Wednesday 26 December 2012

Restaurant Moliere Sapporo

When we came out of the train station, Google Maps refused to show the route I'd loaded on my phone for lack of wifi, so there was a brief period of massive panic as I stared about the whited out roads around us while wondering how we'd make it to the restaurant on time. I was still feeling super traumatized from the last time we spent nearly an hour trudging through snow to get to Kumagera, so we ended up flagging the first cab we saw.

The driver reassured us that we would not be late: "Ah! It is very near by."

When we pulled up next to the restaurant, we'd been in the cab less than three minutes, so I felt rather foolish, but it was a relief we made it for our reservation on time and in one piece.

Really good, creamy butter that came with crisp, crackly baguette slices

Stomping off the snow from our shoes on the large brown mat at the entrance, we walked in to the restaurant. The hush that descended on us as we walked in was not quite reverential, but it certainly was calming, and the tizzy I'd worked myself into over travelling here melted cleanly away. It's not a very big space, and the tables are placed fairly close together. But thanks to the natural light, the overall effect is intimate and cozy rather than claustrophobic. 

The atmosphere continued to be light and pleasant the whole afternoon through. The other diners were a mix of elderly couples or groups of ladies in their 30s, and conversation ebbed and flowed in polite, low tones. The three of us, with our hushed but excited whispers, were probably the rowdiest table in the room. 

Once they ascertained that we really couldn't converse with most of the staff on important matters like what types of wine they had on offer, their English-speaking sommelier very kindly took it upon himself to walk us through our meal. After taking our order for drinks, he explained the menu to us throughout the meal and answered all our queries. 

Moliere sits on one end of Maruyama Park, and the round table we were shown to was right by the windows facing out to it. Safely ensconced within the restaurant, the snowy landscape stopped being an obstacle, transforming instead into a picturesque winter wonderland I could take my time to admire. With the menu showcasing the best of Hokkaido's bountiful produce and changing to reflect the seasons, the view of the park seemed rather apt. 

Maruyama Koen
We went for the ¥3600 Lunch Menu, as five courses seemed like a reasonable amount to have for lunch. Having dined at Pontocho Misoguigawa in Kyoto, we were keen to see what this iteration of Japanese-interpreted French food would be like. 

The meal began with an amuse of cod and potato balls with mikan (satsuma) jelly, atop a bed of squid ink bread crumbs. It was a good start, with the fresh citrus-y jelly adding a hint of sweetness to the delicate cod and potato. 

Cod Balls
It was followed on by a mushroom cappuccino, where the milk foam gave way to a deeply umami mushroom soup. For all its dense flavours though, the soup itself was light and highly drinkable. 

I really enjoyed the salad that came next. Accompanied by a trio of sauces - plum, lemon jam and beet paste, over ten types of herbs and vegetables sat atop a bed of rice. I identified a baby carrot, half a cherry tomato, a slice of courgette, olive paste holding things in place, a sliver of lady's finger, baby radish, ginger, mushrooms, mange tout (snow peas), a french bean, sprouts, parsley and two more herbs I cannot name, one of which tasted vaguely of licorice. All this was garnished with chrysanthemum and pansy petals, with toasted sesame seeds on the side. 

All the individual vegetable's natural sweetness was on display in this dish, really fulfilling the restaurant's mission of highlighting the wonderful local produce of Hokkaido. The mashed salted plum went excellently with the mushrooms and rice, and the complex sweetness of the beet brought out the bit of ginger to great effect. 

When the Angler Fish Meunière appeared, it looked remarkably like an abstract art piece I'd seen in Bruges once. The slice of fish was crumbed with the squid ink bread that had served as a base for the cod earlier, and was served with a puddle of squid ink sauce that looked a rather interesting deep purple brushed across the white plate, dark crumbs of squid ink salt, and baby corn in milk foam. 

Angler fish always seem like dreadful, ugly things, but it's very easy to forget all that once it's on the plate. Our fish was cooked to perfection - juicy, soft, with a hint of chewiness to the flakes to keep things interesting. The squid ink crumb crust on its own didn't have all that much flavour beyond smoky, but added crunch and not once seemed dry.

Fish juices puddling on the plate

Right before the main course, we were given a palate cleanser in the form of a cup of lemon tea sorbet, with a spoonful of Williams Pear Brandy splashed in. I was so taken with the taste of the sorbet on its own that I passed on the pear brandy, but regretted it when I helped myself to D's spiked version. The intense pear aroma didn't detract from the lemon tea, but created a super fresh and clean flavour profile. 

Palates duly cleansed, it was time for the main event. 

Our main course was Braised Tokachi Beef Cheek in red wine sauce, with black pepper and mustard, next to a dollop of pumpkin purée. We asked how long the beef had been braised for, since in Singapore it seems as though restaurants are going the 'longer is better' route, and were surprised to hear that the beef had only been simmered for three hours. 

That didn't stop it from being meltingly tender. When I used my fork to split apart the cheek, I was greeted by the gentle jiggling of the layer of fat hidden inside. It looked overwhelming, but taste-wise it was so good, that even M, who usually won't touch such things with a twenty foot pole, finished everything and enjoyed it. 

And now a much deserved shout-out to the pumpkin purée. Japanese produce already has a reputation for being almost other-worldly in their perfection, and when I had the purée I had the sudden thought that they must have picked the best pumpkin from the patch and turned it into this purée because it was really ridiculously good. Like rich, sweet and creamy, but you know all of it came from the pumpkin and nowhere else - the essence of what pumpkins ought to be. 


Now back to the cheek, which was lovely and disappearing from my plate very quickly. As I was halfway through the cheek, the sommelier came out with a serving dish containing the Gratin Dauphinoise. We initially said no to more food because the portions had been quite filling, but the look of dismay on the sommelier's face at this, and his entreaties that we at least try a bit of it because it is apparently what the restaurant is famous for, quickly convinced us otherwise. 

The Perfect Gratin Dauphinoise

It seemed odd for a restaurant like this to specialize in potatoes, but once we ate it we understood. Hokkaido is especially famous within for its potatoes and milk, and this dish is an exemplar of the perfect marriage between these two ingredients. It's a completely legitimate reason for me to descend into the use of hyperbole. It was amazing. People should write songs about it. If I were so inclined, I probably would have because it was beautiful. 

(Okay I'll stop now.) 

After we thoroughly demolished our plates and left nothing behind (Because I totally mopped up that sauce with the pumpkin), we recovered a little by taking snaps of the lovely Christmas season decorations around the restaurant. One of the waiters noticed our attempt to take a picture of this moose that sat on a nearby table, and very kindly brought it over and placed it in front of us. 

Rest interval done, the dessert of baked meringue with ice cream, pineapple cubes and gold flakes was served. I've honestly never understood the rationale behind the use of gold in food, but I suppose I'll admit the dish would have looked rather bland without that pop of shiny. Needless to say, the gold added nothing to the taste of the dessert. Lovely crumbly and not too sweet meringue pieces with stewed pineapple is a great combination. 

Coffee and tea were duly brought out, and was accompanied with candied grapefruit peel atop candied kiwi jelly, looking for all the world like rather odd pieces of sushi. D went mad for all of it, so I gave him my share. 

With that done, out came the jar of homemade Grand Marnier marshmallows. The marshmallow came in a roll, from which three segments were snipped off and the jar whisked away.

The cutting of the marshmallow

The marshmallow bits held a hint of bitter orange when I sniffed them, but tasted mainly of well made marshmallow. Which I suppose it was. 

Thoroughly, thoroughly stuffed, we slowly ambled from our table to the front desk to be bundled back into our coats. But not before I asked them about the restaurant's Michelin status. I'd read somewhere they had a star or something and wanted to check. The Michelin guide was eagerly proffered and I took a picture of Moliere's page. 
Three Michelin Stars. Three!

Moliere is easily the best value three Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. We're already calmly plotting our return. 

2 chome 1-1 Miyagaoka Sapporo-shi Chuo Ward, Hokkaido 064-0959

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