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Sunday, Oct. 14, 2001

TOKYO FOOD FILE

The bistro jazzed up to perfection


It's a hard job, as they say -- not that we're complaining. But if there is a down side, it's that the Food File's constant, restless search for new foraging grounds makes it nigh on impossible for us to revisit any of our great new discoveries, let alone keep tabs on all those tried-and-true, all-time favorites.

Chefs Seigo Mitani and Takahisa Nagasawa of adding:blue

So how come we've been back to adding:blue three times already, when it hasn't even been open six months yet? Can it really be that good? Well, if you must know, yes, it is.

Here is a place with style and poise, a fine setting and welcoming ambience. The wait staff are friendly and know what they're doing. And (most importantly) the food is consistently excellent. In short, it's a thoroughly contemporary package embodying all the attributes of the ultimate urban bistro.

You will find adding:blue just round the corner from Blue Note Tokyo (both are part of the same organization, hence the name -- and the hip lower-case typography). It sits right across from the handsome facade of the Idee Shop Pacific, at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, giving its small open terrace a sense of seclusion unusual for such a central location.

The main ground-floor dining area has a simple, low-key decor, with wood cladding, a dash of brickwork and just a small area of white, invested with two large monochrome photos. The tables and their comfortable, low-slung chairs are well-spaced, giving plenty of room to breathe, chat and relax.

There is a mature, adult sensibility at play here. The waiters wear chic yellow shirts with striped blue ties, and the sound system delivers jazz quietly. But this is not just another Aoyama designer dining bar. There's also some very good eating to be had at adding:blue. In fact, nothing we have eaten here has been anything but spot on.

In the small upstairs dining room, you choose from a three-course 5,000 yen prix-fixe dinner. As portions are generous and there are no supplementary charges, this is good value. But even so, we prefer to pick and choose from the a la carte bistro menu downstairs.

Every day they lay out a brilliant array of tapas along the service counter. This may include marinated red and orange bell peppers; perhaps a long turn-over pie stuffed with kabocha pumpkin puree; burdock root with Thai lemongrass and kaffir lime; rosemary roast potatoes sliced with prunes; ratatouille; shishamo smelt coated in golden sesame seeds; a Spanish omelet packed with potato, onion, red pimiento and broccoli; or even a version of chikuzen-ni (simmered vegetables and chicken in the Kyushu style), prepared with olive oil and wine vinegar. You get the idea: This is French cuisine in the very broadest contemporary definition of the term.

The man responsible for all this, Takahisa Nagasawa, has clearly paid his dues and then some (both here and in France). But what adds that extra touch of class is the presence of executive chef Seigo Mitani. During his spell at Aux Bacchanales, he was lauded as one of the most exciting upcoming proponents of modern French cuisine. Having put the menu at the Blue Note into good shape, Mitani is now spending plenty of time in the kitchen of adding:blue as it gets off the ground.

When we dropped by last week to check out the new autumn menu, our plate of assorted appetizers featured a few slices of katsuo (bonito) in tataki style; a canape of daikon, unagi eel and button mushrooms; pork pa^te with pistachios; crostini with a dab of delectable, creamy foie gras-based spread; and a cooked salad of marinated cauliflower, pimento and mushrooms.

While we sat back and sipped on some good, chilled Albarino, we nibbled on a plate of wakasagi smelt, deep-fried with a wispy, light coating of batter and served just with a wedge of lemon. This was not even listed on the menu, but adding:blue is the kind of place where you can put yourself in their hands with utter confidence.

We were tempted by the pasta of the moment -- spaghetti with fresh cep mushrooms flown in from France -- but instead plumped for the "wrapped French mussels in ravioli." One large rectangular slice of home-rolled ravioli cooked perfectly al dente, wrapped around a delicate mix of hot mussels, scallops and cep mushrooms, in a creamy sauce worthy of any of our top Italian restaurants.

The meats are excellent here -- we can vouchsafe the quail and, likewise, the grilled saddle of lamb (both sampled on previous visits). But then again, so is their very classy bouillabaisse, made with cod, scallops, the same plump mussels, potato and a generous whole lobster, juicy and succulent. This came with grated cheese, a fragrant aioli, crisp toast and plenty of their good, wholesome bread to mop up the rich, aromatic bisque. It was outstanding.

Some people drop in for coffee and dessert in the late afternoon, or for a light snack before catching a gig next door. Plenty of others settle in for the whole evening, either upstairs or down. And there are those who stop by for a snifter of port and a plate of cheese before catching the late subway home.

Food of this quality in such relaxed surroundings is a sure sign that Tokyo has finally come of age. Now you know why adding:blue is a contender for the Food File's best new restaurant of this year. And also why we will keep coming back.

adding:blue Raika Bldg. 1F, 6-3-16 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku; tel: (03) 5485-2266, www.addingblue.com
Open:4 p.m.-midnight (last order for meals: 10:30 p.m.)
Closed:Sunday
Nearest station:Omotesando (Ginza, Hanzomon and Chiyoda lines)
How to get there:Walk down Kotto-dori from Aoyama-dori and turn left at the fourth set of lights (by the Papas Cafe). After 50 meters, take the first side street to the right. You'll see adding:blue on the left at the end, opposite the Idee Shop Pacific.
What works: Top food, relaxed ambience, friendly service
What doesn't: Upstairs feels too far from the action
Number of seats:50 plus 20 upstairs (plus 20 on the terrace)
BGM:Jazz, but too bad it's not a live feed from Blue Note.
Price per head: course: 5,000 yen; a la carte: 3,000 yen (not including drinks)
Drinks: Beer from 700; wine from 600 / glass, 3,500 / bottle
Credit cards:Visa, JCB and UC only
Language: English/Japanese menu; some English spoken
Reservations:For full-course meals only



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