Do you love food? Do you love art? How about, um, combining the two?
That’s exactly what you can at Art for Thought, a gallery-cum-restaurant located in the heart of Ginza.
I was introduced to this wonderful one-room place with its industrial-chic aesthetics by a good friend of mine, who happens to know the owner Keiko Yamagiwa. Keiko is an artist herself who studied art in both London and Tokyo, and will be exhibiting in Kobe this summer.
Art for Thought provides a space where artists can display their works for sale and customers can enjoy a cafe during the daytime, and a restaurant/bar at night in a cosy room, surrounded by art.
Of course, if you like art, visiting is a no brainer. But, if you’re a cynic like me, your alarm bells might be sounding when considering the food. Is there anything desirable on the menu or is it all art-focussed?
Well, I’m hardly a neutral party here, but, I have the utmost dedication when it comes to telling you where to find good food. For that reason, I am say to you now very plainly: go and eat at Art for Thought.
First off, I should say – yes, I loved the art, admiring it whilst eating and feeling part of the exhibition. Exhibiting today was Keiko Yamamoto who makes striking 3D pieces out of glueing layers of fabric together. The prominent theme is “red blood cells” but I was also very much taken with the babies and faces/facial parts. We were lucky enough to speak to Yamamoto san herself who happened to be there and explained a little about her work. Each blood cell takes about 10 hours to construct!
This would have all been dampened somewhat should the food not been up to scratch, but it truly was exquisite.
The food itself is like art – in its presentation, and crucially, in its taste.
And the drinks are pretty bloody good too. I started off on a homemade mikan (mandarin) juice, served in a glass that was so beautiful I proposed to it. Given I was dining with a couple, it was only fair that I should have a date too. And he was a very suave date. He would totally be slid over a shiny counter of a swanky bar where a Bond girl would consciously disinterestedly pick him up and glance coyly towards Mr Bond.
Sadly, I had just cycled 11km through the rain and so the closest I was to becoming a Bond girl was definitely just holding the glass.
The juice itself was beautifully crisp in its flavour and not too sweet.
Later, I sampled a homemade umeshu (plum wine) which avoiding the cloying sickliness that borders on perfume and had a fresh and strong plum flavour that packed a tasty after-kick too.
As for the food, Keiko had kindly had a word with the chef, Iijima san, to say that some food-obsessed friends would be joining and he constructed an eight-course tasting menu for us to share. So without further ado, let me introduce the eight courses.
First up was basically the culinary equivalent of a treasure trail. It was a plate of tortilla, prosciutto, flame-seared mackerel, ratatouille in a charming pink, square ceramic pot, white shrimp topped with yuzu peek, all with sakura salt scattered around the plate. Eating our way around the plate was really an adventure. For me, the seared mackerel struck notes umami perfectly and the ratatouille had a seductive, rich sweetness which made me want to order it in a saucepan with a large spoon, and spend some alone time.
Next up was a tuna tartare topped with quail egg and surrounded by sweet wasabi. All on a white wavy shaped plate with gold spots. It was wall-mountable, it was that pretty! Tuna and wasabi is, of course, naturally irresistible.
Third course was without doubt my absolute favourite – sea perch glazed with miso and koji (rice malt). The fish was succulent and fatty in a lip-lickingly indulgent way, but this fattiness was cut through and balanced by the mild sweetness of the glaze. It was served alongside a bamboo shoot and topped with early perilla leaves. Again, it was a beautiful, hand-crafted dish.
Course number four introduced the meat, much to the relief of one of my co-diners who unfortunately dislikes fish (very fortunate for the rest of us, however, as we shared his portion eagerly!) Layers of pork were sliced and arranged around the plate with three different flavours to add: gorgonzola sauce, daikon sauce and sakura (cherry blossom) salt.
I find this is a very Japanese way of serving meat – the meat is unseasoned and flavours/sauces are added subsequently. I’ve inwardly stopped crying when I consider how some basic salt and peppering prior to the cooking process would have enhanced the natural flavours of the meat. But I’ve slowly become used to it. Plus, these sauces were rather moreish – a great tang and garlicky essence to the daikon, a light creaminess in the gorgonzola, and the sakura salt? Well, I just used it like normal salt and applied it to every slice!
The next course followed a similar format with slices of rare duck beautifully arranged and surrounded in cranberry sauce. It was undeniably cooked to perfection. But the standout item on the plate was the grilled carrot! Yes, it was one of those taste-lottery moments when you pop something into your mouth without thinking and suddenly darts of pleasure are delivered to your tastebuds.
Giving a firm middle-finger to Italian dining practices and a strong salute to Japan, in which meals are finished with a carb – usually rice or noodles – the last savoury course was pasta. Bacon and mushrooms (shiitake and shimeji) topped with oba (perilla leaves) and sprinkled throughout with yuzu peel. Perilla can be absolutely overpowering but this was spot on, giving notes of flavours that blended into the overall composition. Very simply seasoned, but the dish sang to me.
Time for dessert, course seven was cherry blossom ice-cream, which I found lacking in creaminess and my co-diner astutely noted that it seemed to be made with UHT milk. I was instantly transported back to traumatic childhood trips to France in which I would try to get as little milk on my cereal spoon as possible until enough of the cereal/sugar had mixed with it… to disguise the inescapable metallic tang. First world problems, eh?
The eighth, and final course, was a cake selection. Which is always good, because, why try one cake, when you can try THREE? YES! Hello to matcha cake, which had the match flavoured nailed but was a little dry and powdery in consistently. Then there was persimmon cake, made by Onish san, the restaurant manager, which was moist and tasty although I didn’t get the persimmon flavour very strongly. Finally, there was the chocolate cake. Which was actually more like a very dense fudge bar, with hints of cake sprinkled throughout it. I did not care! Very rich, very strong chocolatey items are a rarity in Japan and this was one of them.
I picked up the final piece on my fork.
“I want to eat it,” I told my co-diners. “But I also don’t. Because when I do, it’ll be over and I’ll be sad.”
Looks like I’ll have to head back.
Art for Thought – Food that is art in presentation in taste, surrounded by art. A feast for your eyes and your tongue.
Where: Tokyo, Chuo, Ginza, 8 Chome−10−4, 和孝銀座8丁目ビル1F (Shimbashi or Ginza station)