DREAMING OF ART AND FOOD AT HOKKAIDO LUX RESTAURANT L’ENFANT QUI REVE
“The child who is dreaming” – the direct translation of L’enfant Qui Reve – was perhaps chosen to describe Isamu Noguchi although it would also seem to apply to the Chef, Yuji Kodama. Once seated inside the restaurant beside a window with a panoramic view of Moerenuma Park it is the guest who may feel like that. This is a special restaurant that smashes all previous experiences of eating in a public venue whether it be a museum, art gallery or VIP sports arena.
During the course of a meal this translates to remarkable qualities of finesse and purity that intricately define the central ingredient and by association – its terroir. This is a hard-working chef driven by a passion to express his reverence for nature. Each meal that arrives at the table was touched in some way by Chef Kodama – one can confirm that by watching him at work in the open kitchen towards the back of the kitchen. This hands-on approach is rarer in top lux restaurants where much of the work is delegated to less experienced hands. Make no mistake – this is one of the primary reasons a meal here is this good.
Under Chef Kodama the course-menu plays out with nods to Kaiseki and its approach to expressing the season in theatrical ways. Guests are given just enough details on the sourcing of each ingredient to conclude L’enfant Qui Rêve fully embraces the farm to table approach that gourmands now embrace. The menu offers sparse details for course descriptions, wisely allowing the the meal to unfold with a spontaneous feel. Although one may describe this as French it is in many ways Japanese. The reliance on fats – a telltale sign of French and European cooking – is largely replaced by fresh and fragrant flavors. This is food with great finesse and little heaviness.
This is the sign of a confident kitchen operating with precise control over flavors and textures and a vision to assemble multiple courses that express time and place. The visual and textural surprises that appear throughout the meal plays out like a jazz composition – alternating between classical compositions and those that are more avant-garde.
The course of Hokkaido Wagyu Beef exemplifies this notion perfectly. It begins with a medallion of tenderloin laid out on a broad landscape of curvaceous white porcelain. Soon after Chef Kodama appears at the table with a sizzling cast iron cocotte, inside of which sits a slow-roasted bulb of Yurine – Japananes Lily Bulb – grown on a small farm in the town of Maccarina, about a one hour drive from Niseko by passionate farmers. The Yurine is lightly carmelised, its crisp edges give way to an interior of creamy richness unique to Yurine. Subtle tones of thyme and butter flicker on the palate, then fade away. This is precision French cooking at its best. It was but one of many highlights in a meal without fault. One is left with a feeling of knowing much more about the rich bounty of produce Hokkaido produces and a longing to return for more.
Le coq au vin
Poisson de jour
plat de principal
Le chocolat et la menthe
La haricot noirs
Café ou Thé
In an interesting effort to align the restaurant with Moerenuma Park philosophy set out by Isamu Noguchi the wine cellar stocks a finely sourced list split roughly 50/50 between American and French producers. One would guess this relates to the fact that Isamu Noguchi was American/Japanese. Whatever the reason the list itself is loaded with fantastic value wines that are well-aged match splendidly with the style of food served at L’enfant Qui Rêve. Remarkably, one can order a bottle of wine starting from ¥3500 – almost unheard of in fine dining restaurants today. Even better, at least 50% of the wine list is under ¥10000.
Our evening began with a 2004 Domain Weinbach “Cuvee Theo” Riesling. It’s delicate expression of minerals and golden straw paired wonderfully with the front end of the Chef’s Tasting Course built around Hokkaido’s bounty of fish and shellfish. This is a wine that is happy to cede the spotlight to the food and yet its precise acidity works with the food to yield better definition of flavors. As the course steered towards richness and land-sourced proteins like Hokkaido Wagyu Beef, we moved onto a Washington Syrah chosen by the sommelier for us. As the sharp sculptural lines of Moerenuma Park faded to shadowy and muted tones our focus on the meal at hand deepened. Thoughts turned to the words of Isamu Noguchi and his extraordinary vision for the park. There is a beautiful harmony that exists in this place that becomes more apparent the longer one stays. It is a place where the many expressions of nature’s beauty can be experienced within a single day. For the traveling gourmand or local connoisseur the combination of an original and refined contemporary setting, superbly crafted food and well-chosen wines is indeed a wonderful proposition made even better by this lux restaurant and its accessible prices.
L’enfant Qui Rêve menu pricing reveals a generous tilt in favor of the customer for both wine and food. Take advantage of this rarity and visit a lux restaurant firing on all cylinders for an absolutely stunning value proposition. Any visitor to the art park will unquestionably enjoy one of the great destination cultural experiences in the world. To experience Moerenuma Park is in itself is well worth the journey to Sapporo. Add to that the opportunity to dine at a restaurant of this calibre – not forgetting its thoughtful sourcing of Hokkaido ingredients that expresses the Hokkaido’s terroir so beautifully – seems beyond imagination.