And what a culinary experience this luxury Mandarin Oriental Tokyo hotel was to offer that night – but first discipline reared its necessary head. Yes, a bike had been prepared, a lovely yellow bike with a big black wire basket on front, and big black on yellow signs, fore and aft, publicising GirlAhead. They sent the gal off, with bottles of water, a map, and a mobile already programmed to get her back if she got lost. But with years of experience she knew the best thing to do was to go straight, and not deviate, so it was past Mitsukoshi and Corredo and Takashimaya Department Store, and home.
Dinner started at Sushi Sora (‘sky’, on the 38th floor next to the hotel’s reception – the bedrooms are below, floors 30 up to 37. There are only eight seats at Sushi Sora, so, a tip, book far ahead. It is worth it. You sit at one big slab of 350-year old Cypress from the Kiso mountains, and two chefs, in maekake aprons like samurai gear, perform miracles. The head honcho is chopping finest cucumber while not even looking down at his knife. He presents his box of fish, which, with a few sprigs of seaweed, he turns into an art dish. We are drinking Ninki ichi Junmai Daiginjyo sake, from Tohoku, and a box with seven different shapes of glass is presented. I am told about the hotel’s sake master, Miss Kaoru Izuha, who is not actually here tonight.
But top sushi chef, Yuji Imaizumi, is very much here, master of the theatre, and he is getting all enthusiastic, presenting more and more unusual sashimi dishes. Our last is a single wavy clam that Imaizumi-san’s colleague has just opened (trying to swallow the thing, I almost wished he had kept the clam clammed up). Until that moment, the meal was heaven. Anyway, we were already pre-booked to move, at this stage, about 20 yards, to Italy. A short time ago Tony Costa, the highly imaginative guy who runs this place, realised that the breakfast counter in the casual, all-day restaurant was not used after the eggs-and-bacon buffet. It had a pizza oven behind which was not being used. So why not start a pizza bar?
And that is what he has done. This is another eight-seater, and another real success story. He found his Roman chef, Daniele Cason, in Bangkok, and the theatre that this guy produces is infectious. He insists on showing you his pizza dough, which is fermented for 48 hours, using a kilo of Italian flour to 80% water, and a mere gram of dry yeast, to give a dough that then allows you to open it up, to put fillings inside. And all the while he is doing this, and showing you the dough, he presents Umbrian truffles for you to smell and of course you say ‘shove’em on’, without thinking of the cost.
While your pizza is cooking, you have sensibly ordered the best-selling five-tomatoes salad, with one variety the size of petit pois. Of course a good glass of Italian red is needed, too. And then Daniele Cason takes out your pizza, which he has cut into a square so no ‘crisp outer dough’, so to speak. He cuts your pizza slab diagonally into four and slides one quarter on to your wooden tranche. Oh wow, truffle and mascarpone, heaven for the second time tonight. You end up eating the whole thing and then he has the nerve to ask ‘dessert?’. No, Daniele-san, next time.
In the morning, there was no sign of the pizza bar. It was back to its day-job, as part of the breakfast buffet at this luxury hotel. The kitchen’s home-made mango yoghurt, by the way, is another world-beater. This has been culinary delight, from beginning to end (thank goodness for the 24/7 gym, and the yellow bike).