**Roppongi Nouen sadly closed its doors sometime in late 2015.**
Roppongi Nouen occupies prime real estate in the party neighborhood of Roppongi, making it an odd place for a restaurant that glorifies farmers. Yet here you’ll find a restaurant whose walls are made of packed soil and where an herb garden occupies a prominent position on the back porch. This is an eatery where the farmers approach the chefs and staff, not the other way around, and where selling price is determined by the producers and not the buyers. It’s not always a lucrative business model but it gives farmers a voice in the world of top cuisine and it ensures plenty of quality food on your plate.
I’ve been wanting to eat at Roppongi Nouen for about two years now, but it is either always booked (their lunch is highly affordable but only served a few days a week) or closed for a private event. Finally, I managed to secure a reservation for my recent visit to Tokyo and was joined by three other foodie friends (or “food nerds” as we have so lovingly labeled ourselves). The best part about going with a companion is that you need at least two people to order one of Nouen’s set meals. Most of the food on the set menu is also offered on the à la carte menu, but it makes it easier to try as variety of dishes at an affordable price if you go with the set.
We all chose the mid-range set (¥5800) with at least six or seven courses. The first dish up made me smile, as it featured Okinawan sea grapes from my former island home. As it turns out, the chef himself is from Kitanakagusuku in central Okinawa so it was an ingredient he knew intimately. I’m not always a fan of the acidic sea grape but paired as it was with wasabi and wakame (a mineral-rich seaweed), it was an outstanding first bite.
My favorite course though was the vegetable tray … or rather, vegetable boat it seemed. Loaded with fresh fresh vegetables floating in a sea of panko and served with a sweet paprika dipping sauce, I couldn’t get enough of even vegetables I normally avoid, like radishes. The small potato bites in here were delectable and even the salad leaves – a variety of lettuces – were crisp and at their peak.
An Okinawan green bean spring roll followed, and then an oyster drizzled with lime foam finished off the parade of introductory courses. Both dishes were very good, though not nearly as outstanding for me as the fresh vegetable platter.
Nouen is not just a vegetable restaurant and a plate of Gunma-raised wagyu (Japanese beef) was our main course. Cooked at the table on a charcoal grill and served with the simple sides of miso and salt, the flavors of the beef really shone through. I’m not a huge meat eater but I do love beef that is done well. This was certainly my kind of beef.
AS was to be expected, the rice was sublime (and yes, stay here long enough and you can start noticing the difference between truly good rice and mediocre rice!) and served with bonito, or skipjack tuna, lightly seared. Topped with green onions and with hand-crafted soy sauce as a side, it was delicious but almost too much at the end of such a parade of dishes.
Dessert was perhaps the most unique offering of all. The chef himself came out to explain the dish to us, which featured fresh lemons from Ehime prefecture on Shikoku Island. They had been cut in half and the bottom portion hollowed out to contain a sort of fromage blanc that had been caramelized on top like a creme brulée. We were to squeeze the juice of the lemon from the top half onto the crispy surface before digging in. If summer can be encapsulated in a single dish, this was it.
All I can say is, it was worth the two-year wait to eat here. And having read so much about their commitment to farm to table food and high quality products, I didn’t feel deceived in the least by anything that crossed my plate. Come here to support Japan’s farmers or simply come here to indulge in delicious food prepared simply but well. In any case, just come!