Tokyo’s French dining scene is a well established one – but as many of the restaurants offer a traditional French experience, they are largely popular with locals, rather than visitors. After all, Japanese food is a huge draw for most tourists. So, the Palace Hotel Tokyo decided to transform their French dining experience from a classic approach to one that embraces local ingredients and brings elements of both French and Japanese cuisine together to create something entirely new. The result is Esterre, a new restaurant by world-renowned chef Alain Ducasse, with Chef de Cuisine Martin Pitarque Palomar at the helm, and interiors by Japanese studio SIMPLICITY.
“At Esterre, the kitchen lives according to nature’s rhythm,” says Chef de Cuisine Martin Pitarque Palomar. “Nature is brought to the table with an absolute respect for tastes and textures, prioritising the use of local produce and their natural flavours.”
This stripped back approach, which celebrates and elevates humble ingredients, was also the inspiration behind the interior space. “The restaurant concept was one that pays respect to the products of Mother Nature – which, essentially, originate from land and sea,” says Shinichiro Ogata of SIMPLICITY. “Based on this concept, we determined that the materials used and the details applied should set a sense of harmony between human beings and nature and the circular flow of life.”
The entrance to the restaurant is through a narrow walkway with plaster art by Japanese master plasterer Shuhei Hasado adorning the walls. Although this installation is a part of the previous restaurant’s fit-out, it was retained as it complemented the design concept for Esterre. The floor is crafted using a traditional naguri-style of Japanese wood carving, and a timber sculpture of bountiful fruits and vegetables by artist Reiji Kosaka marks the entrance.
From this narrow entrance, the restaurant opens spectacularly into a bright white space with unparalleled views over the Imperial Palace gardens through floor-to-ceiling windows. This view is a dynamic element of the dining experience. As day passes to night, the park disappears into inky blackness framed by thousands of lights from the surrounding commercial buildings and passing traffic. The landscape also changes dramatically with the seasons, as does the menu which has a focus on seasonal produce.
The walls of the dining space are elegantly clad in Japanese washi paper and hung with artwork that represents seasonal flora by iron artist Morison Kobayashi. Organically rounded timber elements divide the space and separate the reception from the dining room, and Jean Nouvel’s ‘Saint James’ chairs – with a bespoke earth-coloured leather finish – have been used throughout.
“We deliberately made the design as simple as possible,” says Ogata. “As Esterre is inspired by nature, we created a space using natural materials which will ultimately be returned to the earth one day.”
Another important consideration was lighting and ensuring that it wouldn’t reflect off the glass windows, distracting from the view. With this in mind, the lighting is concealed within a sculptural ovoid feature in the ceiling that is clad in gold leaf, softly reflecting a warm light into the dining space.
“This is a new kind of cuisine in Tokyo,” says Pitarque Palomar. “The interior design is pure, elegant and light in colour – and it does not distract the guests from the service and the food. The unique location and its breathtaking views complement Esterre’s concept and the overall design of the restaurant.”
With the transformation of the Palace Hotel Tokyo’s French restaurant into Esterre – a celebration of a singular philosophy through food, design and location – a new dining destination has been created, one that is well worth travelling for.
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