Leaving behind the beauty and history of Kyoto, we took the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. Our taxi drove past Ginza, towards Akasaka where many government buildings are located. Traffic was light as it was a public holiday, we cruised through the empty boulevards past hulking buildings and knots of security guards clustered around their armored vans and inspection posts. A couple more turns, and we reached our destination. Distracted with unloading of luggage, I was unprepared for my first sight of our hotel, which turned out to be as swish as promised when we did our online booking.
The Capitol Hotel Tokyu website has better pictures, but seriously, this is a beautiful property. The common areas are full of light, and lines and space, also very calm. The staff are alert and helpful, check in was a breeze. We floated up to our deluxe room, 45 sq m of space, as big as a studio apartment in Singapore. Separate shower, bath and Toto-washlet areas. Vanity corner and bathroom sink with a large amenity box, plus nightshirts, plush slippers and fluffy bathrobes. Proper sitting area with long couch and 40 inch flat screen TV. Huge bed. Lots of floor space to pad around. Room safe, daily papers, and free wifi, of course. With a panoramic view of the city. Luxurious without being impersonal or self-consciously cool. The rate was about SGD 500+, not inexpensive to be sure, but definitely worth a splurge.
Instead of dumping our bags and rushing out to explore, we took our time to bathe and change. There are two metro stations running below the hotel. We headed for the most modern place I know, our senses were ready for something Kyoto is not. Tokyo Midtown is a sprawling complex connecting shops, restaurants, hotel, art galleries and museums. The outdoor areas are park-like, very green and spacious, although Roppongi Rd is nearby it could hardly be seen or heard. The helpful customer service staff circled on a map all the public artwork and sculpture in the area, as well as the places we could eat.
Japan has no lack of fine patisseries, some already familiar to us from our stay in Paris e.g. Sadaharu Aoki, so we zoomed in on one we have not come across before: Toshi Yoroizuka. There was a long line waiting to get into the dessert restaurant. The queue hardly budged, and we were very hungry, breakfast seemed like such a long time ago.
We decided to eat something else first, and settled randomly for hayashi rice. I was unfamiliar with this dish, it seemed like beef stew, eaten with rice. The Tokyo Hayashi Rice Club counter looked cute with its faux-western decor, we ordered the classic black stew with omelet for me, and with a lightly boiled egg for husband.
It took a while for my food to be served, as they made the omelet upon order. Very simple, just rice, egg and a black demi-glace sauce with barely discernible shreds of meat, plus quite a bit of onions. It is very similar to Japanese curry, just less spicy, with hints of tomato and maybe some red wine. Later when we talked to Shigeki, he explained that this dish is so called because its name sounds like "hashed beef", other versions of the origin attribute the name to the first person known to serve it in Japan.
It made a very comforting lunch. The eggs were cooked to perfection, adding to the pleasure. A little dish of crunchy cabbage to periodically cleanse the palate. The staff topped up our ice water automatically. In Japan it was like that, thoughtful service everywhere, no attitude, all very civilized.
Every surface in the place gleamed. Japan is very clean. Singapore might think it is clean, and Paris only cleans the parts that tourists see, but in Japan it seems like everything, everybody and everywhere is always clean, and orderly.
Towards evening, after seeing and touching the public sculptures in the area, we went back to Toshi Yoroizuka. There was only one couple in the line. Yay! Inside, the chef himself was at the back of the counter. He and his assistants greeted us enthusiastically. It is counter seating only. Towels and ice water were offered immediately. The menu lists about six creations and we could observe how the chefs assemble every dish that is served.
Fig millefeuille was figgy and utterly delicious. It stayed pure to its core ingredient, and we could taste this lovely autumn fruit in its various forms - poached, fresh, jam, sauce etc, over the crisp, airy puff pastry and the subtly scented custard.
In contrast to the elegant fig tower, pistachio scone and gorgonzola ice cream seemed more playful. It was described as the chef's specialty and he should be understandably proud of his creation. This was unforgettable, simply amazing. Salty and sweet. Nutty and savoury. Layers of tastes and textures in the candied pistachios, the cheese pretzels and crisps, and the pistachio and gorgonzola ice creams. I couldn't very well lick the plate clean, but I scraped it pretty thoroughly. Not willing to let it end on that note, we ordered a third dessert.
Happy Something, at least this is what we thought it translated as. Pineapples and a thick foam made of what the chef's assistant explained is a paste similar to natto. That's what I thought it tasted like, and I don't like natto, its pungency and unwieldy slime is hard to love. The foam is not as intense as pure natto, maybe just 10%, but that was too much for us. We finished the portion, but we didn't love it. This pushes the limit of sweet and savoury combination, though it didn't thrill as much as gorgonzola, it was very interesting.
Leaving Tokyo Midtown, we crossed to Roppongi Hills. To see Maman, the beautiful mother spider (image at top) sculpture by Louise Bourgeois. The 53rd floor houses an observation deck with a clear cityview best seen at night, and also the Mori Art Museum, where we saw the Arab Express exhibition which was predictably very thought-provoking.
It was near midnight when we left, the city still had some legs as the main street was quite full of people. A light drizzle fell, so we hailed a taxi, our lovely hotel was just around the corner. We slept well, the mattress was as firm as I could wish for. Our first day in futuristic Tokyo had gone well, and we had three more days ahead of us....