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Signature, Tokyo, Japan

17 January 2008 by

Signature at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo hotel is one of the 150 restaurants to be awarded a star in Michelin's first guide to the Japanese capital. Janet Harmer takes a look at its French menu

Situated on the 37th floor of the Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower in Tokyo's swanky Ginza district, Signature must enjoy one of the best outlooks of any Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. With views over the Imperial Palace on one side and Tokyo Bay and the neon lights of Ginza on the other, diners get to scale great heights both literally and gastronomically.

The intention when Olivier Rodriguez was appointed as head chef was to create a menu that would impress the food-obsessed Japanese, who make up the vast majority of Signature's diners.

As a Frenchman who has worked in two two-Michelin-starred restaurants in France - Le Chantecler at the Hôtel Negresco in Nice and Les Jardins de l'Opéra in Toulouse - as well as the three-Michelin-starred Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence, Rodriguez's background is classical French and European. From the time that Signature opened at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo two years ago, he has offered a 100% French-inspired menu, with a lightness of touch that appeals to the Japanese.

Local influences

Having lived and worked in Japan for eight years - initially at the Tokyo outpost of Enoteca Pinchiorri - the local influences are apparent in the simplicity and sharpness of the presentation, together with the use of some key ingredients.

Sendai-Shi beef from Miyagi-Ken in the north of Japan and organic vegetables from Hokkaido or Chiba are an integral part of his menu, as are Japanese seafood and fish. These are supplemented by a wide selection of European ingredients including foie gras, Vendée pigeon, Challans duck, black Périgord truffles, mushrooms, Brittany lobster, fennel, artichoke, chocolate and cheese from France, endives and salsify from Belgium and white truffles from Italy.

Rodriguez intends that every dish sings of its individual ingredients, without being masked by any extraneous flavours. For example, a starter of toasted scallops has the sweet seafood perfectly partnered with stewed vanilla turnip and a lemon and walnut condiment (¥5,000/£22).

Other popular dishes include the starter of foie gras and persimmon two ways: poached with ginger-scented chutney and simply seared with cinnamon (¥6,000/£26.50) - and the main course of roast Sendai beef rib-eye with braised seasonal vegetables and sweetbread pie (¥10,500/£46).

In addition to the à la carte menu there are several set-price menus. At lunch these include two four-course menus with coffee: the Menu Moment costs ¥5,000 (£22) and the Menu Emotion is priced at ¥7,500 (£33).

In the evening, the Menu Emotion offers five courses for ¥14,000 (£61), while the Menu Signature includes seven courses for ¥20,000 (£88).

Menu Signature

The Menu Signature includes spotted prawn carpaccio with nutmeg-flavoured grains and Lamb's lettuce leaves egg yolk warmed in olive oil with bacon-scented Jerusalem artichoke mousse and black truffle coulis the foie gras and persimmon starter anglerfish with rosemary, shellfish and fennel gratin, bouillabaisse reduction the Sendai beef rib-eye a selection of French cheeses Manjari chocolate mousse with candied cherry and kirsch perfumed with fresh cherry coulis and coffee and petits fours.

The south-facing part of Signature is furnished with a row of intimate, semi-private dining tables - highlighting the traditional Japanese practice of creating secluded dining spaces - separated by silver partitions made with carbon fibres through which shine beams of natural sunlight. The restaurant has a private chef's table, which seats up to 10 guests, and Rodriguez and his brigade work in an open kitchen, serving about 40 lunches and 40 dinners a day.

The recently awarded Michelin star has brought in extra business, and Rodriguez is delighted that his team's hard work in both the kitchen and restaurant has been rewarded.

What's on the menu

  • Sautéd langoustine tails, lentils and warm leek salad with Parma ham and mustard dressing (¥6,000/£26.50)
  • Herb-filled rabbit saddle, the shoulder in a rillette style, rocket, black olive sabayon, ¥5,500 (£24)
  • Radicchio risotto with pigeon ragoût, blackberry-scented, ¥5,000 (£22)
  • Liquorice-skewered turbot with caramelized onion and pumpkin, cassis sauce, ¥7,000 (£30.50)
  • Porcini-coated lamb loin with artichoke gratin, sage and sweet garlic-perfumed jus, ¥7,000 (£30.50)
  • Cocoa-crusted pigeon breast, coconut-flavoured turnip and cocoa sauce, confit of the leg served with marinated turnip, ¥7,500 (£33)
  • Classic millefeuilles filled with hazelnut mousse served with tonka bean toffee ice-cream, ¥2,000 (£8.75)
  • Part-baked fig filled with ricotta ice-cream, apricot marmalade and crispy almond tube, ¥2,000 (£8.75)
  • Strawberries: foam with milk jam, marinated with mint, warm tart of wild strawberries, ¥2,000 (£8.75)

Signature, Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, 2-1-1, Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 103-8328, Japan. Tel: 00 81 3 3270 8188. Website: www.mandarinoriental.com/tokyo

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