There was a special noren hanging across the entrance to Jimbocho Den this past weekend. That's because there was a very special event going on.
Two evenings of collaboration dinners to mark the fifth anniversary of Florilège, the brilliant little French restaurant in Aoyama that is – along with Den, of course – one of my personal favourites in the city.
Tokyo French meets creative Japanese. Nothing strange about that, seeing as the two chefs – Hiroyasu Kawate of Florilège and Zaiyu Hasegawa of Den – are not just among the most inventive and dynamic in the city, they're also great friends and frequent collaborators (in fact, when Den turned 5 last year, they put together an amazing joint-dinner at Florilège).
So this weekend was a heady, exciting prospect. And it more than lived up to expectations. A grand banquet, comprising a dozen courses of delectable inventiveness – and plenty of fun too – put together in front of our eyes by the two teams of chefs, somehow working together in Den's compact open kitchen.
There were numerous highlights, but here are a few of the most memorable moments. Starting with…
• "Aka to kuro" (Red and Black): "petals" of beet and beet-infused kabu turnip, and truffles. Topped with actual rose petals…
…and served with an equally beautiful and rich, earthy consommé:
• "Bitterness": wind-dried ayu sweetfish, grilled lightly, just to lightly brown; accompanied by a pâté of sharply bitter ayu liver that had been salted and aged for a year, served on slices of bread containing tade herb (the herb that is usually in the vinegared dip served with ayu); and on the side, a crumble of matcha, with its own resonant bitterness.
• "Umi no milk" (milk of the sea"): Oyster shinjo (light dumplings) served in a soup of delicately smoked milk.
• Roast guinea-fowl and early summer vegetables, daikon, seri and mitsuba, looking so gorgeous in those striking gold bowls that are such a feature of any meal at Florilège...
…onto which a mix of katsuo dashi and consommé was poured, with a generous scoop of rice, to make a delectable ochazuke.
Here's Kawate-san in action…
And here's Hasegawa-san showing off the the rice in its donabe pot: 9 different grains and seeds cooked in with the rice, plus a generous mound of chopped truffle added in at the very end (that's the black bullseye in the center of the pot).
Lots more images to share: I'll try and put up a longer post some time. But maybe it would be unfair to both restaurants to give the game away, when some of these dishes are likely to show up on future menus in more fully evolved forms.
Both chefs are developing their cuisine so fast, sharing ideas and techniques, moving sometimes in parallel, sometimes even closer. It's going to be a fantastic next 5 years at both Den and Florilège!