The day: 13th January 2009, Lunch.
The place: Shin Maranouchi Bulding, Tokyo
The venue: Il Calandrino
The food: Italian
The drinks: All Italian list, good range of prices and choices, some comparatively good valued ones, but remember we are in Tokyo!
THIS RESTAURANT HAS NOW CLOSED
Le Calandre is one of the three-starred pinnacles of Italian cuisine, run by Massimiliano Alajmo at the stoves and brother Raffaele in the room. But there are no flights from London to Rubano (the village in provincial North-East Italy where the restaurant is located). So we pop down to Tokyo, which is well connected with London, to sample instead Le Calandre’s junior brother, Il Calandrino. At the helm, Chef Silvio Giavedoni, who used to work in the Rubano kitchen.
We find it in one of two twin Maranouchi towers in the heart of Tokyo, which between them contain dozens of great restaurants, for all budgets, from snacks to luxury, of every conceivable cuisine in the world. That Tokyo has more Michelin stars than Paris begins to look less surprising when you explore the amazing interior of the towers.
Il Calandrino is neither snack nor luxury, with its pleasant, roomy lacquered wooden floor interior. The tables are comfortable, clothed, with leather chairs and upholstered benches in alcoves. It’s elegant, it’s urban faux rustic, it’s sleek, oozing style. We like it.
The menu presents you with several options. Among the set menus, we tried on a subsequent visit a 10,000 Yen four course menu, which was phenomenal, regaling you with spectacular oysters, with equally spactacular Wagyu beef
(we’ll see that cream again, try to guess what it is…) and with a delicious lobster pasta
It is a little deficient in variety, but the quality is acceptable, considering the logistical difficulties of making this all-important Italian staple in Tokyo. And on the other hand, that other fundamental ingredient, olive oil, is in a quite stratospheric league (imported, of course, from Italy).
On this occasion (lunch) we settle for ‘Il piccolo menu’, four courses for 5,000 Yen, offering, as you will see, some choices. Several dishes are described by the waiting staff in faltering English at the table and are not on the menu, so the titles are our our own free creation…
It begins with:
– Tre cicchetti (let’s translate as ‘Three Amuse bouche’)
OK, what have we got here… First there’s a sort of cauliflower béchamel with mushrooms, which is the least impressive of the three pieces. The mushrooms are a little watery and hard, and the ensemble is delicate to the point of being rather anonymous. On the other hand, the breaded Japanese eel (unagi) on greens and red orange juice offers very pleasant, clear, and very well matched flavours. And equally good is the puree’ with marinated beef. The puree’ accomplishes the feat of being at the same time decadently liquid and very intense, a perfect combination with the luscious, flavoursome beef.
We continue with:
– Fusilli with pecorino cheese cream, fried onions and veal.
This dish rewards you with textural variety, the perfectly cooked and high quality pasta, the crunchy onions, the soft cheese, the expressive veal (its delicate spicy punch coming from the juniper). Maybe a little additional moisture would have been welcome.
At this point a man enters the restaurant with a box of fresh oysters, and the Chef takes the opportunity to whip up and make us try this
– Spaghettini with a light oyster mayonnaise and caviar
Well, this is wonderful. The spaghettini themselves are that kind of pasta that is so good and so well cooked as to be great even just with a touch of olive oil. But here there’s much more…that ethereal, fresh oyster whiff that first strikes you on the nose when the plate arrives and is carried over to the whole dish by the mayonnaise, just enough rich to create body, but as light as promised. And the caviar…what can one say, this is perfect. This is by the way the style of ‘higher’ dish you get in the more expensive menus we tried on our other visit, or a la carte.
But today we are happy with our humbler Piccolo menu, so let’s continue with our mains:
– Rombo (turbot) with verbena on potatoes and small vegetables.
– Pork cheek in wine reduction (we believe) and chestnut and ginger puree.
Now you see what the cream in the Wagyu beef photo above is. What could have been a heavy, fat dish is instead surprisingly light, the tangy ginger working very well with the flatter impact of the chestnuts and in fact suffusing the whole ensemble. This gives it freshness, lightness, despite the hearty backbone of the intense reduction and, of course, of the cheek itself. Most satisfying.
The rombo is cooked sous vide, superbly so, moist, very perfumed, a touch of lemon, with a base of tanginess that truly makes this dish fly. Once again, movingly good flavours with great lightness of hand and disarming simplicity, a trademark characteristic of Alajmo’s cusine.
We definitely look forward to our desserts:
– Orange granita and chocolate mousse
– Hazelnut icecream, chocolate, coffee quenelle
These two desserts, although designed for individual consumption, are in fact perfect together for those of us lucky enough to be able to share. In both, flavours are very concentrated. The granita sits on the bottom, and you traverse the pleasure of two mousses, one of white chocolate and the other, warm, of dark chocolate. Really a superb journey through airy textures, flavours and temperatures. The other dessert is if anything even more remarkable, its firmer texture encapsulating flavours that integrate obscenely well.
The two menus cost, as it said on the tin, 10,000 Yen, plus 800 Yen for mineral water. No wine (lunch and work… in our dinner visit we looked at the –all Italian- wine list and we found some comparatively good valued ones, but remember we are in expensive Tokyo!). This menu is very good value for money.
The service had that inimitable Japanese politeness, even though, in such an international venue, we would have expected some ability to communicate in English (we bet this feature will improve). In our second visit, on the other hand, the very able front room manager/sommelier, also Japanese, expressed himself in a pleasantly Tuscan accented Italian! (he advised us very aptly on the wine: thanks).
You can eat really well at Il Calandrino, ranging from simpler dishes with rustic elements to more elaborate ones and noble materials, but always retaining a fundamental simplicity that is tremendously effective in a cuisine with such flavours. Chef Giavedoni, although of course he must follow in part the menu of the ‘mother-house’, brings many personal touches, the search for local ingredients and the resulting adaptations. He cooks meticulously, with absolute dedication and passion, performing splendidly his ambassadorial role for Italian cuisine. We are so happy to have tried this venue.
And after lunch, you can pop down to the basement of the tower for some shopping in the gastronomy Tokyo outlet of the Alajmo empire. Cheeses? Jams and preserves? Help yourselves!