All eyes are on Tokyo this summer for the Olympic Games, including those of a few world-famous chefs and restaurateurs who are launching in the capital despite Covid uncertainty. London’s Italian delicatessen and pasta restaurant Lina Stores is opening a 90-cover eatery in the Omotesando neighbourhood. A long-awaited branch of New York steakhouse Peter Luger is expected in Ebisu Garden Place by September. And three-Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura is debuting Gucci Osteria Tokyo on the top floor of the brand’s flagship store in Ginza. This follows Louis Vuitton’s unveiling of Le Café V in its flagship store, where the menu of desserts and classic savoury options has been devised by Yosuke Suga of Tokyo’s celebrated restaurant Sugalabo.

Amazonian passion fruit at Maz
Amazonian passion fruit at Maz

While the Olympics provide the backdrop, most chefs welcome any chance to cook in Tokyo, such is its renown as an epicurean hub. This is certainly true of Surrey-born Daniel Calvert, who up until last August was head chef at Belon in Hong Kong. Now he is overseeing the entire food offering (including a fine-dining restaurant, bistro and room service) at the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi. Having already cooked in the “big four” cities of London, Paris, New York and Hong Kong (including at Pied à Terre, Epicure at Le Bristol and Per Se), Calvert says Tokyo was always the dream. “For the quality of products alone,” he adds. “It’s akin to cooking in Paris. It has the same romance. In Paris, life revolves around food. Tokyo is similar. People book restaurants three years in advance. Japanese diners know that if they go to a restaurant in June, they’d better be eating matsutake mushrooms. There is a seasonal expectation.”

Beef cheek at Maz Tokyo
Beef cheek at Maz Tokyo

Sézanne, the Four Seasons’ fine-dining restaurant, is named after a small city in the Champagne-Ardenne region in France, where Calvert’s grandparents owned a small house. The menu builds on the work he began at Belon, which won a Michelin star within two years of opening for its simple, precise dishes rooted in French ingredients and techniques. The landmark dish was pigeon pithivier with fig and amaretto. Eschewing gimmicks or concepts, Calvert wants the 40-cover restaurant to “just serve great food and wine” and embody a sense of occasion and generosity. Expect classic tableware with Baccarat crystal and a champagne trolley offering varieties by the glass that you’d normally only see by the bottle.

Calvert is thrilled to have access to the city’s exceptional produce, from “the best venison I’ve ever had” to “sensational” chicken. The latter he intends to use in a variation on Shanghainese drunken chicken, where instead of steeping the bird in yellow wine for a week, Calvert will use Vin Jaune from the Jura. Seasonal differences have also opened up possibilities. Venison, available year-round in Japan, can be paired with more than just winter vegetables in dishes that incorporate cherries or blueberries. “How about venison and morels?” Calvert says excitedly.

Despite his aversion to gimmicks, the dessert menu promises a good one in the shape of a Miyazaki mango dish. The flesh is scooped out, diced, marinated in rum with a touch of lime mousse, and turned into sorbet. This is spooned back into the frozen skin with meringue and scored like a halved mango with shortbread in whipped cream on top. It looks like a normal cut mango until you tuck in and is guaranteed “to put a smile on your face”, he says.

The Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo
The Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo
Dining at the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo
Dining at the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo

Another hotly anticipated opening is Maz Tokyo from Virgilio Martinez (pictured top, left, with chef Santiago Fernández). The Peruvian chef is behind Central in Lima, one of the top restaurants in the world. For Martinez, too, Tokyo has always been a dream. He and his chef wife Pía León have been working on going there for years. 

Set to open in the Akasaka neighbourhood later this summer, the single-service, 20-cover restaurant will replicate the philosophy and look of Central, with Peruvian textiles and rugs and a stone-cut table at the entrance displaying many of the Peruvian ingredients that feature on the multi-course tasting menu. These might include grains and corn from the Andes, coffee from the Amazon, rare varieties of potato, cacao and root vegetable. Fish and other seasonal produce (Martinez raves about the “beautiful” Hokkaido scallops) will be sourced in Japan.

Martinez is evolving the menu from the one at Central, which celebrates Peruvian biodiversity (the country boasts more than 4,000 varieties of potato), with dishes created to showcase ingredients rather than follow traditional recipes. Expect raw fish preparations and quinoa-like grains, shaved vegetables and roots, clay-baked fish and oils made from Andean herbs such as bitter huacatay (Peruvian black mint) or muña (like lemon verbena), all in edible constructions that look unfamiliar but taste divine. 

@ajesh34

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