04 Sep 2015
Swanky underground Tokyo joint. A wall of plush red velvet curtain greets us. We push it aside and tentatively enter the dimly-lit, compact dining room of Béni, a French-Japanese fine-diner. In the middle: a 14-seat counter with a super cool suspended ceiling, mirrors and strategic lighting.
We feel like a privileged passenger on an haute spacecraft. And this chi-chi futuristic air vessel happens to have its own private kitchen. It’s a bit intimidating, although the genial staff helps warm up the atmosphere. There are only a handful of other diners at lunch today and everyone is speaking at Japanese volume — which means quietly.
Elegant manager and award-winning sommelier Hiromi Muraoka shows us to our seat. As soon as we sit, the illuminated face of friendly sous chef Hiroyuki Shinkai, formerly of Michelin-starred French restaurant L’Osier in Tokyo, greets us. He doesn’t speak much English, but makes up for it by smiling a lot. He does the cold plates and assists the even friendlier executive chef Kenji Yamanaka, also a L’Osier alum.
The slick Japanese brand of service rendered by Hiromi is impeccable. We are not surprised to learn she worked at The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo for seven years. With great ceremony, she pours us a wineglassful of, not sherry, but rare Royal Blue Tea from Kanagawa Prefecture, featuring hand-picked leaves cold-brewed over several days and served in an expensive-looking wine bottle. This brand’s teas are so premium, you’re encouraged to pair them with the food here. We take a sip and try hard to find nuances of stardust and unicorns. But all we taste is oolong tea, albeit very smooth, with almost no tannins.
04 Sep 2015
“Fine authentic French cuisine with a Japanese touch,” says the restaurant’s press release. It costs from $128 for a six-course set lunch here and $298 for an eight-course dinner. Obviously, we choose lunch. Unless it’s Thomas Keller opening a restaurant in Singapore, taking a gamble on a new, yet unproven eatery can be painful… on the wallet.
Of course, opting for a cheaper lunch set means we don’t get to sample posher items like the Ozaki wagyu from the Miyazaki prefecture in Kyushu. But we’ll live. The amuse-bouche of Hokkaido Scallop and Fried Ayu Fish (above) is pleasant but not earth-shattering. It is, however, served on a designer glass platter that glitters perfectly under the spotlight.
Next, the Bluefin Tuna Mi-Cuit, a good-looking assortment of gleaming cubes of raw fish, lightly seared on the outside and paired with creamy avocado puree and ratatouille. This otherwise dependable marriage of clean and rich flavours is marred by the faint fishiness of the tuna.
04 Sep 2015
While the Steamed Red Snapper is fresh and moist, its jarring curry-tinged sauce didn’t do it any favours. The best dish today is the old-fashioned Roast Lamb (above). And that’s saying something because we don’t normally like lamb. Yes, it could do with a crustier sear, but the rosy flesh — soft, succulent, and slicked in a pool of brazenly full-bodied, buttery meat jus with undertones of some kind of addictive umami funk — is next-level Sunday roast.
The accompanying tender baby potatoes and eggplant puree serve as conduits for the lovely drippings. Pairs brilliantly with Hiromi’s spot on recommendation of a Saint Joseph by Gonon ($25 a glass), a French red from the Northern Rhône Valley that tastes like plums and violets.
Verdict: Top-notch Japanese hospitality, edgy yet luxurious vibe, fabulous wines. But
the slightly dated French-Japanese plates are somewhat underwhelming after all that stage setting. Like a middling plot in a high-budget film.
#04-16B MANDARIN GALLERY, 333A ORCHARD RD, S238897. TEL: 6235-2285. OPEN MON-SAT 11.30AM-3PM & 6.30pm-11pm. LAST ORDERS 2pm & 9PM.