The Scarlet Pimpernel, it always struck me, was something of a strange hero. For those who don’t know, the Pimpernel was a famed Englishman who during the French revolution risked life and limb by dashing across the English Channel in order to rescue aristocrats from the impending swoosh and thud of Madame Guillotine. Literally saving their necks.
I know, you’re thinking ‘what’s so strange about that? The man sounds positively gallant!’ Well you see, ever since King Harold announced at a small coastal town called Hastings that ‘we shall never succumb to Frenchie invaders, poke me in the eye with an arrow if it be not true,’ the Brits and the French have never really seen quite eye to… erm… bloody cavity. Down the centuries we fought war after war against them, causing the deaths of thousands on both sides, and yet here was that Pimpernel prick saving their skins. What on earth was he thinking?
I’ll tell you what he was thinking. He was thinking about his belly. Because while we Brits are known for our good manners and penchant for bloodily oppressing vast swathes of the globe, our food isn’t exactly up to much. French grub has that certain, hmmm, je ne sais quoi (or whatever the French equivalent of that is), and no doubt the Pimpernel was worried that if left in the hands of the proto-socialist Hoi polloi of revolutionary France, the landscape of the culinary world may have been reduced to whatever was left in the guillotine’s basket.
And that would have been a real shame because I would have missed out on an excellent night’s dining at Nagoya’s newest French restaurant, La Briller.
Tucked away in the shadow of the rising Dai Nagoya building, La Briller is a crisp and dazzling new restaurant in Meieki. Knowing it to be a sister restaurant to Peat Irish Tavern, a place with décor so Oirish it would make St Patrick blush, I was kind of expecting a similar treatment in La Briller: strings of onions aplenty, Edith Piaf warbling overhead and the walls adorned with maps of famous surrenders, but I was instead met with a sharp, contemporary restaurant bar. Prime colours so clean you could brush your teeth with them complimented strikingly white walls, and all are set off wonderfully by the interesting combination of glass chandeliers and pencil lights from which the restaurant takes its name, all sparkling like a midnight Parisian skyscape.
Amita san, La Briller’s amicable host, showed me to my table and unfurled the menu and though it was in English I still wavered over it for an age, so knocked out for options was I. Meats, seafood, cheeses, even a choice – a choice! – of pate. After some time of inconclusion I asked Amita san for his personal recommendation, and within moments there was a chicken liver terrine sitting alongside my bottle of Kronenbourg lager.
Now, I’m a big fan of terrine and have been of late spoiled for its likes by the foie gras that my French flatmate regularly brings home, but this was delightful. It melted in my mouth, putting me in mind of Swiss milk chocolate in the way it coated my tongue with its creamy, moussey texture, truly divine. Following the terrine came shellfish, pana pesca blue shelled mussels steamed in white wine, huge in the shell with the scent of the sea, that tasted so fresh that the only thing I could think to match them were the mussels that I personally dived for on the Swedish coast.
As I sipped the last of my beer I remarked to my dining companion on La Brillier’s refreshing ambiance. It was light and airy, the kitchen open with an overall modernity you don’t often see in Nagoya. It lacked pretension as couples sat alongside salarymen, and yet the food was of a high quality that you could expect from a fine dining experience. In that respect, while it is a perfectly appropriate location for eating out with friends or co-workers, it would be the ideal place for a first date: it was relaxed, yet still had an impressive extravagance in the menu, all tied together with the romanticism that is inherent whenever the French get involved. Plus, as it has a connecting door to the Peat Tavern, it even has a convenient escape route if things aren’t going so well.
But I quickly realised that escape for me would have been a huge mistake as Sahashi san, La Brillier’s courteous and cheerful manager arrived at my table, as I would have missed out on the excellent Tournedos Rossini. Now, I often find meat in Japan is over-cooked and under seasoned, but this was cooked to such perfection, to such delicacy that it managed to have an amazingly similar consistency to the terrine of the first course, and matched perfectly with the warm plumminess of my glass of Chateau Lagrange Peron.
After the relative richness of my previous three courses I couldn’t quite face my customary crème brulee, and instead plumped for the apple pie, whose cinamonny notes hinted at Christmas, and had pastry so puffy you could take it for a nap. I found it a perfect accompaniment to not only the meal, but perhaps as a metaphor for the restaurant itself. Classy and sumptuous, but without being overbearing or unnecessarily extravagant. Light, crisp and ultimately very tasteful.
So, La Briller? La Brilliant more like. It is, as the name suggests, a new shining light in the Nagoyan restaurant scene and, if its excellence is in someway attributable to that brave man who helped rescue the cuisine of the French aristos from the clutches of revolutionary soldiers, then he’s a bally hero in my book.
What we had:
Chicken liver terrine: ¥780
White wine steamed Pana Pesca mussels: ¥880
La Briller’s Tournedos Rossini: ¥1,580
La Briller’s apple pie: ¥680
Bottle Kronenbourg lager: ¥880
Glass Chateau Lagrange Peron 2009: ¥880
Meieki 3-15-1, Nakamura-ku
Tel: (052) 589-0870
17:00~24:00 Fri and Sat