Sota Atsumi brings Parisian flair back to Tokyo

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One of the most intriguing restaurant openings of late last year has flown under the radar of many Tokyo foodies. Part of that was due to the timing: In November, the pandemic still had many people wary of eating out. But the other reason for this discreet start is that Sota Atsumi, the chef in charge, is much better known in Paris than in Tokyo.

This is hardly surprising. Atsumi has lived in France for almost 20 years now and has never run a restaurant in his native country. Although he still has no intention of returning — he has its starred restaurant, Maisonto pick up in Paris — in November, Atsumi unveiled her first adventure in Japan.

He took over Aoyama’s low-key dining hall formerly known as Down the Stairs and gave it new life as the House with Arts & Science.

Occupying premises at the semi-basement level, it is a comfortable and compact space with a low ceiling, an open kitchen and a simple, rustic appearance. Despite being right across from the beautiful and always busy Nezu Museum, the restaurant is so well hidden that few people are aware of its existence.

Originally this space was the internal canteen of Arts & Science, an upper floor group of stores set up by design dean Sonya Park to offer clothing and lifestyle products without pretension and elegance. Eventually, Park began using the dining space for occasional supper clubs and pop-ups with guest chefs – including several appearances by Atsumi, who was still on the rise when the two first met. times about 10 years ago.

Lunch may seem simple at House with Arts & Science, but the flavors on display are anything but. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON

Much has changed since then. After leaving Japan at 19, Atsumi went from a young apprentice cook to one of the French capital’s best-known chefs. He first made a name for himself for the inventive, neo-bistro cuisine he served with considerable success from 2014 to 2017 at the historic Clown Bar. Now 36, he has moved up the ranks as chef-patron of his own restaurant, the finest Maison, which has already earned him a Michelin star.

At Maison with Arts & Science, Atsumi gives Tokyo a taste of both restaurants by combining the high-end quality he demands at Maison with the bistronomystylish menu and relaxed atmosphere of the Clown Bar. Ryoichi “George” Matsumoto, Atsumi’s protege and right-hand man in Tokyo, absorbed much of his mentor’s style and expertise, as did pastry chef Miki Yokomakura.

Lunch at Maison with Arts & Science is light and colorful: soup with country bread on the side; salad with pita stuffed with meat or fish; or a bowl of granola with fruit and yogurt. All are made with premium ingredients, such as bread from the remarkable wood-fired ovens at Panya Shiomi Bakery in Yoyogi, produce from organic farms in Atsumi’s native Chiba Prefecture, and eggs from free-range chickens. to run without a cage.

High-quality local ingredients underpin Atsumi's culinary philosophy, earning him a Michelin star at his restaurant in Paris.  |  ROBBIE SWINNERTON
High-quality local ingredients underpin Atsumi’s culinary philosophy, earning him a Michelin star at his restaurant in Paris. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON

For dinner, Matsumoto offers a heavier and more complex selection. A signature dish is the thousand pancakelayers of delicate thin pancakes made with chestnut flour, interspersed with seasonal green vegetables and smoked pieces unagi (freshwater eel) and served with a rich egg yolk sauce.

Pan fried fish is always worth a try. If you’re lucky, it will be kue (longtooth grouper), which Matsumoto prepares with its beautifully crispy skin on tender, moist flesh. It comes with chickpeas and a pil-pil (garlic and chili) as good as you’ll find in Tokyo.

And if the menu lists Atsumi’s classic wagyu tartare – which may well include oysters chopped and tossed into patties topped with sautéed capers – be sure to order it. Like most dishes, it will suffice for two people and pairs perfectly with a glass or two from Maison with Arts & Science’s well-stocked natural wine fridge.

Atsumi plans to come regularly from Paris. During a visit last month, he brought with him the House sommelier, Takashi Takebayashi, to oversee a superb series of aperitif wine evenings. keep your eyes on Down the Stairs Instagram for news of their future events – they come highly recommended.

Aoyama Palace 101, Minami-Aoyama 6-1-6 Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062; 03-5464-3711; arts-science.com/shop/down-the-stairs/; open 11am-2:30pm (LO), 5:30pm-9:30pm (LO), closed Mon. & Tues.; lunch from ¥2,000, a la carte dinner; eight-course omakase tasting menu: ¥12,000; nearest station Omotesando; non-smoker; major cards accepted; some English spoken.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is urging residents and visitors to exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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