When I returned to Tokyo as soon as Japan reopened after three years of Covid, I felt quite excited the moment my plane landed at Haneda Airport. To celebrate my other half’s birthday, we decided to leave some time for catching up, but the stomach was reserved for the restaurant where we had wanted to go to for years.
It was the Michelin three-starred restaurant, L’Effervescence. From the moment you enter to the end of the meal, you can feel Chef Shinobu Namae approaches his dishes with philosophy and poetry, with natural elegance nourishing the soul. We took a taxi from Ginza to the restaurant located in Nishiazabu. As we were approaching, we noticed a temple nearby, which, despite the presence of a cemetery, is an integral part of the country’s traditional culture, and Chef Namae said he didn’t mind it.
Sometimes we are in a little hurry as we always try to be on time for our meals. When we arrived, the staff kindly took off our coats and guided us into a small lounge for a short break. I wondered if they were waiting for our heart rate to return to normal before taking us to the seating area.
We were seated in a semi-open booth with a view of the dining room, as if we were watching the whole theatre from above an opera house. As we sat down, the attendant gently lit the candles and a sense of calm instantly washed over us. Then we slowly sipped on our welcome cocktails, paired with vegetable crisps and tofu yoghurt creme with olive oil, which already told one thing or two about the cuisine style here. Our evening was further delighted by the young attendant who provided us with warm and unobtrusive service with a British accent.
Reading the menu was like appreciating a poem written by a knowledgeable anthropologist who had travelled through human civilization.
The prelude was Underwater Forest, which as the name suggests was made from both underwater and land ingredients including caviar, abalone and Hokkaido horsehair crab, placed on a bed of refreshing and elegant sasanishiki risotto and topped with charcoal-grilled sliced matsutake mushrooms, fragrant and full of flavour. I’m not a crazy fan of matsutake mushrooms, but there are two places which in my opinion do the best matsutake: Maison Lameloise in Shanghai and L’Effervescence. It handled this treasured ingredient in the best possible way, searing it with a cooking torch and drizzling Japanese fish sauce on top upon serving to create a pronounced aroma.
The next was Genesis of Civilization. It was like a riddle: controlled use of fire played a major role in changing food habits before ancient humans stopped foraging and started farming. The potato focaccia was roasted over an open fire in a custom-made Japanese iron casting pan, and we waited as it cooled down to reveal a chewy texture and Asian flavours. A slice of warm, classic sourdough was of course indispensable.
Ars longa, vita brevis is a beautiful Latin translation of an aphorism coming originally from Greek physician Hippocrates, roughly meaning, “skilfulness takes time and life is short”. With the trend of a sustainable and refined agriculture, many supermarkets in Japan are already collaborating with family-owned farms to source ingredients. But L’Effervescence takes this to the next level. A whole plate of 42 colourful fruits and vegetables was shown us, accompanied by an owe-inspiring card detailed with all the places and names of the farmers who supplied them. From pickling to dashi, the next salad came with a variety of flavours to showcase the diversity of nature. Chef Namae treats these Artisanal Vegetables as works of art.
The following dish was named “A fixed point” as it is a permanent milestone on the menu and represents one of L’Effervescence’s signature dishes. We are talking about Tokyo turnip which is cooked sous vide at a low temperature for four hours before getting a quick butter to baste in the pan. The dish is described by the Wall Street Journal as a minimalist ode to “roots”, because Chef Namae aims to “focus on the characteristics of the vegetables and knows how to bring out the true flavour”.
The main course was Ocean and Forest. The ocean part was Amadai dish gently poached in whey, kamogawashichiri, myoga, ginger and shiso flower. The addition of edamame puree was a divine touch, boasting layered texture and warm flavours. The plating was also pretty.
What about the Forest? It was a combination of Ezo-venison from Shiranuka, mushrooms, truffles and chestnuts, full of autumn vibes. Venison is lean but very delicate and tender, and Hokkaido venison is often served at French cuisine restaurants in Japan during autumn and winter. Maitake mushrooms, pine nuts, burdock and shredded autumn truffles were wood fired over local mizunara oak, giving the dish a wonderful mouthfeel. The slight acidity in the sauce was a great flavour booster. The sheer elegance and tastiness of the dish was beyond words.
The ravioli in the chestnut soup contained venison leg and scallop, and the soup was rich and luscious with penetrating aroma that made you crave for more. You can order more of the soup, probably because of the moderate portion of the set menu.
Next up was a platter of bite-sized handmade Japanese cheese accompanied by organic, traceable honey, all presented in their original form. The chapter name of this dish was Migration, which indicates cheese is an imported good in Japan. Those chapter names were indeed intriguing.
Dessert was New Chapter, featuring Japanese Muscat grapes, yuzu meringue and ginger mousse, which was delicious without being too decadent. Petit Four was also very impressive. The meal ended soothingly with the restaurant’s famous Japanese matcha tea ceremony.
L’Effervescence was awarded a Michelin Green Star in 2020 to recognise its sustainable cuisine. With a focus on the traceability of ingredients, the restaurant serves as a showroom of reliable dealers to spotlight their beautiful produce. The true elegance of the restaurant lies in its pursuit of moderation. Food is supposed to nourish, not harm, the body, but over the past few decades, even many starred restaurants have been offering large portions that burden the body. Boasting freshness beyond compare, the food at L’Effervescence will never sit heavy in your stomach.
Having studied Politics of developing countries at Keio University – one of the top private universities in Japan – Chef Namae came to the culinary world with critical thinking and a philosophical mind. Apart from playing rock music and wanting to become a journalist, he worked in Hokkaido, South France and The Fat Duck in the UK before finally opening his own restaurant which was destined to be special.
The dishes at L’Effervescence are just like their creator, who is always pleasant to talk to, and who always looks at the world from a macro perspective. He dares to dream and act on it.
L’Effervescence has been listed in the Michelin Guide as two stars since 2015 and was awarded three stars in 2020. Years of experience, and influence of Covid, have translated into its reborn menu, which has flourished with new ideas and heart-warming surprises.
Author: Jocelyn 华姐
Photo: Jocelyn 华姐