It is far from an understatement to say there’s an insane amount of dining choices in Tokyo. Hardly breaking news to me of course, but when it came time to pick a special restaurant as a birthday treat while visiting my favourite city last month, I struggled to make a decision; even when I narrowed the list down to restaurants closest to my hotel. Talk about First World problems!
In the end I chose the one restaurant that I couldn’t get out of my mind no matter how much I salivated over the menus of countless other world class establishments. This restaurant was nowhere near my hotel and only offered degustation (my hubby isn’t a big fan of dego), but Tapas Molecular Bar had me at ‘tapas’. The word ‘molecular’ kinda swayed me too, as did the idea of dining high above the night skyline of Tokyo.
Open for trade since 2005, Tapas Molecular Bar is located on the 38th floor of the luxurious Mandarin Oriental hotel in Nihonbashi, a trés ritzy part of Tokyo that rivals Ginza in the fabulousness stakes. The restaurant only seats eight people at each of their two sessions (6pm or 8:30pm) so even with a month to spare, I didn’t hesitate snapping up a couple of spots. Reservation is secured in advance by credit card.
So what’s Tapas Molecular Bar (TMB) all about? As you’d imagine, its cuisine involves molecular gastronomy techniques which are performed live in front of you at its elegant but modern, sushi-bar style setup. As founding chef Jeff Ramsey noted, the cuisine is “one part delicious, one part theatre, and one part Willy Wonka”. I call it the Cirque du Soleil of cuisine!
I won’t needlessly repeat the general spiel about TMB (which has been better articulated by others who dined there before me such as Tomostyle and A Life Worth Eating), except to add my own two yen’s worth:
- TMB is an intimate, interactive and highly entertaining experience that involves intensely flavoursome food. Being able to chat casually with TMB’s talented team while you dine was in itself a unique treat. In Chef Jeff Ramsey’s own words, TMB is a “multi-dimensional food experience”.
- The Spring Menu consisted of 17 courses/items. The number of items will vary according to each season’s menu. Some items are repeated each year, whereas others are completely new.
- Chef Jeff Ramsey is no longer the head chef of TMB but that role has been capably filled by his former right-hand man, Chef Koichi Hashimoto who himself had a stint working at elBulli. His assistant is currently Briton, Aaron Cardwell who provides the English explanation of the cuisine, if needed.
- Since I haven’t dined at TMB during Chef Ramsey’s tenure, I can’t say if anything has changed but Chef Hashimoto is certainly no slouch with the pipette. He prepared each course with due attention and care, starting one course all over again when he wasn’t happy with its presentation (to me it looked amazing!). He also insisted on preparing a fish course for hubby (I’d mentioned at reservation that he doesn’t do shellfish) even though he was happy to give the razor clams a go.
- TMB is totally worth experiencing. It works out to be about 140 AUD per head and if you don’t drink a lot of alcohol, your total bill won’t be a complete blowout. Otherwise, given you *are* at Liam Neeson’s favourite Mandarin Oriental, expect a basic alcoholic beverage to be about 20 AUD.
- There were four birthday girls the night we dined at TMB! We all got an amazing treat of an origami crane hidden inside an egg :) The expat American couple next to us invited us to have a post-degustation drink which capped off a great Saturday night in Tokyo (Thanks!).
- SPOILER – It’s fun to drink a glass of Guinness (or any other drink) after doing the miracle fruit. It basically tastes like a chocolate milkshake :D
Now for some photos :) Our course started with a delightful aperitif called Cherry Bonbon but as we ran late and I was horribly flustered, I think I only took one iPhone snap. Watch this space! It was a cherry within a spherified cherry :D