Originally published on on September 2007

Photo courtesy of Shun

Photo courtesy of Shun

When chef Mako Tanaka announced that he was quitting the Tokyo restaurant scene earlier this year, gourmands throughout the city could be found weeping in their champagne glasses. Tanaka, a protégé of fusion pioneer Wolfgang Puck, was instrumental in the birth of “Californian” cuisine, and his first Japan effort did not disappoint. Situated in the classy Izumi Garden, close (but not too close) to Roppongi, Mako offered elaborate yet well-thought-out dishes in an interior of stately elegance.

So we were a bit hesitant about our first dinner at Shun, the rechristened restaurant that now occupies Mako’s former home. Sure, the star-studded opening bash wowed us with a lavish spread, and dishes like marinated rack of lamb with basil mayonnaise seemed faithful to the free-wheeling Mako ethos. But could Shun recapture the style and confident originality of its predecessor?

It turns out we needn’t have worried. New executive chef Masakatsu Kato shows a deft touch across a broad palette of dishes, and proves himself a rightful heir to the Mako throne.

Shun’s menu displays cooking styles from around the world. Yet the guiding spirit is admirably local. A tube-shaped appetizer of bluefin tuna tempura with uni-chardonnay sauce (¥1,900) offered an unusual combination of familiar seafood flavors, and was brought down to earth by the stalk of crisp asparagus running through the center; cut into beveled chunks, the dish is also a treat for the eyes. Similarly, mild sea bass carpaccio is given extra fishy depth by the tiny dollops of tobiko and caviar, while the ten varieties of vinegared greens underneath provide a tart complement (¥2,600). Our meal took a surprising south-of-the-border turn when a grilled swordfish steak arrived with jalapeño-green tomato salsa (¥3,400). This is fusion cooking in the best sense: fresh, top-quality ingredients given unexpected twists by offbeat spicing and cooking methods.

Photo courtesy of Shun

Photo courtesy of Shun

Other dishes are less ambitious —but no less scrumptious. The Parmesan cheese and mushroom risotto (¥1,800), topped with roasted chicken, is like an impossibly gourmet version of chikin raisu. Wagyu tenderloin is served in strips with a heavy red sauce enlivened by ponzu (¥4,500); the accompanying polenta “fries” are a creative and tasty side dish.

The stylishness of what’s on the plate is matched by the surrounding room, which, to our eyes seemed identical to its predecessor. And that’s a good thing. Spacious and classy, the interior is a fitting backdrop for both a date and a business dinner.

Shun’s wine list, like Mako’s before it, is heavy on bottles from California, with a dozen varieties available by the glass. During our first visit on a sweltering summer evening, we fell in love with the mellow and fruity Marryvale Starmont chardonnay (¥8,200), whose round finish would, we’re sure, please most palates.

With course dinners starting at just ¥10,000 and a world of flavors on offer, Shun admirably fills the void left by the dearly departed Mako.