Still reeling from Paris-syndrome? Well fear not, a little slice of the 10th arrondissement can now be found in the safe confines of Tokyo’s 23 wards. A brisk 10 minute walk from both Meguro and Fudomae stations, Le Verre Volé à Tokyo is located a little off the culinary map, on Meguro-dori – an area more commonly associated with uber-chic design stores than dining options.
Despite the frigid December weather, on the night we visited, it was bustling with patrons. Obviously word has gotten out about the good food, great wine selection and amiable service of this newly opened eatery. (The dim lighting and full capacity meant it was difficult to take interior shots, so here are some I pinched from the designer’s website)
If this tiny wine bistrot looks like it has been transplanted from the streets of Paris, that’s because it has. The original Le Verre Volé, is a thriving wine shop/restaurant hybrid in a hip neighbourhood near Canal St. Martin. Set up in collaboration with the owners and a French designer, Ryotaro Miyauchi, has created a store which is Boho-Parissenne in both taste and aesthetic.
The speciality here is natural wine, thoughtfully selected from France’s major wine areas, as well as some small producers from far-flung corners of the country. The walls of the narrow space are lined with a diverse range of bottles for purchase, as well as blackboard menus which list a few varieties by the glass. Bottles start from ¥3,500, and staff are more than willing to help guide you through the selection process.
We snuggled into our seats at the copper-topped counter, and promptly ordered a glass of ‘Welcome Abroad’, from Domaine Mosse; a small natural winery situated in the heart of the Loire Valley’s Coteaux du Layon appellation. This fragrant, biodynamic Chenin Blanc was initially quite sweet on the palate, but was balanced out by the nice clip of acidity and dry finish. A rich and dangerously drinkable wine.
The menu offers a small selection of entrees and plats of simple French bistro fare, made with local organic produce. As my companion and I had constitutions which were suffering the effects of the bonenkai season, we ordered gingerly.
My dinner date became quite animated upon tasting the baguette, declaring it to be as good as the bread she gets from her local Denen-Chofu bakery, Bigot, which we were to discover was exactly where it hailed from.
A pretty plate of hirame (flounder), red daikon and coriander ceviche. The fish was deliciously tender, and a light marinade ensured that its delicate flavour was not overwhelmed.
The slightly reductive nose on Domaine Valette’s Mâcon–Villages 2010 Chardonnay, told me that this was indeed a sans soufre (no added sulphur) natural wine. As I haven’t had the best of luck with non-sulphur wines I was immediately apprehensive. However, my trepidation eased upon tasting its well-balanced, subtle fruit flavour.
In comparison, the Touraine ‘Le Brin de Chèvre’, Clos de Tue Boeuf, made from the local Menu Pineau grape, was much more aromatic and vibrant. While a little short in the finish, it was a pleasant wine to match with seafood.
After a couple of wines, our resolve to only order entrees melted. Who were we kidding? Christmas isn’t a time for austerity.
From the plats menu: Tara (cod) poêle with bio-organic vegetables and an ume beurre blanc. The fish was moist and flaky, but could have done with some citrus to counteract the intense buttery sauce.
The boudin noir (pork blood sausage – here it is served in a terrine shape) is a popular dish on the Paris bistro’s menu, and judging by the number of plates of it that I saw whizzing out of the kitchen, it’s being enthusiastically received by Tokyo diners, too.
The richness of the mains had done us in, so dessert was off the cards. Instead, we decided to get our calories in liquid form, with a glass of Domaine Mosse Anjou: a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon & Cabernet Franc. It had a wonderful dark berry aroma, and a rich and yet fresh flavour which was supported by a fine tannic structure. An expressive and approachable wine.
Apart from the Domaine Valette, all of the wines we tried that evening listed the addition of sulphur on their labels – something I am sure vin au naturel purists would sniff their noses at in contempt. Intrigued, I asked Miyauchi-san about his personal philosophy towards natural wine. The upshot of our conversation was that his selection process is based solely on taste and quality, not methodology. Some of the wines he stocks are unadulterated san soufre, some are biodynamic and loaded with sulphites, others are somewhere on the spectrum between the two, but all taste good in the glass. This pragmatic approach may have a lot to do with the fact that he spent time working at Domaine Mosse (and also explains why its wines feature prominently on the menu), whose philosophy involves natural fermentation with minimal intervention, along with sparing use of sulphur to avoid the excessive oxidation that is so prevalent in most natural wines. I only wish more natural wine sommeliers adhered to the concept of taste over ideology – it would certainly take the Russian Roulette anxiety out of ordering.
Throughout the evening, service was courteous and professional – none of that infamous brusque French attitude here. As the tables cleared and customers thinned out, I was able to chat with the staff about our favourite places to dine out in the City of Lights. I was delighted to discover that the head waiter had worked in the kitchens of some of Paris’ most lauded bistros: Chez Michel, Les Cocotte and – my personal favourite – Chez L’Ami Jean. Why his experience isn’t being utilised in the kitchen beggars belief! Mottainai, to be sure, but at least it gives you a measure of the talent on offer here.
Le Verre Volé à Tokyo is the ideal venue for a leisurely boozy meal of small plates and interesting wines. And as the New Year dawns, I have made a resolution to return – in fact, I’ve re-booked already.
Le Verre Volé à Tokyo