Mr.B certainly knows how to throw a fabulous date nights. Last Sunday was not an exception as he made reservations at Michelin-starred Tapas Molecular Bar in luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Nihonbashi to welcome me back home from my gloomy 2-week trip.Nestled on the 38th floor of the luxurious hotel, this elegant restaurant boasts with unprecedented views of nighttime Tokyo through its floor-to-ceiling windows. The view alone paired with one of their delicious cocktails makes it worth coming here again.Stylish lounge is furbished in burgundy colors with plush armchairs and sofas, wooden tables, large chandeliers shaped as Japanese umbrellas and a huge fireplace. To savor our molecular gastronomy feast we were seated around an open bar where two talented and charismatic chefs were concocting their magical dishes for us, intrigued diners. You could feel the rising sense of anticipation in the air. What awaited us was not just an extended tasting menu of twenty plus courses, but an edible show – 2.5 hours of entertainment and delight both for the eyes as well as the palate. You are also bound to have a feeling of exclusivity as the restaurant seats only eight people at a time.
I have long been intrigued by the innovative art of molecular cuisine and keen to experience this revolutionary approach to dining. Using innovative cooking techniques familiar ingredients are delivered in unconventional ways thus creating new textures and flavor combinations that equally boggle the mind and taste buds. Dinner is never short of surprises as objects transform, liquid nitrogen dances across the counter, and different tools are aided to prepare and consume each dish. It’s both a lesson in science as well as food. At Tapas Molecular Bar the chefs do their best to create casual and comfortable dining experience by whipping away any white table clothes and placing the diners at the heart of the action. It was a great pleasure to personally interact with chefs who enthusiastically explained preparation techniques, concepts and stories behind each dish and
patiently eagerly satisfied our curiosity by answering all the silly questions. This in-depth insight into the food I was served added a new dimension to the overall experience and enjoyment of the meal.
The menu changes three times a year. The current winter menu features 17 courses. Meal takes the form of a succession of small tapas-sized dishes. The cuisine is a mélange of concepts inspired by Japanese kaiseki ryori as well as European haute cuisine. We also decided to enhance the meal with MOcktail Pairing, skillfully crafted alcohol free cocktails that perfectly complimented each course. As you can imagine there is a lot of material to cover so let’s get to it! We each had mysterious yet funny looking bandanna-wrapped boxes in front of us. The chef instructed us to unwrap it adding that the bandanna would serve as napkins. A black box containing nothing but tools was revealed!
We were informed that we had a lot of DIY projects ahead of us. Oh, and guess where the menu was… Inside the measuring tape! We also were served our “towels” to wipe our hands. What looked like a pill, puffed into a roll of tissue as soon as we poured the water on it. Already pretty wowed by the first act we were eager to move on to the dinner which started with three consecutive snacks:
Forest. Vegetables (asparagus, carrot, green beans) lightly crisped with liquid nitrogen. The trio was dipped in a small amount of champagne vinegar concentrated at the bottom of the shot glass. We were instructed to use a cigar cutter and cut vegetables in the glass. We then had to use tweezers to pick each piece up and dip in the accompanying condiments: mustard with lychee and corn miso sauce. I really liked how miso balanced the sweetness of Japanese sweet corn. Overall, it was a light and refreshing start.
Prawn Cocktail. This course was not short of surprises. Beach was an obvious theme here. I loved that it was served in real shells. A breaded lobster ball filled with avocado was hidden inside the sand. The latter was made with seaweed powder, breadcrumbs and prawn salt. The texture and color indeed resembled that of real sand and I must confess my mind was so tricked by the visuals that I had hard time tasting it! Edible glittering ice leaf was sitting on top of the buried lobster ball. I was surprised by its crunchy texture. Lastly, pipette containing brandy sauce was attached to the lobster ball. We had to squeeze pipette to inject flavorful condiment to the succulent lobster bite before popping it into our mouths. Well done, chef!
Penne. A translucent jelly penne were filled with salmon roe, seaweed and black caviar from France. A dollop of incredibly airy white potato espuma (foam) and fresh greens were served on the side. We used a shovel and tweezers to pick up each component of the dish to create very nice flavor combinations.
All three courses were paired with “Bull Shot” (photo above), a mix of soy milk, tomato coulis, Cervia sea salt, bonito and konbu stock. Delicious!
Three appetizers followed next:
Benedict. As soon as you hear the name, the famous Eggs Benedict comes to mind. However, nothing is as simple as it sounds when it comes to molecular gastronomy. Here, real egg was replaced by fig egg. A slow poached fig was wrapped inside a delectable Iberico ham from Spain which had been cooked sous-vide. The fig was sweet, very soft and balanced well against savory iberico. The “egg” was bedded on crispy bacon brioche. The dish was also generously covered with incredibly creamy and slightly acidic hollandaise mousse (no egg in it easer!). Overall, a wide array of different textures and flavors came beautifully together to create a truly harmonious and delicious dish. This course was paired with “Panache”, a non-alcoholic beer with home-made passion fruit syrup and soda water by Fever Tree. Usually I am not a huge beer fan (alcoholic or non-alcoholic), but this one hit the spot because of its sweetness.
Cigar. The Iberico pork is cooked using sous-vide technique (under vacuum) to produce a nuanced taste sensation. Inside you can taste fresh apple, cucumber and a little bit of smoky duck sauce . The “ash” is made from sesame and tapioca powder. It crumbled just like real ash!
If I had to choose one dish that stood out with its delightful taste as much as its astonishing presentation, I would definitely vote for this course. KUDOS, chef! “Brandy” provided a perfect pairing for this course (and the following two). It was a strong chilled smoked tea that also added a great visual accompaniment to my “cigar”.
Foie Gras. Regular readers probably know by now how much I love foie and I was looking forward to this dish with high expectations. Well, it turned out to be nothing short of amazing! First, we were served two slices of curried persimmon which had been sautéed in some butter and served on top of onion puree with muster seeds and grape seed oil. Using a wooden pestle from our tool box we mashed them into a creamy chutney. The chef also served freshly baked naan and that gorgeous piece of beautifully cooked creamy foie. We then sandwiched all the components and enjoyed it in one bite. The sweetness of the fruit paired perfectly with the richness of the foie. I could eat this dish every day, I wish there had been more of it! Thoroughly amused, we moved on to the main part of the tasting menu – five main courses:
Onsen Tamago or “Hot Spring Egg”. Again, chefs did their best to create a mindboggling dish. What looked like an egg covered with black truffles from France and garnished with Japanese Maitake mushrooms turned out to be a combination of tofu (egg white) and squash (yolk) created by using magical molecular techniques. Absolutely deceiving!
Cappuccino. No, we didn’t drink coffee as our main course.
In this DIY project we had to put cream and butter (furthest to the left) inside a cocktail shaker which already had a lobster bisque and knuckle inside, put a lid on and have chefs shake it for us. After that we clamped the garnish-topped strainer onto the shaker and poured everything into a cappuccino glass which had been filled with foam. Voilà, you have your delectable savory lobster “coffee”!
Grouper. Fresh from Okinawa the fish is steamed on hot stones with some raw wakame (seaweed) and sea water for added flavor. It was served on shark skin grater, which is usually used for grating wasabi, but this time the chef grated a bit of ginger for sweet and spicy flavor as well as aroma to the fish. Wakame was served as a garnish which had been marinated in yuzu juice, ponzu and scallion oil. Although the fish was perfectly cooked, I’m afraid it lacked some punch and tasted a bit boring to me. “White Wine” made of chamomile tea, yuzu juice and alcohol-free white wine by Weisser Trabenmost paired really well with the fish.
Guinea Fowl. Something I have never eaten before. Guinea Fowl breast meat has been cooked sous-vide to result in super juicy meat. On the side, an egg. By now, you probably will not be surprised if I say it’s not a real egg. Yolk was made of red bell-pepper and the egg whites are made from bechamel mousse. Both of these were lay on a corn paper with black truffles scattered on top of it. It was for our last bite of guinea fowl to roll it in and enjoy in one bite. This dish (as well as the following one) was paired with absolutely amazing “Red Wine”: alcohol-free red wine by Weisser Traubenmost, cranberry juice by Jyunzosen and Plum syrup.
Waguy. The chef takes cuts (cheek) of grade A3 wagyu beef, infuses them with the essence of premium Bincho charcoal, then cooks them sous-vide for 72 hours at low temperature. The result is meat with texture so melt-in-the-mouth soft you can almost cut it with a chopstick. It was topped with a little bit of yuzu zest for punch of flavor and garnished with purple carrot shaped like a flower as well as Cantonese style “dim sum” made with mozzarella from Hokkaido. The dish was complimented by the aroma from the smoking bay leaves to awaken festive wintery sensations. While all the flavors were in place and each component of the dish was tasty and well-cooked, overall Mr. B and I agreed that we prefer grade A5 fatty chunk of wagyu steak.
As an interlude, the chef let us play a little with liquid nitrogen.
With this we moved to desserts:
Japanese Breakfast. We were served a set of three bowls (from left to right): pickled fruit and raw quail egg (real!) in edible shell made of sugar; a every crunchy deep-fried edamame in caramel (imitation of Natto); soy milk ice-cream covered in crispy puffed rice. The trio replicated traditional Japanese breakfast. Eventually we had to combine all three into one bowl to enjoy. Mr. B thoroughly enjoyed this course, although I left some of mine behind.
Walnut. Edible walnut shell contained chocolate walnut espuma and chocolate granules. On the side, a beautiful “mountain” is made of hazelnut mousse, some “soil” on top made from cookies, and fresh tangerines for an added acidity and citrus flavor. All this is covered in mojito-flavored snow made from mojito mousse. It was hands down my favorite dessert of the night. Excellent flavor and texture combinations!
Cheese Cake. Yes, it looks exactly like the napkin we had in the beginning! But this time the “tablet” was a creamy cheesecake bite and the sweet liquid inside the beaker was an elderflower commonly used in cocktails.
After Eight. A dessert which provided loads of fun more than anything else. Bite-size mint chocolate flavored meringues were soaked in liquid nitrogen. The idea was to be able to blow smoke from your mouth and nostrils after popping them into your mouth!
All the desserts were paired with “Pure Coffee”, strong iced coffee brewed in the most extraordinary coffee maker using the beans from Monte Carmelo in Brazil. It was very flavorful and strong with a touch of bitterness. I took just a couple of sips. It was way too late for me to drink coffee that strong.
The fast-paced service kept the 17-course meal alive and exciting. Inevitably, there were some items that failed to hit the heights. However, the dinner did certainly have its highlights: Prawn Cocktail, Penne, Cigar, Foie Gras chutney, Lobster Cappuccino and Walnut dessert were all equally impressive. Overall, the dinner has stimulated my senses by presenting creative dishes with fascinating textures and complex flavor combinations. Be prepared to be surprised, delighted, and entertained the entire evening. I can see why Tapas Molecular Bar has turned into one of Tokyo’s hotspots since its opening.
The Tapas Molecular Bar seats only eight people at a time, with two sittings at precise starting times, 6:00 and 8:30 p.m. each evening. Thus advance reservations are mandatory. I also recommend arriving a bit early/linger after dinner so that you have a chance to relax at the lounge, sip on a cocktail and enjoy that spectacular view of the city’s glittering lights.
- 38 Floor 2-1-1 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 103-8328, Japan
- p: +81 (3) 3270 8188
- e: firstname.lastname@example.org