Lauburu (ローブリュー) - Basque *****
Address - Tokyo-to, Minato-ku, Minami Aoyama 6-8-18
Opening hours - 18:00 to 22:00, Closed on Sunday
Telephone - 03-3498-1314
Menu - In Japanese and French
Credit Cards - OK
The Basques are surely the greatest enigma of European history.
Like the Jews, they have remained genetically, culturally and linguistically distinct for millennia. Unlike them, they have no relatives in any significant sense of the term and their origin and position within mankind are a mystery.
The only certainty is that they have been in Europe for longer than anybody else.
Euskera, their language, is one of a handful in the world, and the only one in Europe, to have no known relations. Incredible as it may seem, the following phrase isn't from a Tibetan, Javanese or Bantu text, but simply from a language spoken in Spain and France.
Even more amazing, it would sound just as utterly alien to any human being on Earth but a Basque: "Antzinako sinbolo mitologikoa, gaur egun Euskal Herri osotik oso zabaldua. Dirudienez beste kultur batzuengandik eratorria (segur asko kelterrengandik), eguzki mugikor bat irudikatzen du. Euskal Herritik oso zabaldu zen euskal herriak astroari zion mirespenarengatik eta gaizkiari aurre egiteko balio zuela uste zutelako. Hala, ez zen arraroa baserri askoren ateetan edota hilarri askotan lauburua topatzea."
Think about it: in a field like modern linguistics where English was shown to be a relative of Punjabi, Euskera just doesn't fit.
And here we come to the subject of our review, because the quoted passage describes the Lauburu, the crosslike thing you see here and which is the symbol of the Basques.
After reading a review on Japanese magazine “Pen”, knowing there was a Basque restaurant in Tokyo, I couldn’t possibly ignore it, so I went with my only true love.
After non trivial difficulties, because (as you will no doubt find out if you decide to go) the place is remote in more than one way, we at last found Lauburu's well hidden doors.
With its terracotta tile floor, light brown walls and wooden roof, the place is very warm, friendly and welcoming. It's also not very large (just 24 seats altogether) so that, with a bit of luck, you can have the pleasure of hearing the happy crackling and smelling the sweet aroma of the pork meat almost always roasting over coals on a spit in a brick hearth.
The menu is rich and contains almost exclusively meat. Food here is certainly excellent, but definitely not healthy and, to define it in one sentence, one could say that it’s European peasant cuisine with very simple and explicit flavors. It's not particularly cheap, and their wonderful terrine maison at 1200 yen is by far the cheapest entry in their menu. Several dishes cost as much as 3000 yen, but the quality of everything is immediately evident: their baguettes for example are not only fresh, free and available in any amount you may wish (this is simply, as I will never tire to emphasize, just the way it should be in a French or Italian restaurant worthy of any respect) but probably the best I have ever had in Japan. Portions are huge and everything looks wonderful, so much that I spent most of the evening staring at other people’s dishes, envying them bitterly.
The young waiter and the cook/owner used to work at Aux Baccanales and work with speed and competence. We started our meal with the mentioned terrine maison then we ordered a 3000 yen steak, an excellent grilled fish, a salade nicoise and a goat cheese salad. Our one faux pas was ordering two glasses of excellent Josmeyer eau-de-vie: they cost 2100 yen (no, your eyes are not betraying you, it says 2100) yen each.
We left the place eight thousand yen each lighter, but happy.
By the way, the Basque cook of Spanish restaurant Pintxos Bepo (another excellent Basque restaurant, Tel. 03-3597-0312), says the food here is exactly what he used to eat at home, so apparently it's the real thing.
Le Bretagne (ル・ブルターニュ) - French ***
Address : 1F Confort Kagurazaka ,4-2 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162-0825
Closed on Mondays. Open 11:30 to 22:00 (last order) - 21:00 (Sunday)
Telephone - 03 3235-3001
Address : Meiji Jingu-mae 4-9-8, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Telephone - 03-3478-7855
Credit Cards - OK
According to my French friend Michel, crepes are a specialty of Bretagne, hence the name of the restaurant, where they are used not only for desserts, as they are in Italy, but also to make main dishes by filling them with cheese, mushrooms, pork, tomato and so forth. He says that he never found a good one even in Paris, but he likes this, so I guess we should be happy to have Le Bretagne so close. Being a creperie, it offers nothing but crepes.
The place is small and cozy with some tables in the garden where you can enjoy the evening, now that it's summer. The menu, in French and Japanese, is divided in three main sections, the first and the second dedicated to main dishes and the third to desserts. Among the few crepes we tried, I particularly liked the "Provençal" and the "Nordique", but you know, a crepe is a crepe, no matter how well it's made. It's difficult to find great variety within such a limited field. So, even though I enjoyed also the desserts we tried, one of them truly excellent, I wouldn't go out of my way to dine there again. A dinner based on crepes for about four thousand yen apiece is an interesting experience, but perhaps not to be repeated too often.
The Omotesando branch is bigger and nicer, but the food the same.
: Although fvz gave a **** to this restaurant, I downgraded it a little. I ate in both places a couple of times, and must say that while the food is nice, the overall bill is too high for such kind of restaurants.
web : www.le-bretagne.com
La Cantinella - Italian
Address - Horibe Bldg. B1F, 4-25-12 Minami Aoyama Minato-ku, Tokyo
Opening hours - 11:30 am to 14:30pm and 18:00 pm to 22:30 pm
Telephone - 03-3407-7043
Menu - In Italian and Japanese
Credit Cards - OK
The people at La Cantinella are very proud of the award they got from the Italian President of the Republic last year, and in fact that is what made me decide to visit them.
La Cantinella is a pleasant, crescent-shaped restaurant and pizzeria where almost the entire staff is Italian. The atmosphere is consequently what you can expect: elegant but comparatively informal and pleasant, it certainly doesn't require a necktie. Much was made of the fact I am Italian, and I felt sort of like a prodigal son for not having shown up before.
Everybody here is from the south of the country, and one can tell from the menu, especially the pastas: pages and pages and pages of unusual, interesting dishes that I found difficult to resist: one cannot eat everything. There are sets, one at 4800 yen, another at 7500, both exclusive of table charge and taxes, but they limit your choice to just one of two dishes per item, so we decided to go à la carte. We first had assorted appetizers and a green salad between the four of us, then shared Taormina-style spaghetti, Calabrian tagliatelle, risotto with crab and rucola, and spaghetti with shellfish. Portions were abundant and everything tasted great.
Our main dishes were pollo al mattone, mixed grilled fish, sole in basil sauce and scaloppine with mushrooms and melted cheese. Two Brunello di Montalcino grappas and a panna cotta later, having finished the meal, the waiter gave each of us a complimentary and much appreciated Limoncello di Capri (a famous lemon liquor).
And the wine? The wine list is also long and offers white and red wines from all over the country. We settled on two bottles of Sardinian Cannonau, which I am told was good.
In conclusion, an excellent meal in great company. Alas, this high quality comes at a high price: 10 thousand yen with wine and drinks a head are unavoidable, unless you order a set. We all felt La Cantinella was worth the money, though, and the next time, which as you can understand won't be so soon, we will try the pizzas: they have twenty different kinds, and the guy who makes them comes from Naples, so they should be as good as the rest.
Directions: from Omotensando crossing crossing go straight on Miyukidori until you see on your right the Nezu Museum (about 300 meters), then turn left. La Cantinella is about 100 meters after the intersection on the right side of the street.