Originally published on on October 2007

Photos Courtesy of PJ Group

Photos Courtesy of PJ Group

Salt is Tokyo’s restaurant of the moment. Owned by a celebrity chef (Luke Mangan) who specializes in a trendy cuisine (Australian) and located in a hip shopping complex (the Shin-Marunouchi Building), the eatery has been electrifying diners since its debut in March.
Salt’s sense of play—bordering on the chaotic—is evident throughout the menu, where ingredients, flavor combinations and cooking styles run riot. On one page is venison seared in sumac with spiced orange and fennel custard; on another is foie gras-crusted sea bass in a miso-cabernet broth, which sits on a bed of caramelized apple.

On a recent visit, our five- and six-course degustation meals (¥8,000 and ¥13,000) got off to a bracing start with an amuse-bouche of chilled crab and tomato soup, seasoned simply with garlic and basil. Next came coconut broth and pea soup—two dishes that are more intricate than their names suggest. Both arrived in shallow, wide-rimmed bowls with a savory treat in the center: ravioli of beef cheek in a bittersweet chocolate sauce, and green tea-smoked scallop with cilantro leaves. As the waitstaff prepared the dishes by pouring steaming broth from long-handled bronze saucepans, the chocolate-based pea soup took on a pleasingly murky hue, and the coconut dish sprang to life in Thai curry-like fashion.

After such a dramatically presented course, the ensuing light seafood dishes—white-meat fish carpaccio (seasoned with soy, ginger and shallots) and lobster sashimi (olive oil and citrus)—might have seemed ordinary. Yet both elicited gasps of pleasure thanks to their freshness and creative presentation.

The next dish, chicken breast poached with thyme, turned out to be the star of the show. Coated with wasabi-flavored breading and accompanied by a cube of chicken confit layered with daikon, this course perfectly captures the exuberant Salt ethos.

Photos Courtesy of PJ Group

Photos Courtesy of PJ Group

The following meat entrées were decidedly less adventurous—which seemed to us a good thing, proving that the kitchen knows when to stay its hand. Seared and poached fillet of Queensland beef arrived in a thin gravy flavored with truffle oil, while medallions of venison were spiced with anise. Even these straightforward dishes held surprises, though: the beef sat on a bed of creamy blue-cheese polenta, while the venison hid slivers of spicy orange.

As might be expected of such ambitious cooking, not everything at Salt succeeds. The nori that wraps a dish of tempura-style quail adds an unwelcome seafood flavor to a lovely earthy meat. So much of the restaurant’s food hits the right notes, however, that the dining experience remains supremely satisfying—as the sophisticated (and largely foreign) clientele attest.

To accompany our meals, we ordered the sommelier’s selection course (¥5,000/¥5,500), which offers a different glass of wine with each food dish. Though the wine was excellent—the Pizzini Nebbiolo and Cascabel Monastrell were particular standouts—the portions were a bit stingy, so next time we’ll make our own selections from Salt’s vast cellar.

Maybe sipping a full bottle of wine will give us more time to take in the restaurant’s stylish interior and exciting crowd—if, that is, we can tear our attention away from all the action on our plates.