A master of kaiseki, a traditional multicourse Japanese dinner, Mr. Toru Okuda already has two award-winning restaurants in Tokyo — Ginza Okuda and Ginza Kojyu — and his first establishment outside of his homeland, Okuda (7 rue le Trémoille 75008), opened in Paris in early fall.
Despite the €180 (about $247) lunch menu price and the €250 dinner course ($344), the prestigious address is bound to fetch the celebrated chef more accolades, and it isn’t hard for this Forbes Travel Guide Paris correspondent to see why. Its location off the Champs-Élysées aside, each course surprises and wows with its appearance and bursts of flavor.
Meticulously assembled, the dishes are prepared by a team of perfectionists under the watchful eye of Mr. Okuda himself. “I wanted to open my first restaurant outside of Japan in Paris because it’s the capital of gastronomy,” Okuda told me just before the restaurant opened its doors to the public for the first time. “It’s a place where people are already open to and aware of haute cuisine.”
The restaurant has nothing flashy in its décor – all elements were brought over from Japan and come together to create a soothing atmosphere that allows none of the diners’ attention to stray from the food. Split into several different spaces, there’s a configuration to suit all occasions – face to face at a table for two, or in a private salon, or even at an adapted Kotatsu table on a tatami floor – but my favorite has to be sitting at the counter, especially when you’re able to watch the master himself at work.
Sitting in awe on my wooden chair, I watched Mr. Okuda’s agile hands slicing cuttlefish. And he watched me, silently waiting for a reaction as I tried each ingredient of the bouquet of fish neatly arranged in a delicate china dish the waitress placed in front of me. He sliced blindly, his every move calculated as though subconsciously. A lot happens behind the scenes deep within Mr. Okuda’s mind – each plate of the eight or nine in the celebrated chef’s kaiseki course is carefully timed and balanced to allow diners the opportunity to absorb the tastes and textures in exactly the manner Mr. Okuda has planned.
I started off with langoustine and crunchy seasonal vegetables cooked in wasabi, and a savory flan in a crab and mushroom sauce. This was followed by a sea bream broth. Next came sashimi that included several types of fish, but the melt-in-your-mouth, finely sliced cuttlefish stole the star spot. After that, there was grilled sea bass, followed by a divine cut of Miso-Yûan beef, rice with wild salmon, salmon eggs and wild mushrooms, and compote of three types of peach to finish. By the end of the meal – three hours later – I was wholly satisfied.
As Mr. Okuda will have to divide his time between three restaurants and two continents, he relies on his right-hand man, executive chef Shun Miyahara, to keep up the demanding standards for a menu that changes daily. Passionate and fully dedicated, Mr. Miyahara is as approachable and scrupulous as the master himself – except that, in France, there is one obstacle to achieving the demanding standards he is accustomed to: the quality of the fish. “In Paris, the fish we get is quite inferior to the fish in Japan,” Mr. Miyahara tells me laughing excitedly. “That is why we are thinking of opening our own fishery in Brittany and then we will be able to bring the fish over to Paris alive – because freshness is the top priority in Japanese gastronomy.”
Photos Courtesy of Okuda