Bruno Menard and Don Melchor Wine Dinner at Imperial Hotel

The Imperial Hotel recently hosted a wine dinner with winemaker Enrique Tirado of Don Melchor from Concho y Toro. Don Melchor has partnered with Michelin 3-star chef Bruno Menard for a series of wine dinners in Asia. What a treat it would be to taste the wines paired with chef Bruno’s cuisine in different countries. Tokyoites were happy to welcome back chef Menard who was most recently at Ginza L’Osier.

The evening opened with an aromatic and refreshing 2013 Terrrunyo Sauvignon Blanc. Strong notes of citrus on the nose and the bright acidity sings of cool climate vineyards. Perfect start for a hot summer evening.

The first course was a beet tartare with geranium essence and cocoa. Paired with the 2013 Don Melchor that has 9% Cabernet Franc and 93% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Franc floral aromas danced above the wine and shined as the geranium essence brought the two together. The wine also had intense dark fruits of cassis and blackberries with some pencil lead. It was a well-balanced wine.

Enrique stopped by my table during this wine. He is charming and talks passionately about the wines and the vineyards. He said that he put 9% of Cabernet Franc in this vintage as the fruit was so beautiful in that harvest.

The second dish was a buckwheat (soba) risotto topped with smoked eel and foie gras and garnished with, sansho leaves, yukari (dried red shiso) and soba-cha. I could see chef Bruno’s influence of his long time in Japan in this dish.

This was paired with a 1988 Don Melchor, from before Enrique’s time. This had a nice acidity and a pleasant bitterness. The tannins were still quite rich for a wine almost 20 years old. The wine reminded me of Gene Wilder, who had recently passed away, refreshing and bitter. The food pairing was nice as the smoky notes from the eel and sansho stood up to the wine.

The main course was roast duck and mushrooms with a verjus sauce with a carrot mouse. I believe the duck was marinated in miso. This was paired with a 2005 Don Melchor that had intense tannins, dark fruit and chocolate. It was calling out for meat and this was a nice pairing. The sauce brought a nice acidity, with the verjus, to round out the pairing.

Even dessert was paired with a 2010 Don Melchor. I was skeptical, but not surprised when it did come together. Bruno’s father is a chocolatier so he grew up around a kitchen and sweets. The wine sung of intense fruit, spice, and ripe tannins. Dessert was a granité of griotte cherries and red wine, chocolate biscuit, and a five-spice chantilly. This was a great match, one as a sommelier I never would have been brave enough to pair. My eyes have been opened.

Chef Bruno came to speak to the diners. I was so impressed as he is fluent in Japanese! He said that he spent 14 years working in Japan, and that they were very important years in his career. He obviously knows the Japanese palate well. The menu was not too heavy and the dishes were created with a nod towards simplicity. He was easy to speak to and obviously loves his work.

The wines paired with the cuisine made for a memorable evening.

Chef Bruno mentioned that he has worked with the Imperial Hotel’s Les Saison chef, Thierry Voisin, since 1983 in France. The two have a long history and apparently also have played together in a band – now that is something I would LOVE to see.

Chef Bruno will be returning to Les Saison in October for a collaboration dinner with chef Thierry. Details for Bruno Menard week, October 17-23, lunch and dinner, here (in Japanese):

Imperial Hotel La Brasserie

La Brasserie

Chaliapin Steak

Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin, a Russian opera singer, was touring in Japan in 1936, and was a guest of the Imperial Hotel. He was dining at the New Grill, the predecessor to La Brasserie, even though he was suffering from a toothache, he wanted to have steak. The executive chef, Fukuo Tsutsui, came up with this dish, now called the Chaliapin Steak. Taking inspiration from the classical sukiyaki dish, he put finely minced onions on top of a steak to soften the meat and then grilled it.

The ingredients are simply steak, onions, butter, salt and pepper. La Brasserie uses aged rump steak. The onions are sautéed just enough to draw out the sweetness.

La Brasserie is a nice nod to the classic French brasseries. As it is in the basement of the Imperial Hotel, many visitors never make it down here, which is also part of its intrigue. The restaurant is popular with Japanese and reservations are highly recommended at lunch as it is very busy.

The interior reminds me of a polished up Balthazar. Red banquettes, but these are velvet. Service is professional but without the stuffiness that can be found at many Japanese French restaurants.

If you are craving something more formal, then head to the mezzanine level to Chef Thierry Voisin’s Les Saisons, which has recently started serving breakfast. I am a big fan of his cuisine.

La Brasserie at the Imperial Hotel
Chiyoda-ku, Uchisaiwai-cho 1-1-1 千代田区内幸町1-1-1
Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Tower Bldg., LL1

Les Saisons in the Imperial Hotel

Les Saisons

Les Saisons

Tokyoites are generally spoiled by the wealth of so many outstanding French restaurants available. Many Michelin-starred chefs from France have outlets in Tokyo; Joel Robuchon, Pierre Gagnaire, and Michel Troisgros, to name but a few. Included with this group is chef Thierry Voisin, who came to The Imperial Hotel to run the kitchen at Les Saisons. Chef Voisin had a successful career at the lauded Les Crayeres in Reims. He recently celebrated five years in Tokyo.

Les Saisons is up the grand staircase on the hotel’s mezzanine level and a warm welcome awaits guests as they are escorted to the peaceful sanctuary. The dining room, refurbished five years ago, is spacious, and comfortable. The legendary hotel, opened in 1890, has a history of first class service and this shines through in the restaurant as well. The staff all speak English (as well as French), and they’re attentive without hovering. Les Saisons’ clientele includes Japanese executives (often in a private salon), well-coiffed ladies who lunch, couples celebrating special occasions, as well as seasoned gourmands.

The menu is filled with French classics like Filet of Beef Rossini—Japanese beef filet topped with foie gras and black truffles, and sautéed sweet langoustines garnished with French morel mushrooms. Chef Voisin’s use of local ingredients are often showcased in his offerings which include trout from the pristine waters near Mount Fuji served with yuzu, Hamanako fresh water eel that is smoked and served with foie gras on a puree of celery and a fruit vinaigrette, and a confit of Japanese oxtail with beef tongue, marrow, and mushrooms.

Les Saisons has one of the best cheese carts in the city, so remember to save room for the cheese course. The wine cellar as well is very impressive with a vast collection of wines, including older vintages. The course menus offer the best value for price. Lunch starts at 6,800 yen for three courses or 8,000 yen for four courses and dinner starts at 16,800 yen for five courses. A la carte menus are available also.

Les Saisons, The Imperial Hotel, Uchisaiwaicho 1-1-1, Chiyoda-ku
Tel: 03-3539-8087


This first appeared in the American Chamber of Commerce Journal.