Méli-Mélo is a restaurant focused on French natural wines and French cuisine prepared from carefully-sourced organic products. Again, I heard about this venue through Junko and John. this is not the only restaurant with a wine list of this type, as Tokyo begins like Paris to have restaurants wholly dedicated to serving wines made without corrections and from organicly-farmed grapes. Natural wines have become mainstream anyway in Japan in the last few years, according to this Japan Times article.
The Iidabashi neighborhood is mixed, with businesses, residential buildings, some leafy streets (with beautiful sakura flowers these days) and a view on the river Kanda, which goes through it and was in the old time a major way of transportation. In Tokyo there are not really-beautiful neighborhoods in the Western-European sense of the words, the buildings are generally all new, utilitarian and heterogenous by their architectural style. A particular neighborhood must be felt or analyzed through its human activity and style, which can vary enormously between day and dark. Whatever, Iidabashi has nothing special that I noticed during this single visit, it's an active area with neighborhood shops and businessmen, salarymen doing their daily work.
To reach it from Nippori, I had to reluctantly use another line than the Yamanote, in this matter the Toei Oedo line which goes straight through the inner city (if there is any inner city at all in Tokyo to begin with) from Ueno to Shinjuku, Iidabashi being roughly at mid distance.
The restaurant sits at a corner on a quiet side street (pic on left) and excecutives and other businessmen walk around at noon when they're looking for a place to eat (pic on right, Méli Mélo is in the background, near the tree).
The tables at Méli-Mélo are scattered in different sides of the dining room, separated by furniture and a fridge. There is a long counter on the side of the kitchen and it seemed to me that many people liked to sit there for convenience reasons.
The wine cellar is located on the corner on the right hand when you enter the restaurant, it's a custom-built room/cabinet with a door and silent air-conditioning, all the bottles are safe in there during the notoriously-hot Japanese summer. It is full to the top and to the door with bottles and cases all over.
Munakata-san opened it for me, and it's like a restaurant basement cellar in Paris, complete with the hams and saucissons hanging on the side (pic on right). He says that he knows exactly where the bottles of each cuvée are situated in this packed cellar, just that he might need an hour to partially empty the cabinet in order to reach the bottles in the back, when he needs to do that, he comes earlier before the opening of the restaurant, because he has to put briefly all the content in the room.
Notice the glass door of the cellar (picture on left) with the autographs of (from top to bottom) Michèle Aubery-Laurent (Domaine Gramenon), Philippe Pacalet and René-Jean Dard (Dard & Ribo)... I hope Munakata-san got a good insurance coverage for this door....
Looking at the glass prices (12 cl volume), I think that they're reasonable considering the distance and freight costs :
840 Y for La Begou (a white by Maxime Magnon), 630 Y for a Vin de Pays du Gard Terracaillou (a red by Cave de Bellegarde), 1050 Y for the "Vin du Jour" (mystery wine, changes every day), 840 Y foe a rosé by Louis Julian (organic, no sulfites).
Then comes the list of bottles with prices available at that time (all this changes regularly) :
La Begou, Maxime Magnon at 3900 Y, Vin Coeur-Cul Blanc 2010 Puzelat-Bonhomme 4200 Y [seems to be a cuvée of white made only for Japan, see pic below shot at Nodaya where it sells for 2100 Y], Vin de Table Marc Pesnot 2008, 3900 Y [vin de table is pronounced "van de taburu" in Japanese], Vin de Table L'ivraie, Domaine les Clapas 2007 at 4200 Y, Lard des Choix 2007 white, Les Champs Libres at 4700 Y, Le P'tit Blanc 2009, Ferme de la Sansonnière (Mark Angeli) at 5300 Y, Bianco dei Muni of Daniele Picchinin (Le Carline) at 6300 Y, Vin de Table 2007 Macon Prety by Alexandre Jouveaux at 6300 Y, Vin de Table Macon-Prety 07 Alexandre Jouveaux at 6800 Y, Crozes Hermitage "K" 2005 Dard & Ribo at 7350 Y.
After this immersion among the natural-wine initiators, Munakata-san left for Bouville near Etampes (south of Paris) where he was chef cuisinier in a chateau-hotel, the Chateau de Farcheville. Then in 1995, because it was getting difficult to get a visa to work, he flew back to Japan.
The wall on the side at Méli-Mélo is covered with the signatures and prose of French and Italian artisan vintners, and that was funny to decipher the words and imagine the good bottles that they had down before writing all this. Munakata-says that there has been a large Renaissance-des-Appellations tasting (the Biodynamic Nicolas Joly group) not far from here at the Hotel Agnes, and afterwards all the participating vignerons came over here for dinner... You can imagine the
In 1995, back in Tokyo, Munakata-san worked in a restaurant for a while, there were a few of these wines beginning to land in Japan but it was really only beginning, even in France. He remembers that the first wines that arrived here were from Domaine Gramenon, Marcel Lapierre and Dard & Ribo. Thinking a second to these years, he says that the first bottles of Puzelat made it to here maybe around 1997. Pierre Overnoy was imported thanks to François Dumas, he remembers around 1996. There seems to have been a handful of individuals at that time, like Munataka-san and Katsuyama-san (another wine pioneer who owns Shonzui), that were very influential in the awakening of the Japanese wine amateurs to these very different wines. Jean Thevenet, Jean Foillard also were among the first ones to be imported back then. It is no exageration to say that the massive purchase of these wine since the early years by the Japanese helped the artisan vignerons in France develop their wine farms and stay afloat during their sometimes-shaky beginnings.
he says that there's no particular reason, he was informed of this available venue and he made the deal. the area has lots of offices even if you see it at first glance and there's a good potential customer field. He gets many customers for lunch, he says.
Munakata-san says that 10 years from now, it was not always easy to present these wines to the Japanese public because there were more occurences of flaws and other problems in the wines, but now the vintners have grown up and accumulated experience and their wines are less prone to aromatic faults. He says that today some of the new converts discover that the reason they used to have headaches after drinking wine was the big addition of SO2 and they are thus turning to natural wines where levels of sulfites are either low or nonexistant.
Munakata-san selects the wines for the restaurant at tasting events, he adds that these tastings are everywhere around now. He stocks about 300 to 400 differents wines, most French wines, but also 10 % Italian and 10 % Japanese, plus some Austrian and Spanish wine.
As I asked which Japanese wine he stocked, he asked if I knew about them and said he had some from the Shion Winery, Beau Paysage, among others. The Beau Paysage Tsugane La Montagne for example is a Merlot "sans soufre".
I had a lunch at Méli-Mélo with John W. who provided me with great tips and addresses for this trip and the future ones. I didn't take note of what we ate but that was just great, I still remember the delicious taste of the meat on its bone. The restaurant is very affordable for its quality, as a dish costs about 1000 Y or barely over, which would be a bargain in France too. See the à la carte page here, the dishes vary depending of the season. To wash down the food, we ordered an nice Greek red "van de taburu" like the Japanese say (vin de table), made by E. Sklavos in Kechrionas, Cephalonia. The refreshing, if tannic wine was poured from a 3-liter bag in box, the glass rate was very affordable, I got to check but I think it was something like 600 Y.
The dinner costs 3150 Y and you can see the menu on this page, you may have to pay a bit more for certain dishes. All the products and ingredients are organic including the meat.