Taka Goryokaku, Hakodate


There are times when you have a meal so perfect that you’re almost afraid to eat again because you know that your next meal could never match it. Dining at Taka Goryokaku was one of those experiences. This was where my friend held her wedding dinner last year and it had left an impression – another opportunity to dine there was not to be passed up.

We had a reservation for 7.30pm, and arrived to find ourselves the only party there. We shed our shoes and stepped up into a hallway as if into someone’s house. Guided into a private  room, a menu detailing our courses was laid out before us, but the dining experience was already well underway.

Taka Goryokoku – taking the latter half of its name from the nearby star-shaped fortress – is run by chef-owner Takatoshi Fukui, who spent a year and half training in both France and Switzerland, returning to Japan to hone his Japanese-style French cuisine. This harmonious approach to two of the world’s finest cuisines is immediately apparent from the openers.

While sipping on our beverages of choices, we were presented with the amuse-bouches. The “s” isn’t a typo – for unlike some stupidly pretentious experiences (Joël Robuchon, I am looking at you), we were presented with a vast selection: ebi-bouzushi – prawn sushi, wrapped in pink turnip and pickled chrysanthemum, the vibrant colours sparking as sharply as the vinegar in the rice; turnip mousse topped with consommé jelly and tomato – a feat of umami; rum raisin cream cheese encased in a light pastry; potato salad enhanced with tuna and onion, topped with tantalisingly soft-boiled egg; quiche loirraine so well-balanced it would be sure to win a competition.


These were followed by a second amuse-bouche – for the selection was classed as one – with a burdock cappuccino, lightly frothed and effortlessly moreish.


Next up, Taka’s pastry skills were in show once again. A puff pastry pie appeared, the crisp topping flaking satisfyingly as it gave way to the spoon to reveal juicy prawns awaiting below.


Succulent trout with expertly crisped skin bathed in a cream beetroot sauce and mildly sweet bamboo shoots. This triumph was hotly contested by a fillet of beef that yielded to the knife like butter; fried asparagus, matsutake mushrooms and a simple potato gratin all played competent supporting roles.


Finally, we had to face that it was time for this gastronomic adventure to come to a close. Representing Japan, a sakura tiramisu, with red beans and matcha, nestled alongside a cheesecake-style stick of crema catalana that successfully held the sugar at arm’s length, and was complemented by a strawberry compote. Yet our stomachs were to compete a little longer – black sesame biscuits and meringues accompanied our coffees.

My father asked me to translate “I’m in heaven and you’re an angel” to Taka as we showered him with our appreciation. He grinned from ear to ear and said he’d never been complimented so much. Guess we’ll have to go annually to make sure he gets used to it. This is an essential dining experience in Hakodate and one I certainly intend to repeat.
Taka 五稜郭 (Taka Goryokaku)
25-12 Goryōkakuchō, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0001

Review: L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon, Covent Garden

The stage…

I’ve not done Michelin dining before but it was London Restaurant Week so I thought I’d splash out on a three-course for £35 deal at L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon. As it turns out, they run the same deal anyway as a pre-theatre menu. But never mind. I was off to eat at an award-winning two Michelin star restaurant in Covent Garden. The website boasts that Joël Robuchon’s restaurants have gathered a total of 25 Michelin stars, more than any other chef.

This was serious business; this was the pinnacle of gastronomy.

This was also a trip to the circus.

Why the circus, you ask? Because L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon takes pretension to the level of blatant performance, leaving the entire experience hollow at best and discomfiting at worse.

Let me explain. The inside is dark. Very dark. Green leaves line one wall. There are a few tables and a sleek counter with high, red stools, focused around a central bar and kitchen. This is the stage for the evening’s entertainment – the waiters.

Peeking at part of the stage...
Peeking at part of the stage…

Highly aware of the pretensions and expectations of their wealthy customers, the waiters camp things up to the extreme. Their accents thicken, they glance knowingly at each other before executing some flamboyant gesture, and they call out “OOH LA LA” at every opportunity. Getting louder and louder in some form of competition.

I wanted to shout “BOOBIES” very loudly because I’m pretty sure that was closer to the original version of the game. You know, the game where you start saying something random/rude and get louder and louder to see which one of you will dare to shout it the loudest. Somehow though, I think “BOOBIES” would have been frowned upon in L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon, but maybe if I adopted French swear words it would have been acceptable. In fact, I think I might return just to see how loudly I can shout “Casse-toi, con!” and get away with it.


We perched onto the counter seats and awaited some food. They provided us with a basket of bread. This is a necessity in Michelin-star restaurants: it is to ensure that you don’t faint with hunger from the small portions and can at least make it out the door without collapsing.

Parmesan cappuccino
Parmesan cappuccino

We were served an amuse-bouche  – a Parmesan cappuccino with foie gras and a port reduction. The Parmesan flavour was strong but expertly balanced by the sweetness of the port and the richness of the foie gras. It definitely amused my bouche, although my dining partner was less amused. However, our evenings clowns were not going to be forgiving.

“Is something wrong with your amuse-bouche, monsieur?” A waiter inquired, a little too loudly and a little too directly.

My friend hastily ate up. “I got told!” he muttered.

Green asparagus velouté served with goat cheese ravioli
Green asparagus velouté served with goat cheese ravioli

For starters, we took “Green asparagus velouté served with goat cheese ravioli”. The velouté (a creamy sauce) was very mild and delicately flavoured and the goat’s cheese provided a stronger contrast of flavour. Definitely tasty, but three pieces of ravioli somewhat limited the enjoyment. Literally.

Veal roulade

Veal roulade

Beef with red miso

Then the mains. I wish – I wish – I could remember them well enough to describe them properly…but the fact I can’t probably is a good enough review in itself. I ordered beef in red miso, which was unspectacular. My dining partner took some kind of rolled veal,which was a lot tastier than my beef but a little chewy. I really can’t remember because, to be honest, the unfolding self-mocking cultural parody somewhat detracted from the food. At first, I found the scenario highly amusing, but it grew tiring.

Chocolate - hooray!
Chocolate – hooray!

The evening was saved by the fact that L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon was not too posh for straight up chocolate and a big portion of it. It may not have been the richest, most chocolatey dessert I’ve ever consumed, but it seriously elevated my happiness levels.

By the end of the meal, I concluded that maybe Michelin-star dining just isn’t for me. I can cope with that, and so can my wallet.

Petit fours
Petit fours

L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon 2/5 – Yawn. Unmemorable food in a ridiculous environment. 

Food 3/5 – It was pleasant but not tantalising to the taste-buds.
Value 2/5 – It was good quality. That’s what saves it from getting 1/5.
Atmosphere 2/5 – Counter seating and smart-casual dress code means it’s not  super-posh, but the weird performance by the staff awkwardly co-opts diners into the role of part-audience, part-participants. Not the most relaxing.
Service 2/5 – Stop the ooh-la-las. Please. And don’t try to embarrass your customers. That is not a clever strategy.

Website: http://www.joelrobuchon.co.uk/
Where:  13-15 West Street, London WC2H 9NE
When: Every day 12pm-2.30pm, 5.30-10.30pm

Review: Paul – St Paul’s

I’ve had to withstand the temptation of walking by the Paul café/bakery by St Paul’s every day for 2 months or more. The window is always filled with the most delicious looking pastries and cakes, which draw my eyes hypnotically towards them. By the end of last term I caved in and went for breakfast with two friends.

Inside Paul

First of all, I forgot that, although it’s a chain, it’s a chain in London, so of course the prices are ridiculous. This isn’t terrible if the food is amazing.

But it wasn’t. To describe it, I’ll be brief and use the age-old adage, borrowed courtesy of Mr. Shakespeare – “all that glitters isn’t gold“.

Pain au Chocolat

It may look delicious but somehow they managed to ruin a pain au chocolat (£1.90). How do you ruin a pain au chocolat? I have no idea. The pastry just tasted…weird…in a bad way. I shared it with two friends who also wrinkled their noses.

Croque Monsieur

I also had a croque monsieur. It was tasty enough, but they definitely don’t use particularly high quality ham or even bread. I can’t remember how much I paid for this – but let’s just say it was stupid. According to their online menu, this treasure – AKA a “posh” ham-and-cheese toastie – now costs a bargain £6.50.

Now every time I walk past a Paul, I inwardly cry at all the amazing things that are just over-priced replicas of French pastries 😦 Anyone know a REAL French bakery in London that they could recommend?