surprised to be immediately recognized upon entering the sleek hallway. We were warmly welcomed back – the respect and appreciation towards returning customers in Japan are taken on a whole new level – and ushered to the dining room. I won’t go into detail about the restaurant’s interior or profound philosophy behind Kawate-san’s cuisine as you can read all about it here. The 12-course menu, paired with wine (for Justin) and cocktails (for me), was everything we wished for – innovative, inventive and most importantly, incredibly delicious. Each course eats in a way that’s really technique heavy and has a lot of back behind it, with layering flavors and textures. Overall, a great epicurean experience.
We started with fukinotou (or butterbur, which according to Google is a flowering plant in the sunflower family) croquette topped with deep-fried fukinotou flower. Served warm, it had a nutty flavor with slightly bitter taste. I must confess, it’s not my favorite ingredient.
Next appetizer, however, brought everything I love about fine dining to the table. Perfectly cooked white asparagus was served with white asparagus mousse, pickled cherry blossoms, and parsley reduction. Contrasting textures of crunchy and creamy were divine, while the slightly tangy sauce complimented the sweetness of the vegetable so well.
The following course, featuring shiitake mushrooms and Japanese cheese, draw attention by its enticing aroma well before we even tried it. A combination of the creaminess of the cheese and earthy flavors of mushroom created an unforgettable melange.
For our fourth course, we had baby ayu sweet fish with sansho mousse on the bottom and ayu liver sauce and sansho flowers on top. The latter is apparently very rare as they bloom only 3-4 weeks a year. The fish was crispy and delicious, but the liver sauce added a bit too much bitterness to the dish, in my opinion.
Next course – beef carpaccio – is Chef Kawate’s signature dish and embodies his sustainable cooking philosophy. In order to minimize food waste, he serves meat from cows which are beyond breeding age and thus considered to have a tougher meat. Our beautiful beef carpaccio, made from a 13-year-old kettle from Miyazaki prefecture, was prepared in Japanese shabu-shabu style and served with mashed potato on a side covered with beef consommé. Both the beef and its consommé were unctuous, with rich flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
It was hard to pick the favorites during the night, but if I absolutely had to choose a winner dish of the night, it would be our sixth course: deep-fried oyster was topped with lemon meringue and deep-fried Japanese vegetable oka hijiki (also known as land seaweed), frozen oyster cream and oka hijiki salad. As much as I don’t like cooked oysters, this one blew my mind with its creamy texture. The chef really brought something new and inventive to the table with this one. Cold and hot temperatures, contrasting textures, and an array of complementing flavors of sweet and savory and umami made it a stunning dish that I would reorder any time.
The fish course of the night featured perfectly cooked tilefish with crown daisy and potato risotto which was elevated by the accompanying fennel sauce. Fish was wonderfully prepared, with crispy skin and flaky flesh.
For the main course of the night we enjoyed a guinea fowl served with fried rice on tops, and three different sauces on the side: shiso leaf, maitake mushroom, and red wine sauces.
We promptly moved to the sweet courses which started with a dessert featuring hassaku, a Japanese orange. It was an incredibly refreshing transition from savory to sweet courses.
Next, coconut pannacotta on the bottom served with fresh strawberries and strawberry juice – a simple dessert that never disappoints, especially when it’s executed so perfectly.
Perhaps my favorite of the night was the third dessert – dark chocolate made of Amazon cacao which had a rich taste with just a hint of bitterness. It was complimented with caramel jelly, frozen chocolate crumble, and whipped cream cheese. Pure perfection.
We ended the night with petite-fours and Japanese green tea and coffee.
We couldn’t have picked a better place for our special date night. Food at Florilège is wonderful and the hospitality is even better.
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