Restaurant Reviews

Oriental Lounge, Tokyo

The Oriental Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo is located on the same floor as Signature, and as such shares the same breath taking views across Tokyo.  This makes it an ideal location for afternoon tea, evening cocktails, or a light meal. Philip and I ate/drank here a number of times during our stay, as it was the perfect place to relax after our long days in Tokyo.   The décor of Oriental Lounge is very understated, and reminds me of a gentleman’s club, with dark woods and cream chairs setting this off quite nicely.  The large picture windows that run the length of the walls make Oriental Lounge a great place to just sit and take in the view, and is arguably the best place to simply watch the sunset over the metropolis. Staff here were generally excellent, with a few issues that can be put down to the language barrier, but overall I would say they are up there with the best that the MO brand can offer.  They were attentive without being overbearing, and – as was typified with all the staff we encountered – gracious to our requests. One thing the Oriental Lounge is particularly renowned for is its afternoon teas, which it does exceptionally well.  These are served from about 2pm to 5pm, and meet all the expectations of what one would consider when thinking about the Great British tradition that is afternoon tea.  A series of finger sandwiches is followed by a splendid selection of pastries and cakes, all sourced from the fantastic Gourmet Shop, located at the bottom of the Nihonbashi Mitsui tower – where the...

Signature, Tokyo

Philip and I dined at Signature during our stay in Japan in May 2014, and whilst I am generally not a massive fan of hotel restaurants – much preferring to leave the confines of the hotel for the evening – I was highly impressed with the quality of food offered by Signature, and – to be perfectly honest – the views over Tokyo were reason enough to dine here. Signature is one of eight outstanding restaurants at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, five of which are one Michelin star or above; Signature is graced with two.  The main lure of the restaurant, aside from the cuisine, is the view – which is naturally stunning as it takes in a vast swathe of Tokyo. Philip and I were fortunate enough to dine here on a clear day, well worth the cost of dinner alone in my mind. In terms of décor, the restaurant is a little gaudy for my tastes, with sweeping curtains that separate off different sections of the floor and generally make the place seem a little cloying.  This combined with the use of creams and gold’s on the colour palette, and some rather bright lighting gave the impression the designers had been given the remit of making the place look ‘Luxurious’ and had taken inspiration from too many sources.   That being said, I daresay the place could be a 1960’s roller disco by design and it wouldn’t detract from the view. The restaurant serves a mix of French inspired and modern Japanese cuisine, with a number of difference dining options available; A La Carte, or three different –...

Benu, San Francisco

Phil and I dined at Benu on our last vacation to San Francisco in the Summer of 2013.  I had long since had the restaurant on my target list for the city, though for various reasons I had not managed to get through its doors – part of the reason being the sheer number of excellent restaurants in the city, combined with finding ourselves drawn back to our favourites more often than not. Benu is hidden away in SoMa, the building being a very unimposing 19th century brick affair, with a small well-manicured courtyard at the front.  This gives the effect of entering a haven away from the lights of the city – a small gastronomic idyll that manages to punch well above its weight in terms of brilliance and execution. The restaurant itself can be described as minimalistic, the décor being simple, and taking inspiration from the finest Kaseski style restaurants in Japan and the East.  A black and white palette acts as the stage upon which Corey Lee performs his culinary magic, delivering a series of dishes that both excite and enthral, all beautifully presented and explained by the professional staff, who seem to float around in the background attending to clients every needs. Philip and myself opted for the tasting menu, very reasonably priced at $195 at per person, excluding wine.  As Philip has an allergy to seafood, I did have certain trepidation at how the restaurant would cope – as its menu is balanced towards the ocean; however Corey Lee and his team rose to the challenge admirably, creating a perfectly balanced menu for him...

Tapas Molecular Bar, Tokyo

Tapas Molecular Bar, expertly headed up by one of Jose Andres former colleagues Jeff Ramsey, is best described as the child of Minibar – that oh so sublime and whimsical hole-in-the-wall in Washington DC; it is a sensory and gastronomic journey, rather than a meal – and one which I can highly recommend. Philip and I ate here during our last stay in Japan, being fortunate enough to be staying in the Mandarin Oriental, where Tapas Molecular Bar is located.  As I have mentioned in my review of the MO Tokyo, it is gifted with eight fantastic restaurants – five of which hold one or two Michelin stars; Molecular Tapas has two.   However, as those of you who have read my review of Le Chateau Joel Robuchon will note, Michelin stars alone do not ‘make or break’ a restaurant; those stars can often cause at best complacency, at worst arrogance. I am glad to say however that Molecular Tapas is not one of those places. The restaurant itself is quite literally a single bar, set up in the middle of the MO Lounge.  This setting, with the hustle and bustle of MO bar around you, is effective, and doesn’t detract from the dining experience in the slightest.  In actual fact, I think – in comparison with Minibar – I think it actually adds to the experience.  A little background noise can go a long way in terms of atmosphere – and given that the bar only seats eight people, this would be sorely lacking if it were in its own little sterile room.  As with MO Lounge, it has...

Le Chateau de Joel Robuchon, Tokyo

Philip and I dined here on one of our last nights in Tokyo, encouraged by the excellent reputation of Joel Robuchon as a chef, and of the ‘Atelier’ sub grouping of his restaurants.   There are a number of his establishments in Tokyo, ranging from the simple Café la Joel Robuchon in Mitsukshimae, to the three Michelin starred Chateau Joel Robuchon in the Ebisu district.  The vast majority of his restaurants are within a single folly of a structure – a fake French Chateau that sits awkwardly next to the shocking modernity of Tokyo itself.  The effect is a little jarring, and whist I can understand the logic behind such a move, it makes the experience a little like stepping into Disneyworld; for however much the materials might feel like they belong in the Dordogne, and that your eye convinces you as such – you know if your heart that behind it all it would be plywood and not much substance. Interestingly, that’s very much an allegory for my experience of this restaurant; the food acts as a sort of veneer – albeit a beautifully prepared and elegant variety – which attempts to hide a number of frankly unforgivable failings that despite my efforts to ignore, much like the Disney illusion, eventually started screaming at my subconscious and made themselves plainly known.  It is the only three Michelin starred restaurant that I have left in a hurry, and with a biter taste in my mouth. In the spirit of fairness, I’ll start with the positives.  As one would expect from a French restaurant of this pedigree, the wine list is...

Boccalone, San Francisco

The sign above the shutter of this fantastic little deli located in the hustle and bustle of the Ferry Building reads ‘Tasty Salted Pig Parts’ – and that pretty much sums up Boccalone and everything it sells. The shop specialises in Salumi, and every possible variation thereof; from melt in the mouth Porchetta di Testa and Lardo to the spicy and punchy Nduja – all of which are hand made and sold by some of the most passionate and friendly staff I have ever come across.  They are willing to offer advice and recipe ideas to those who pass by their doors, and do so in a way that actually makes you reconsider any ideas you may have had about the simplicity of the simple slice of Salumi on your pizza.  To hear the staff talking about the richness and depth of flavour about a particular variant they have is like listening to a sommelier describing a fine bottle of wine. The shop also acts as a haven for the taste conscious around lunchtime, when they serve some of the most flavoursome sandwiches and deli platters you can buy; freshly sliced Salumi and greens piled high with pungent olives and oil ticks all the boxes, or for those wanting something more substantive, they offer a selection of toasted Panini, all customisable and tailored to your tastes.  Personally, I love the ‘Miss Piggy’ –  a glorious combination of Nduja, Porchetta and Lonza, with black olive tapenade and mixed greens.  It’s a melt in your mouth treat that can’t be missed. They also sell a great selection of bitter sodas that...

Baleen, Los Angeles – Nov 2010

Phil and I ate at Baleen when we stayed for one night at the attached Portofino hotel & Marina, both for dinner, and the subsequent mornings breakfast. We chose to dine here for two reasons; firstly for convenience (after a 12 hour flight neither of us felt like making too much of a journey into LA) and secondly for the menu, which whilst not overly spectacular in terms of variation or unique style, had some solid dishes that sounded filling and of good quality. The restaurant itself is on the Marina side of the hotel complex, and shares a lot of the architectural style as the hotel it belongs to; though a significant difference in this regard is that the window frames and beams are a dark wood which matches the parquet floor, which itself matches the chairs and tables. The effect of this design choice is that the restaurant is rather on the dark side, an effect exemplified if you happen to dine there after the sun has set, and the only illumination comes from spot lights in the ceiling and some small table lamps. I daresay this effect is denuded during the summer months when it remains lighter for longer, and natural light can flood in from the large windows that overlook the Marina, but in winter it did seem a little like eating in a poorly lit wooden box. In terms of the menu and food quality, I would have to describe it as good, but not outstanding; it’s a casual experience rather than high end dining. However, this by no means should give you the...