Ristorante Aso

29-3 Sarugaku-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan

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Ristorante Aso is in the Daikanyama district, in a western style house dating back to 1939, next to the Danish embassy. At the front is a bar area with plenty of natural light, while the dining area is towards the back of the building. There are several dining rooms decorated in western style, with wooden floors and quiet piano music in background. Our table had a view overlooking a pretty Italian-style garden. Tables are large and generously spaced. The restaurant has custom-made china and even custom-made napkins

There are tasting menus at ¥10500, ¥15750, and ¥21000 and a la carte dishes are mostly ¥6,000, both for starters and main courses. The wine list has plenty of well known growers from France and Italy. Prices were not kind. My favourite Jermann Vintage Tunina 2004 was ¥17,500 (£132 compared to a retail price of £28), Faively Corton Charlemagne 2004 was ¥38,500 (£291 compared to a UK retail price of £99), while Antinori Tignello 1988 was an absurd ¥55,000 (£416) for a wine you can still buy for around £100 in the UK.

Six breads were offered, two of which (rosemary and anchovy rolls) are made in the kitchen, the rest being bought in. The rosemary bread had nice texture and plenty of rosemary flavour (16/20), brioche, basil bread, tomato bread and nut bread were pleasant (14/20), while the anchovy bread certainly tasted of anchovies (15/20). There were also very good, delicate breadsticks (16/20).

While we waited for our starters we were offered an unusual nibble: a simple fried egg, over which white truffles were grated at the table; this was certainly very pleasant, and the truffles had good aroma, though there are limits to what can be done with a fried egg so this is a tricky dish to score.

Chef Tatsuji Aso trained in France and travelled around Italy but did not cook there; he cooked at the restaurants Vivaroi (now closed) and Chateau Locaguenole while in France. Very unusually for a restaurant in Japan, the chef was not in the kitchen ("at one of his other restaurants"). 

Seafood spaghetti had very good pasta, and unusually had its seafood component served separately in a cocktail glass rather than being incorporated in the pasta; the diner pours the assorted seafood (prawns, clams, scallops) over the pasta; this was all very pleasant, the seafood tender, with particularly nice sweet scallops (16/20). 

My seafood risotto was not really a classical risotto in that it did not use Italian rice, and there was little in the way of stock absorbed by the rice; the shellfish was presented on top of the rice in its various shells, and this comprised very nicely cooked, tender prawns and lobster. The rice was milky queen Japanese rice from Shizioka, and although pleasant I do not think this works as well as arborio or other Italian risotto rice in this dish; still the seafood was genuinely good, so 16/20 overall. One thing to say is that the starters were quite large in volume terms, more main course size, as I suppose befits their price. However I do not have a dainty appetite but was unable to finish my main course, so I would rather have had half the volume (preferably at half the price). 

Sea bass was a nice piece of theatre, fillets of bass presented in a casserole dish which was lined with hot stones at the bottom. Mixed herbs and the fish was placed in the dish and water poured around over the hot stones, creating steam. The dish was then sealed and allowed to steam for five minutes at our table, measured by an egg-timer. The fish was both very nicely cooked by this method and had superb flavour, served with assorted grilled vegetables and a balsamic vinegar and herb sauce with a few slivers of matsutake mushrooms (easily 17/20, pushing 18/20).

My pigeon had nice flavour, cooked pink and served with its liver, as well as lovely char-grilled yellow and red bell peppers, as well as tomato, courgette, asparagus and porcini mushrooms. The peppers in particular had lovely flavour, while the pigeon was merely pleasant (16/20).

Then followed a seasonal salad, with a prettily decorated glass plate with assorted raw vegetables shaped as leaves around the rim to indicate autumn; there was even a little wooden rake provided to rake the "leaves" into the salad. This was a very nice presentation idea, but suffered from an odd choice of "leaves: in some cases: cucumber is fine, but I wasn't expecting some raw lemon peel. Worse, the dressing for the salad was seriously over salted, and this is not something I usually say (maybe 13/20 given the seriously misjudged dressing).

A pineapple pre-dessert was a sort of iced foam, and was refreshing if a little grainy in texture (14/20). For dessert, a selection of sorbets was attractively presented on a rectangular block of ice: the sorbets were apricot, plum and kiwi fruit. The apricot sorbet was lovely but with all the fabulous fruit in Japan surely they could have done better than kiwi fruit? I feel this was chosen for its colour rather than anything else, another example where presentation appearance overrode taste, which is a pity; still, the sorbets were well-made (16/20). I had a pear cocktail, served in a cocktail glass with a spongy lime concoction as well as pear and pear ice cream, with Pommery champagne poured into the cocktail glass at the table as a final theatrical flourish; the pears were indeed excellent (17/20).

There followed a very pretty display of petit fours on little sticks in a bowl arranged like a flower display. There were a couple of good, moist fruit jellies, a good raspberry, a blueberry, a little cake with custard centre and a sponge cake (16/20 for quality, though the presentation was lovely). Reasonable if rather thick, grainy coffee was brought at the same time as our desserts, although we had specifically asked for the coffee (800 yen) afterwards. Trying to appreciate my pear dessert while drinking expresso was really not a great idea, in my view. Other than this strange turn of events the service was very good throughout, with careful topping up.

The bill for two was ¥43,500 (£165 a head) with a fairly modest wine. To be honest this is a lot of money for what was delivered. I am not comfortable scoring this more than 16/20 overall, since although the presentation of food was genuinely excellent, with a nice sense of theatre, there were odd lapses, such as the bizarre salad dressing, which you do not expect in a two star Michelin restaurant. Also, as noted, I felt that at times ingredients were chosen to fit in with a presentation theme rather than because they were actually the best or most appropriate elements for the dish.

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