The name “Sputnik”, best known as a pioneering Soviet space triumph (our planet’s first artificial satellite), means “travelling companion” in Russian. The owners chose this name to reflect the notion of taking the customer on a creative culinary journey, fusing French and Japanese influences. The restaurant is in a quiet Roppongi side street in a residential neighbourhood, and is quite easy to find by Japanese standards, in a nation that has turned making obscure or downright hidden restaurant entrances into an art form. As with so many Tokyo restaurants the scale is small, with just three tables plus a small private dining room. From the room you can see into the tiny kitchen via a glass wine cabinet. There is a choice of two different tasting menus, one at ¥12,000 (£83) and the other at ¥16,000 (£110). The chef is Yujiro Takahashi, who previously gained a Michelin star as head chef of Le Jeu de l”Assiette in Tokyo after training at restaurants including Ledoyen and Chez Ami Jean in Paris.
This being a French (ish) restaurant there was a wine list, with quite an extensive selection by the glass, bottles starting at ¥7,000 (£48). Sample references were Chateau Montus Madiran 2012 at ¥8,000 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for ¥3,822, Jean Louis Chave St Joseph 2008 at ¥19,000 compared to its retail price of ¥9,556, and Domain de la Grange des Peres 2013 at ¥28,000 for a wine that will set you back ¥14,767 in the high street.
The meal began with sashimi of amadei (tilefish) caught from waters off Kyushu, the slice of fish wrapped around cubes of peach and garnished with basil. The amadei had good flavour and went fairly well with the peach, the basil having a lot of flavour (easily 15/20). This was followed by edamame beans with edamame bean churros with pea shoots and a kale crisp. The beans themselves were of much better than you would likely encounter in the UK, though my kale crisp was flabbier than I think was intended, and I wondered how good an idea introducing the sweetness of the churros was at this stage of the meal. Still, this was prettily presented (13/20).
At this stage our meals diverged. Sardine gazpacho with watermelon soup and tomato jelly came with pickled cucumber. This was a good example of just how good the ingredients in Japan are, with familiar ingredients singing with flavour compared to the versions we see in the UK. Here the tomato was excellent, the sardine had very good flavour and even the pickled cucumber was really impressive (17/20). I had terrine of foie gras with celeriac mousse and jelly, as well as little batons of green apple. This was a well-balanced dish, the acidity of the apple balancing the richness of the liver, the celeriac bringing an extra flavour note (16/20).
This was followed by squid with pickled carrot made white wine vinegar, sesame sauce and carrot foam. The pickled carrot was excellent, and its sharpness went well with the squid, which was reasonably tender (15/20). Japanese ayu was next. Ayu has quite a distinctive bitter flavour note, yet is called “sweet fish”, perhaps illustrating some Japanese sense of humour. Here it was deep fried and served with strips of thin potato chips along with a balsamic vinegar sauce. This tempura cookery was impressive, the batter extremely light and delicate (easily 16/20).
Next a plate was brought with a smoke dome, which was removed to reveal pike served with a sauce made from low fat milk and Roquefort. This was an unusual idea but worked better than it sounds. The pike itself had very good flavour and had a gentle smoky note of flavour, and the potentially overpowering flavour of the Roquefort was well under control. This dish could easily have misfired but didn’t (16/20).
Hamo (pike conger) tempura came with tomato and white wine vinegar and a ravigote sauce, a classic French sauce of chervil, shallots, tarragon and chives. Hamo is extremely fiddly to prepare due to its bony nature, but it has excellent flavour. Here it was lovely, the tempura again very delicate and the herb sauce complemented it beautifully (18/20). I preferred this to sautéed foie gras with coffee jelly and powder. This was an interesting idea, using the bitterness of the coffee to balance the richness of the liver, but for me the bitter not was just a touch strong, though the foie gras itself had excellent texture (15/20).
Lobster came with a small piece of avocado and a butter sauce flavoured with coconut and vanilla. The shellfish was certainly very tender and the ripe avocado worked well with it, though for me vanilla is a tricky thing to pull off in savoury sauces. Still, this was undeniably skillful cooking (16/20). Mushroom crepe contained a poached egg and was served with mushroom ice cream. There was notionally supposed to be some asparagus in this dish, though if there was then it was well hidden. The mushrooms were of good quality but I found the touch of sweetness of the ice cream a little disconcerting (14/20).
Scallops were served in a hollowed out papaya, along with new season matsutake mushrooms resting in a mushroom broth. The mushrooms were excellent, though again the papaya introduced a sweet element that I was not convinced by. The scallops themselves had very good inherent sweetness but were cooked a bit longer than I would have liked (13/20).
Sautéed grouper with fermented cabbage sauce and boiled cabbage was, by contrast, a little undercooked. It had good flavour but the cabbage could have done with more seasoning (13/20). The meal got back on track with the last savoury dish. Yezo is a subspecies of sika deer from Hokkaido, served here with red wine sauce, cooked grapes, baby red onions and black peppercorns. This was a lovely dish, the deer having excellent flavour, the sauce nicely reduced, the onions delicate and almost sweet, the peppercorns adding a spicy bite. The grapes worked particularly well, their acidity balancing the richness of the meat (18/20). Bread this evening was from a bakery called Maison Kaiser, and was classy.
For dessert, passion fruit soufflé was served inside a hollowed out passion fruit, along with chocolate ice cream granules poured over with a flourish of dry ice. The soufflé was lovely, having excellent balance, the passion fruit and chocolate flavours combining beautifully (18/20). This was followed by a pretty dessert of pink grapefruit, with grapefruit tuiles arranged as the petals of a flower, containing grapefruit mousse and mint ice cream with raspberry powder, along with matcha ice cream. Grapefruit is a tricky ingredient in desserts due to its bitterness, but here it was carefully balanced by just the right level of sugar, the mint another potentially strong flavour also well controlled. This was another classy dessert (18/20).
Service was very good, our dinner-jacketed waiter speaking quite good English and being very attentive, as well he might be with just two tables to serve. The bill came to ¥28,805 (£199) each, with the food element of that being ¥16,000 (£110). We had opted for the pricier of two menu choices, and if you went for the cheaper one and ordered cheaper wine then a typical cost per head might be around £130. Overall the meal showed considerable skill. Not everything worked, and the chef seems to like introducing sweet flavour notes into savoury dishes more than this particular customer thinks wise. However despite the odd technical slip the general standard of cooking was high, and there were some real star dishes. The desserts in particular were classy. This comfortably deserves its star rating.