The 8-seat Tapas Molecular Bar is housed in the chic Oriental Lounge on the 38th floor of the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Tokyo. At the helm is the American-born Chef Jeff Ramsey, who concocts inspiring molecular creations for the ever-changing menu.
After reading rave reviews and wanting to experience my first molecular meal, I booked a place at the coveted bar. You MUST book well in advance as there are only eight seats available at the bar twice every night for the 2-hour gastronomic journey. I was able to grab a seat for the 6pm session.
What makes Tapas different from any other restaurant is that Chef Ramsey and his Sous Chef explain in detail how each dish was created and its link to Japanese culture. Amongst a sea of syringes, liquid nitrogen and sodium solutions, diners were encouraged to ask questions about the ingredients and the preparation. Not only does Tapas score with an interactive and informative dining experience but with its creative, delicious and fun cuisine.
Magnificent views of Tokyo from the Lobby and Oriental Lounge
The extensive list of the near 20-course meal included Snacks, Degustation, Desserts and Petit Fours. Chef Ramsey altered the order of the courses somewhat and added some other dishes.
Red Shiso Mojito: The opening course was a play on the popular Mojito cocktail. The juice of the Red Shiso Leaf (part of the mint family) was extracted and mixed with rum. A bulb syringe filled with lime juice was also presented in the ice-filled beaker. And just like a high school science experiment, or how I can imagine illegal substance testing is done, we were instructed to squeeze the lime juice into the test tube and swirl. A natural chemical reaction caused the originally pale, maroon coloured liquid to turn bright, vivid pink. It was very amusing and the drink itself was refreshingly sweet and tangy.
Caramel Corn: Corn Mousse frozen (in front of us) in liquid nitrogen and encased in caramel. It was crunchy on the outside and the ball of mousse dissolved instantly in my mouth. It tasted exactly like caramel popcorn.
Olive Cloud and Fruit Tomato
Olive Cloud and Fruit Tomato: The Olive Cloud looked like the foam you get when you have a bubble bath, but instead of tasting like soap, it had a very full and intense olive flavour. The Fruit Tomato consisted of a cherry tomato which had been dehydrated to concentrate its flavours, sliced in half and topped with mini slices of mozzarella and micro basil. A bite-sized Tomato and Mozzarella Salad!
Chef Ramsey Making Ratatouille: This is the course I had been looking forward to the most. Not necessarily for the taste of the colourful round globules, but for the elaborate preparation. Chef Ramsey added sodium alginate to the juice of several roasted vegetables including red peppers, zucchini and carrots. Using a process called spherification, he dripped the mixture into a cold bath of calcium chloride forming a thin membrane over the liquid beads and thus creating edible pearls of vegetable caviar.
Ratatouille: This dish was definitely more about the concept than a taste sensation. It had a similar texture to caviar but lacked the popping burst you get in your mouth from the salty black pearls. It was like eating vegetable puree but presented in a most eccentric and innovative style.
Uni and Fennel: Probably my least favourite dish of the night. Freeze-dried Uni (sea urchin) pulverised until it had the texture of snow, served with a warm broth poured from a cast iron teapot and a spoon laced with a sprig of fennel flower, meant to enhance the dish by including your sense of smell. Interesting.
Scallops Jim Lambie: Inspired by the visual artist known for his use of brightly coloured lines, this dish was truly an artistic masterpiece. The scallop was perfectly cooked and accompanied with micro greens, micro tomatoes and pickled micro cauliflower. The charcoal-tinted sauce served as the canvas for this wonderful and tasty course.
Unagi, Pineapple, Miso: This was the most flavoursome dish of the meal. The Unagi (Eel) was silky smooth and melted in my mouth and paired surprisingly well with the char-grilled pineapple, only confirming my beliefs that combining sweet and salty flavours is the way forward! The almost fluorescent pea-green sauce had hints of miso but actually contained no miso.
Smoke: A plate presented with a a glass cup containing what looked to be like smoke. Lift the cup and a cloud of steam evaporated to reveal impossibly succulent pieces of chicken in a salty broth. I always love a bit of magic!
Watermelon Pinata: The most fun dish of the night! We were instructed to bash the perfectly shaped watermelon ice ball with the back of the spoon. WHACK! And just like a Pinata, the ball of watermelon disintegrated uncovering a ruby centre. All parts of the watermelon were used to make this fun and refreshing course.
Wagyu: I’m always a sucker for a good piece of meat. The meat in question was Wagyu, the highly-prized, highly-priced Japanese export. This piece had been wrapped in Japanese Oak and soaked in a bath at 53.5C for 5 hours. Now that is one pampered piece of beef! After its day at the spa, the beef was “to-die-for” tender and an absolute enjoyment to eat. Seconds please!
Xiaolongbao: Xiaolongbao is actually a steamed soup dumpling from Shanghai. I had countless of these during my visit there earlier this year and can highly recommend the warm, brothy explosion you get in your mouth when biting into them. Chef Ramsey’s interpretation was no different although he used New Zealand Lamb instead of a dough and injected the flavoursome broth in the centre. A burst of flavour in one bite.
Miso Soup: Molecular Miso Soup again using the spherification technique to form one warm blob of dashi broth accompanied by pearls of tofu and seaweed powder. The ingredients combined together to create the flavours of miso soup.
Puff: This was more an entertaining show than a course. Liquid nitrogen-soaked balls of …forgot… were placed on the tongue and as you exhaled through the nose, a stream of smoke flew out of the nostrils, just like Puff the Magic Dragon!
Desserts & Petit Fours: An interesting compilation of sweet bites including Olive Oil Gummy, NY Cheesecake, Cappucino and Chocolate Soda. My favourite was Chocolate Soda which reminded me of those cola candy sticks that pop and crackled in your mouth as a kid, only with chocolate. Much more mature.
Fruits: Pieces of lemon, lime and strawberry aren’t exactly very fascinating compared to the other courses of the night. We were first instructed to eat a wedge of lime to test its sourness. It was sour! Then were told to chew the small red Miracle Fruit and make sure that we cover our tongue with the flesh. After numbing our tongues sour receptors, every piece of fruit tasted like sugar. The sweetest, juiciest, most luscious sugar imaginable. Wow!
A meal at Tapas is not an everyday affair. It is an edible show of molecular proportions. Not only was the 2-hour meal informative and interesting, the food was tasty, creative and fun! This would have to be one of the coolest restaurants in Tokyo and I highly recommend it.
Dining at Tapas is not cheap. The meal alone amounted to a princely ¥14,000 (€130/$180USD/$170AUD/£115) excluding the 10% Service Charge. Prices for drinks and cocktails are exorbitant. Think €19 ($26USD/$25AUD/£17) for one cocktail, of which I had far too many. The setting is, however, unbeatable and like I did, one could while away several hours post-dinner enjoying views of the bustling city beneath you with a Martini in one hand and a Cuban cigar in the other.
-The Young Foodie