Moliere is set on the edge of Maruyama Park in Sapporo, and has a small but pretty garden surrounding the property. The dining room seats around twenty diners, and is decorated in European style. One side of the room faces over the garden, and tables are generous in size and well spaced, covered with impeccably ironed white linen tablecloths. There is plenty of natural light in the low-ceilinged room, and several attractive flower displays.
Chef/owner Nakamishi Hirushi has been here for 29 years, having spent time in France, particularly around Lyon, as a young chef. He was not present in the kitchen tonight, the kitchen being directed by chef de cuisine Tomoyuki Kon, who had trained at Arpege and Lucas Carton before working here. As is usual in high-end restaurants in Japan, there are set menus rather than a la carte, here a choice of three menus of varying length and price. I opted for the "seasons" menu at ¥990, but they let me try one dish (the crab) from one of the other menus as well. There was a wine list, but only in Japanese, so I drank beer (Sapporo, naturally enough, is the one beer available) this evening. The ingredients used in the restaurant are mostly from Hokkaido, and indeed my excellent waiter even produced a little map of Hokkaido showing where the various ingredients were from within the region.
Three amuse-bouches appeared. Potato tacos was a little savoury Gruyere tuile folded around a filling of potato, and was a comforting start to the meal, the tuile delicate (17/20). Sea urchin topped a "soup" of okra, which had a consistency almost more jelly like than that of a conventional soup. The sea urchin was certainly very good, though for me the okra flavour rather dominated the dish (15/20). This was followed by a lobster and flan soup, topped with lobster foam, the soup flavoured with a very gentle hint of curry. This was genuinely excellent, the lobster flavour intense, the soup well seasoned and the little pieces of flan offering some texture within the soup. The lobster had particularly good flavour (18/20). There was a single type of white bread offered, supplied by a local bakery called Moulin Galette and served warm. The bread was good, quite airy and with a nice crust (17/20).
A dish of summer vegetables was prettily presented, showcasing 25 vegetables from the region, including, peas, beans, mange tout and radishes. Particularly good was the broccoli, which was served separately topped with a little bacon powder, and as well as being perfectly cooked had lovely flavour. The vegetables were nicely cooked and of very good quality (easily 17/20).
Crab from Taraba was topped with radish discs, the crab served with a dressing of sherry vinegar and honey. This was a lovely dish, the crab having terrific flavour, the radish giving some earthy contrast to the crab, the dressing nicely balanced between sweet and sour (18/20). Skate with beurre noisette seemed to me rather less interesting, served with green cabbage and tiny croutons. The fish was cooked nicely enough, and the cabbage was very well prepared, but it was merely good rather than exciting (16/20). A rather unnecessary palate cleanser of pear and lemon sherbet appeared next, having pear brandy poured over it. The brandy was the dominant taste, and I have never really understood the desire to split up savoury courses with a sweet dish like this.
The main course was Takachi beef fillet with bordelaise sauce, topped with grated Japanese horseradish, and garnished with little vinegary crisps. The beef was from a Holstein cow rather than one of the famous wagyu prefectures of Japan, so was not particularly marbled. It was pleasant and had nice flavour, and the slight vinegar taste worked well, but as a dish it was again good rather than great (16/20). I actually was more impressed with the quality of a gratin dauphinoise, served separately in a little copper pan on the side; this had gorgeous flavour.
There were now three cheeses from Hokkaido itself, one a soft cows milk cheese, one alike a raclette and the other a blue. I doubt these will be supplanting Brie and Roquefort any time soon in the list of the world's great cheeses, but it was nice to see local cheese being used. Next was a sherbet of grapefruit with wasabi root. This was certainly an intriguing idea, combining two very strong flavour, but for me this would have worked better with less wasabi, which was really too strong for the grapefruit in this case (14/20). This was followed by a rather odd dish for a dessert: tomatoes with pineapple and red wine soup flavoured with Earl Grey tea. The tomatoes themselves had good flavour, but this was really a savoury posing as a dessert. Call me old-fashioned but I like my desserts to be sweet (hard to score, but maybe 14/20). Coffee and petit fours (an opera cake, a rather hard grapefruit jelly and a kiwi fruit jelly) finished the meal.
Service from my Japanese waiter Ken (who spoke good English) was very capable and friendly throughout the evening. The bill came to ¥12,758 (£104) for one, which seemed very fair given the obvious quality of the ingredients and cooking.
Intrigued that longtime Zafferano chef Andy Needham has taken over a neighbourhood restaurant in Ravenscourt Park: http://t.co/k00yOOpTMm