What’s it like to dine at Asia’s ‘best’ restaurant?

When highlighting how the Japanese capital represents the pinnacle of global dining excellence, British chef Daniel Calvert of Sézanne once opted to use a soccer reference.

“Tokyo really is the Champions League of cooking,” he said.

Well if that’s the case, Calvert’s restaurant in the elegant surrounds of the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi has just won the culinary equivalent of the famed European competition, having been acclaimed not only as the finest in Tokyo, but also across all of the region after taking the number one spot at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2024 event last week.

It’s a remarkable achievement for a chef hailing from a small town south of London who cooks French cuisine, often with Japanese produce, in Tokyo.

But his career and trajectory have always been defined by global experience, exposure and a passion for embracing other cultures and cuisines.

Back in 2006, Australian Chef Shane Osborn of Hong Kong’s acclaimed Arcane hired Calvert to work at his two Michelin-starred Pied à Terre restaurant in London.

“Daniel’s talent was clear from an early age and his path to success has been anticipated by many who’ve worked with him over the years,” Osborn told CNN.

“His dedication to the craft of haute cuisine and respect for the profession make him a great ambassador for the industry, while he and his cuisine uniquely stand out in a heavily crowded global market.”

British chef Daniel Calvert's resume includes stints in London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo. - courtesy SÉZANNE
British chef Daniel Calvert's resume includes stints in London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo. - courtesy SÉZANNE

Further experience on Calvert’s seriously impressive resumé includes a stint at Chef Thomas Keller’s famed Per Se in New York, where he became the youngest ever sous-chef, aged just 23, as well as Employee of The Year. The culinary Holy Grail of Paris followed, with a stint at Epicure, which like Per Se is also a three Michelin-starred restaurant.

His global culinary journey continued with a move to Hong Kong and the contemporary Parisian bistro Belon, where he earned the restaurant a Michelin star and reached fourth place on the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. Now in the Japanese capital, his laser focus on execution, excellence and attention to detail has brought two Michelin stars in just three years as well as his latest accolade.

“I’ve been lucky to travel and make correct decisions - or good decisions - at the right times,” Calvert told CNN.

“A lot of the success that we have had is from traveling and being open-minded – and making friends with people from all over. Traveling across the world, as an Englishman, we are very much a blank slate - we’re sponges.”

One-of-a-kind dishes

Sézanne – named for a small town of the same name in France’s Champagne region – is set in the heart of Tokyo’s business district, with the country’s famed high-speed shinkansen trains passing into the adjacent Tokyo Station a few floors below.

However, the frenetic urban rush outside feels far removed from the sleek, calm and minimalist feel of the dining room by Hong Kong designer André Fu.

Contemporary art, Baccarat crystal and a Christofle champagne trolley remind guests that this is serious fine dining – lunch menus start from 27,800 yen ($185), dinner from 50,000 yen ($330) – but the young service team also ensures a lack of pretension, working with warmth, humor and no trace of stuffiness.

Sézanne's morel mushrooms with wild garlic and botan ebi. - courtesy SÉZANNE
Sézanne's morel mushrooms with wild garlic and botan ebi. - courtesy SÉZANNE

Calvert, his executive sous chef Ashley Caley and the team work to craft dishes based on the finest produce available that day, although some signatures feature regularly. What’s critical for Calvert is the uniqueness of what he serves.

“The most important thing to me is that the guest is having a dish that they can only have here,” he says.

Guests facing the kitchen get to see them at work, a quiet study in total focus, concentration and intensity.

The first bite served is a gougère, a savory choux pastry filled with liquid 48-month aged Comté cheese. In a way, it’s a culinary calling card representing perfect technique around a proudly French ingredient.

Another is clearly more Japanese, where shima ebi, a type of shrimp from off the northern island of Hokkaido, is marinated in vin jaune wine from France’s Jura region, then deftly topped with a shimmering jelly also crafted from the vin jaune. Served on a silver platter, it’s a dazzling dish in every way.

Amadai, known as tilefish in English, comes from Japan’s Yamaguchi Prefecture and is exquisitely cooked to ensure the perfect texture and bite of crispy skin, before being enveloped in a rich sauce with lemon thyme, sake kasu – a type of mash leftover from sake production – and juice from the fish bones.

Fragrant and earthy, a morel mushroom is then somehow stuffed with botan ebi, another type of shrimp, served with wild garlic and a shrimp hollandaise sauce. It is crowned by a perfect thin disc, again for textural contrast, where the same technique for making gyoza dumplings somehow mixes shrimp oil, morel mushrooms, flour and bouillon.

At Sézanne, there’s never an unnecessary garnish or flourish. Everything is on the plate for a reason – the foremost of which is always flavor.

As you’d expect, a world-class drinks program accompanies meals, from a wide range of Champagnes and legendary vintages to an impressive array of alcohol-free pairings, all carefully curated by sommelier Nobuhide Otsuka.

Sézanne offers finely crafted neo-French cuisine made with top-quality local ingredients. - courtesy SÉZANNE
Sézanne offers finely crafted neo-French cuisine made with top-quality local ingredients. - courtesy SÉZANNE

Desserts are equally show-stopping, most memorably a rice pudding that spans the globe thanks to vibrant segments of stunning Japanese citrus and a light Italian zabaglione custard.

How good is it? Stop-you-in-your-tracks kind of good. Drop the spoon kind of good.

As for the chef? Calvert is happy to modestly take the considerable accolade of the best restaurant in Asia with a pinch of salt, as it were.

“I can safely say we’re 100% better – maybe 1,000% – than we were this time last year,” he says. “I’m not saying we deserve it more than anyone. But I think that the team’s work, this year - in my eyes, they fully deserve it.

“We can’t let this award change things for Sézanne because the most important thing is our guests - we have so many regulars, we want to make sure that we are still there for them. Consistency is the key. Anyone can do something great once. Success lies in doing the same things over and over again, striving for excellence in every plate.”

Chris Dwyer is a food and travel writer. Follow him at @chrismdwyer on Instagram.

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