By Jessica Kozuka
Jul 29, 2021
CHEF DANIEL CAVERT ISN’T HERE to tell you a story. He’s not interested in talking about concepts or inspiration. He’s not painting pretty pictures with superfluous garnishes. He wants to feed you a damn good meal.
And let me tell you, I am here for it.
After coming up through the kitchens of Per Se in New York and Epicure in Paris, the young English chef took his own neo-Parisian bistro Belon in Hong Kong to a Michy star and No. 4 on Asia’s Best Restaurants list before Four Seasons Marunouchi tempted him away to Tokyo to helm a new flagship restaurant with the promise of a fully customized kitchen with a boutique size to personalize every guest experience.
The result is 12-table SÉZANNE, which opened July 1 after some coronavirus-related delays. Amid relaxed interiors by Andre Fu in muted pinks and greys and the understated elegance of white Cristofle porcelain and silver and Baccarat crystal, Calvert and pastry chef Elwyn Boyles serve regionally inspired and classically rooted French cuisine largely realized with ingredients from a growing cadre of select Japanese purveyors, along with some must-haves from the motherland, including creamy, dreamy butter from Brittany and an unforgettable Bernard Antony 48-month Comté.
Just don’t call the resulting fare fusion. Calvert considers it instead the natural progression of French fundamentals and execution in a new milieu, osmosing new ideas and an understanding of local culinary culture back into the food. Which, the writer in me insists, creates a story-rich derivation for those who care to ask.
Take the ‘Tsar Imperial’ Ossetra caviar with avocado and sudachi (a small citrus fruit). This is a dish that tells tales about its chef. His connection to Petrossian, for which he has a Japan-exclusive deal, goes back to his days sous-chefing at Per Se, while the addition of avocado mousse with a whisper of cilantro speaks to time spent Stateside discovering the joys of Tex-Mex. And the subtle balance of acidic Kochi sudachi and umami dashi jelly discloses a budding affinity for the Japanese terroir and palate.
But Calvert has a point: backstory aside, it’s toe-curlingly delicious.
“I just want fundamentally for people to enjoy the food and then afterwards if they want to understand more then we can embellish,” he says. “The biggest critic is the guest…, so best let them decide without Jedi-mind-tricking them [with too much information].”
Letting a guest get on with their gustatory experience informs much of the approach at SÉZANNE, supported by the convivial presence of manager Simone Macri and F&B director Stephane Rabot, both old hands in hospitality, who collaborate with the chef and sommelier Nobuhide Otsuka to tailor a menu for each guest. Which is to say, even though the menu is omakase, don’t expect you’ll be eating the same meal as the next table, or even your dining companion if your wine preferences should differ.
Which brings me to… the Champagne trolley. If I wasn’t smitten with SÉZANNE before, this definitely sealed the deal. The decadence of being able to select labels in the league of Krug and Ulysse Collin by the glass makes me swoon. If the stars align, guests may even find rare diamonds like Dom ’64 twirling in the ice. There’s also a wine cellar some 700 bottles strong to whet the interest and appetite. The Champagne region features heavily, of course, but the expansive list runs from Bourgogne to Barossa and even taps some worthy local vintners.
The overall result embodies my favorite elements of dining — superior food enjoyed with reasonably priced wine in a comfortable atmosphere — without the stuffiness or pretention that often creeps into haute cuisine.
“I hope people will remember what it is to dine at a nice restaurant without the fluff. And I think people crave that,” says Calvert. “The stories were great for a couple of years, but let’s just get back to what’s important.”
sezanne.tokyo; omakase lunch menu from ¥9,500, omakase dinner from ¥24,500; private chef’s table charge ¥50,000 for lunch, ¥80,000 for dinner
All photos courtesy of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts