Lashings of delectable ingredients and originality are the key to the successful formula at Ao, whose chef inserts his unique worldview into every element of dining. A free, slightly mischievous spirit with golden locks, he lacks a colorful resume but is determined to achieve accolades with cuisine built on a philosophy of utmost respect for producers and the exquisite ingredients they create.
Leave the busy metropolis behind and immerse yourself in a space where the chef spares no effort to enhance every aspect of your dining experience. A short walk towards Roppongi from the Nishi-Azabu intersection, the chef chose this neighborhood because it teems with serious foodies. Climb the spiral staircase to find yourself before a dazzling blue sign with the kanji for ao, meaning ‘blue’. The name was chosen because it is reminiscent of natural scenes like oceans and forests and expresses the chef’s deep respect for producers based in those natural environments. He wants his work in the big city to make those producers proud, grateful to them for their support over all these years. The blue motif continues throughout an interior that blends Western and Japanese sensibilities with latticed doors and lamps. In the kitchen is a straight counter of single-plank timber for eight people – the maximum the chef can serve freshly cooked dishes straight from the kitchen all at once. While the underlying style is rooted in French cuisine, Chef Minemura has a strong preference for Japanese knives. Ever since joining a lecture by Tsukiyama Yoshitaka Cutlery located in Matsusaka, Mie Prefecture, he has been impressed by the feel of the cut and the dramatically different flavor that arises from a knife sharpened by their seasoned artisans. All Minemura’s knives are order-made and regularly sharpened by Tsukiyama, a brand loved by many three-star Michelin chefs. Even the Laguiole knives used by guests during the meal have an extraordinarily outstanding cut, having also been sharpened by Tsukiyama. All other cutlery items are titanium coated for lightweight, smooth eating.
Ao gained fame in the blink of an eye after its 2020 opening. Chef Minemura has captured the hearts of diners with his food that presents, straight-up, the wonderful flavors and aromas of ingredients from around Japan. He works from a French cuisine foundation but is devoted to leveraging the best each ingredient offers, whatever it takes. The course menu is determined entirely by the produce, and the daily menu displays dish names alongside the regions and names of producers – a sign of how deeply Chef Minemura cherishes them.
The meal typically begins with an umami-rich consommé with heady aromas that waft from the Tenmoku glazed bowl the moment it is placed before you. This is how the chef showcases the riches of Japan’s seas – be it based on hamo pike conger, managatsuo butterfish, or sea bream that Ehime fisherman Junichi Fujimoto has given the shinkeijime treatment to preserve freshness and maximize umami. The chef’s deep knowledge of each seafood’s peculiarities and French techniques enable him to extract and condense so much flavor into a single bowl. But the biggest shock is that there is not a single fleck of salt in the entire bowl, a fact that leaves guests puzzling over just how he achieves that punchy flavor. Minemura’s cuisine also has no aromatics or alcohol; he deems these utterly unnecessary when the produce is so rich in flavor. For diners, the experience almost feels like a re-education in the five senses.
The incredibly tasty dishes keep coming: Gratin of Pacific cod, unwashed soft cod roe and black truffle; Risotto with snow crab from Kyoto Tango Uomasa; Sakanabito Hasegawa’s Nagai Port langoustine bisque; and Higashi Noen bell pepper mousse, to name just a few. An exquisite cut of beef best described as shoulder chateaubriand is lovingly chargrilled and served with bread with premium Hokkaido Gekko lily bulb nestled inside. There are also duck and free-range pedigree chicken dishes, rockfish delicacies, and an array of sweets like yuzu granite and ice cream made from premium free-range eggs and akazake sake treated with ash from Kumamoto’s Hananoka Brewery. The signature crab risotto uses that season’s best crab meat, but because it contains a whopping 1.5 kg of crabmeat for every cup of rice, it would perhaps be better to describe it as a crab dish with a touch of rice. The bisque, like the consommé, has no salt and is served with charcoal-grilled akaza-ebi langoustine and freshly baked bread to soak up every last delicious drop.
Minemura secures the highest-quality ingredients through relationships cultivated with producers over the years. These professionals send their incredible produce direct to Ao from every corner of Japan. Minemura expounds on the clean and pure qualities of seafood from Ehime fisherman Junichi Fujimoto and how they contrast with the delicious fatty flavors of fish from Kanagawa Sakanabito fishmonger Hiroki Hasegawa, who also supplies the plumpest line-caught langoustine. Almost every ingredient arrives from individual producers focused on one specific ingredient, like bell peppers from Higashi Noen in Hida-Takayama, Gifu Prefecture, and Gekko lily bulbs from Hokkaido farmer Kijitani. And the most striking thing of all…Minemura uses absolutely everything in the fridge each day before closing the restaurant so that he can start the next day with a clean slate.
The restaurant’s skilled sommelier worked with Minemura at his former bistro, and he builds excellent pairings for the premium dishes served each day. The two courses – pairing and special pairing – are both available in half- and full-serving sizes. The selection of all French champagnes and wines is elegant and flavorful to complement and not overwhelm the cuisine. Guests are also invited to choose a digestif from an equally appealing lineup.
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000