Dining

Tapas Molecular Bar

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!

Chef Koichi Hashimoto

Chef Koichi Hashimoto holds ‘Green Tea’, a creamy, crunchy blob dipped into liquid nitrogen. When you pop it into your mouth you can blow out the ‘smoke’ from your mouth or nose. Classy! Very delicious though!

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.

Tapas Molecular Bar

A lovely touch to the final course – the famous Miracle Fruit!

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

Tapas Molecular Bar

Stone Potato – a delicious roasted potato disguised as a stone. Once you work out which one the potato is, you get to smother it in a luscious chorizo paste :)

Tapas Molecular Bar

Spherified green peas, lightly sautéed with ham and mint.

Tapas Molecular Bar

Fromage Blanc, Flower & Butterfly – Lovely raspberry vinegar with fromage blanc foam, dressed with edible flowers and tiny apple butterflies.

Tapas Molecular Bar

Spring Landscape – A beautiful miniature forest of barely tempura fried vegetables and mushrooms. Simple yet so much flavour in this course!

Tapas Molecular Bar

Smoked Egg – Japanese style ‘hot spring egg’ (Onsen Tamago – a very, very slow cooked egg) in smoke and served with prosciutto and a edible spoon.

Tapas Molecular Bar

Green Laver, Razor Clam & Yuzu – Beautiful razor clams dressed with yuzu foam and served with a green laver granita.

Tapas Molecular Bar

Baby Pork Hazelnut – a very tender and moist pork chop filled with a tasty jus and resealed with meat glue. The pork chop should be eaten in one go to prevent the jus from bursting out. An amazing mouthful!

Tapas Molecular Bar

Warm Sizzling Beef – Beautiful piece of wagyu cooked sous vide then injected with gas for an interesting sizzling effect. Served with jus, pepper and salt, plus a surprise sauce (hint: the plate…).

Tapas Molecular Bar

A miniature salad with the tiniest radishes I have ever seen…

Tapas Molecular Bar

Osuimono – Japanese clear broth in a sphere. The chef injected each sphere with other spherified ingredients. Tiny but had the flavour punch of a whole bowl of broth!

Tapas Molecular Bar

Egg – White chocolate egg filled with a mango mousse and nestled on top of coconut shreds. Amazing bowl too!

Tapas Molecular Bar

Petits Four – Strawberry Milk Choco-Banana, Japanese Paper & Cherry Blossom

Tapas Molecular Bar

Strawberry Milk – The little paper with a milk can on it is scented like condensed milk. You sniff it while eating the strawberry paper :)

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. ChopinandMysaucepan

    May 13, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Dear Monica,

    I’m not a big fan of fancy food though it looks quite “molecular” and it’s not expensive for A$140 when compared to Sydney. But I wonder if I have to rock up to a cosy ramen or yakitori hut afterwards to feel complete.

    • Monica

      May 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm

      It was a great night! Not way too formal that you feel awkward about eating what’s in front of you. The courses all had personality so it was more a fun experience than fancy :) The best part of eating early is being able to tuck into a second dinner later on :D x

  2. Nic@diningwithastud

    May 23, 2013 at 11:54 am

    I do love a good experience like that :) how fun!

    • Monica

      May 30, 2013 at 11:31 am

      It was :) I can’t wait to go again one day.

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