Some eight years ago the designer Kenzo discovered Toyomitsu Nakayama cooking in one of the many Japanese eateries along Rue Sainte Anne in Paris’s first arrondissement. He quickly hired Toyo away as his private chef. Toyo had a fine time with that, but a year ago decided to go it on his own. I figured that what’s good enough for Kenzo’s palate might be good enough for mine, and I was not disappointed.
Toyo’s clean, sleek, quiet little restaurant on a hard-to-find street in the Montparnasse neighborhood in the 6th arrondissement is a gem. I arrived for lunch famished, and in a bit of a tizzy from a stressful morning. Within a few moments I felt calm, relaxed, unhurried. Everyone in this spotless restaurant works with a sense of elegance and precision. Toyo is there in the open kitchen, cooking on his griddle and induction plaques, creating a cuisine that’s not Japanese and not French, but completely his own.
The streamlined 35 and 45 euro lunch menus offer just enough choices, and the series of small plates make for a fun way to witness Toyo’s talents. He offers tiny rectangles of perfectly cooked merlan (whiting) showered with flakes of salty bottarga (dried, salted mullet or cod) set upon a bed of giant cepe mushrooms. The dish was not only beautiful, but rich, complex, and comforting. A star of the meal was the single seared shrimp leaning against a delicious rectangle of white radish, the texture of polenta and made up of a delicate blend of grated radish, mushroom broth and soy. (Photo). For dessert, a stunning green tea ice cream topped with a warm red bean broth set me on my way out the door, floating in a sea of calm.
Toyo, 17, rue Jules Chaplain, Paris 6. Tel : +33 1 43 54 28 03. Closed Sunday and Monday. Métro : Vavin.