Timeless Italian

by Julian Ryall
Trattoria-style establishments, serving spaghetti carbonara, pizza and the house wine, will always have a place in Tokyo, but we are now also spoiled for our choice of fine Italian dining experiences.

“We are expensive, but that is because all our ingredients are brought in from Italy. For example, we serve tomatoes that you cannot otherwise buy in Japan and we provide our customers with the entire dining experience,” said Stefano Dal Moro, director of the Antica Osteria Del Ponte, which overlooks Tokyo from the 36th floor of the Marunouchi Building.

The Tokyo branch of only the second Italian restaurant to receive three Michelin Stars certainly evokes its heritage. The floor in the entrance hall is an intricate mosaic hand-made by Italian artisans, the class chandeliers have been similarly painstakingly made in Venice and one of the two private dining rooms has a 15th century stone fireplace and marbletopped table. italian

“The owner, Ezio Santin, only became a chef when he was in his forties, but he has added new techniques and ingredients, such as spices and French foie gras, to traditional Italian food and created this new fine dining experience,” said Dal Moro. In the months to come, the menu will begin to take in porcini, white truffles and then the equally expensive black truffles.

One of the newest additions to the restaurant landscape in Tokyo is Mario Frittoli’s Mario i Sentieri, in Nishi Azabu. A resident of Japan for more than 20 years, he opened his 44-seat restaurant in August last year and says that despite the long days, he is very lucky because food is his passion and he is doing the job that he loves.

“There are a lot of similarities in the way in which people in Italy and Japan take their food very seriously,” he said. “It has very deep cultural roots, is linked very closely to the four seasons and from the moment we are born our mothers are telling us how to eat, what tastes compliment each other, that white wine goes with fish and red with meat.

“Tokyo is one of the best cities in the world in which to dine out and I think that we’re spoiled here because of the high quality of presentation and service, although I still think that Italy has the best quality materials for cooking,” he adds. Popular items on the menu at Mario i Sentieri, where the staff make all their own bread and icecream, include cold angel-hair pasta with avocado, sweet shrimps and pistachio creme brule. In season, wild boar and oysters are favorites.

In contrast, BiCE has been in Japan since 1992 and is famous for its signature classic veal chop Milanese. Founded in 1926, it now has 26 restaurants around the world, with the Tokyo outlet in Shiodome.

“We focus on quality, not on innovation,” said Director Angelo Visigalli. “New trends come on the market very easily, but they disappear just as easily.

We have been a constant presence in the culinary world for the last 83 years and I do not believe that we are going to change our philosophy.” Visigalli has found that that traditional Sicilian dish of sea urchin spaghetti works well for the Japanese palate, too, as well as simple dishes that resemble Japanese izakaya meals, including meat stew and boiled dishes.

At Enotecca Pinchiorri, the emphasis is as much on the surroundings as the food and visitors can feel themselves transported to Florence, where the restaurant was first opened. The interior has been designed to evoke that city, according to General Manager Hideaki Sakama, with the antique furniture and decorations imported directly. “The restaurant is like an 18th century Italian residence, with a spacious main restaurant, a waiting bar, three private dining rooms and two wine cellars,” he said.

The restaurant stocks an impressive array of 40,000 bottles of wine and is the first in Asia to be recognized by Wine Spectator magazine for its collection. “Our ideas are quite traditional, but we never present them in the same way as that would not work well for Japanese customers. We have to evolve and find the perfect way of cooking and making the best use of different techniques.”

Antica Osteria Del Ponte
Tel: 03-5220-4686

BiCE Ristorante
Tel: 03-5537-1926

Enotecca Pinchiorri
Tel: 03-3289-8081

Mario i Sentieri
Tel: 03-6418-7072