Only in Tokyo. Only in this wild and wonderful city could you get away with a restaurant so niche; only in the Japanese capital could you sell a concept so stylised and fantastic. Only here could it ever have worked.
And it works. It's cold the night I wander into Out restaurant, brushing off the chill of the quiet Shibuya street and taking my place at the bar, occupying one of the 12 seats in this typically cosy eatery.
The design at Out is spare: a U-shaped bar surrounds an open kitchen; the walls are empty but for a vending machine in one corner, reminiscent of a Japanese noodle bar. A pair of stereo speakers are set into small recesses, and the cover of the Led Zeppelin album Coda is propped under a single spotlight.
If the design is spare, then the menu is skeletal. There are only two items available at Out: a pasta dish made with fresh truffles, and red wine. That's it. And the Led Zep record is no anomaly – that's the only band you'll ever hear on the stereo. This is a quirky little joint, even by Tokyo standards, offering just one pasta dish, one wine, and one artist. It's also owned by Australians.
"It's a little bit like a haiku, this restaurant," says David Mackintosh, the Melbourne-based restaurateur behind Rosa's Kitchen and The Mayfair, and now Out. "It sounds like it's only got three lines and lots of restrictions, but there are actually endless possibilities. You can make a hundred different types of truffle pasta. There are lots of red wines to use. The narrowest aspect is Led Zeppelin because they had a limited number of records. But, frankly, it's glorious stuff."
Most patrons must wonder, as they sit there at the bar, how this all came about. As they hand over their vending-machine ticket for a bowl of pasta and a glass of wine, as they listen to Led Zep and consider just how many times the waitress and the chef must have heard these songs, they must ponder where it all come from.
Mackintosh recalls the inspiration fondly. "About four years ago, Tom Crago, who's a partner in this enterprise, he and I hosted what we call a 'winter feast', a dinner for friends we do each year in Healesville [Victoria]. That night I was doing a dish of pasta, and I served it with a very generous amount of truffle. Tom had a great red wine on the table. And he walked across to the stereo and he put Led Zeppelin IV on, and this vibe settled over the room. Everyone was breathing in this hedonistic aroma of truffle, and having a mouthful of delicious wine, and rocking out to Zeppelin, and I looked at Tom and Tom looked at me and we were thinking, 'People should be able to experience this!'"
Thus, Out was born. And it could only ever have been born in Tokyo. Everything about the restaurant works here. Out had to be small and communal, to replicate that Healesville dinner – Tokyo is perfect for that. It needed a client base with a passion for high-quality cuisine – Tokyo is perfect for that, too. It also required a love of Led Zeppelin, and anyone who's cruised the record stores of Shibuya could attest to Tokyo's deep affinity.
And so I find myself here tonight, sipping a glass of red wine, a grenache blend from the Rhone Valley. Soon, a plate appears piled high with thick ribbons of bucatini tossed with burnt butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano, a single egg yolk at the summit. The waitress produces a fresh black truffle, its rich aroma filling the room, and shaves it over the pasta, thin slices of black gold floating through the air.
There really is a beautiful alchemy at play here, the combination of the heady truffles, the delicious wine, the rock music electrifying the air – you can see what inspired Mackintosh to make this a reality. As I eventually get up to leave, that Led Zeppelin classic, Stairway to Heaven, begins playing on the stereo, and it strikes me that that's what Mackintosh has created at Out: a stairway to foodie heaven. And I'm buying it.
Ben Groundwater travelled as a guest of the Tokyo Tourism Board, but dined at his own expense.
ANA flies daily from the east coast of Australia to Tokyo. See ana.co.jp
The Keio Plaza Shinjuku has beautiful rooms in the perfect, central location. See keioplaza.com
The set menu of truffle pasta and a glass of red wine at Out costs JPY4000 ($47). See out.restaurant