Shinjuku is synonymous with raw, frenetic energy.
In the vicinity of the world’s busiest train station are high rises, shopping complexes and neon galore. We figured the only way to have a relaxing evening in the area would be to get above it all, perhaps at Chinese restaurant Xenlon (19F) or the New York Grill (52F). But that was before we discovered the street-level Aureole.
Located on the leafy road bordering the north end of Shinjuku Gyoen, Aureole has an open terrace with a dozen seats that look out on a tapestry of green. The restaurant is fairly easy to spot—just look for the flower boxes and green awning. Inside is a warm, wooden interior, with several tables and a six-seat counter. We visited on a balmy spring evening, and were lucky to grab a table outdoors. The other chairs were soon filled; the patio is hardly a well-kept secret.
We began our meal with a glass of the house wine (¥580), the Chilean Cremaschi Furlotti Cabernet Sauvignon. We would have liked to sample the New Zealand pinot from the special “Wine Fair” menu, but all labels except the house one are available only by the bottle. While we took our time perusing the tantalizing food menu, we also tried the homemade sangria (¥680), which was pulpy and superb.
Eventually we settled on two starters and three mains for our party of two. The first appetizer to appear was a bowl of assorted olives (¥500), which included some fantastic giant caper berries. The plate of pickled vegetables (¥750) arrived with baby corn, sliced yellow bell pepper, cauliflower, white turnip and cocktail onions. Soon after came the vegetarian wrap (¥1,180), a spinach tortilla packed tight with cous cous, ratatouille and avocado, then grilled and served in six slices. Clearly, this is a kitchen less focused on mimicking “authentic” Italian than on creating innovative, delicious dishes.
Feeling a bit full with two dishes yet to come, we decided to just sit for a while, enjoy the atmosphere and let the food settle. The waitstaff, to their great credit, picked up on the vibe and simply kept our water glasses topped up.
Photos Courtesy of Aureole
Just as the anticipation was too much to bear, our white-clad waiter appeared with a porcini mushroom and spinach brown rice risotto (¥1,300) and a thin-crusted whole-grain mushroom and truffle pizza (¥1,480). We found the risotto a bit undercooked and coarse, but the pizza was one of the tastiest we’ve had, with a base of savory olive paste, fantastic mozzarella and lots of mushrooms.
When we finally asked for the check some two hours after we had first arrived, we were pleasantly surprised. Without consciously trying to minimize the bill, we managed to escape with a tab under ¥8,000.
Walking the bustling streets of Shinjuku afterward, the speeding taxis and menu-spinning touts could do nothing to break our spell of satisfaction.