Ten years ago few would have associated luxury brands with restaurants. Recently, this has changed dramatically. All over the world, fashion, and cosmetics brands have opened restaurants that are more or less serious. One of the most impressive is Il Ristorante in Tokyo.
Owned by Italian jeweler Bulgari, Il Ristorante offers a lot more than you might initially expect. In a city where Chanel teamed up with Alain Ducasse, and Shiseido runs one of the best French restaurants in Japan, having an Italian approach to all of this is most interesting. Whilst some food snobs might dismiss such a venture, a visit to Il Ristorante should prove them wrong: this one of the most exciting European restaurants in Tokyo.
Il Ristorante’s success is very much shaped by its Executive Chef Luca Fantin. A man full of life, energy, and humour, he has an impressive CV: Mugaritz, la Pergola, and Ryugin feature on it, among others. In addition, Fantin is someone who travels to eat, and takes a vivid interest in what happens in gastronomy around the world. This, however, does not result in a collage of current trends in global gastronomy, but a clear, clean, and flavourful cuisine that is very much its own.
Il Ristorante’s cuisine clearly bears an Italian signature. For many this will mean pasta in all its guises. Indeed, the pasta courses here are stunning. A plate of lobster linguine is captivating. The texture, and flavour of the pasta, the intensity of the sauce, combination with herbs, and texture of the lobster itself make this an incredibly concentrated, and balanced plate of food. Whilst a lot of pasta with lobster tends to be very tomato-dominated, with overcooked lobster, this is a dish where each component is allowed to shine.
But, Fantin’s cuisine is a lot more than simply good pasta. A rib of beef comes perfectly roasted with turnips, apples, and truffle jus. This is simplicity on a plate, but the combination of flavours, and product quality make this a stunning plate of food. The meat itself is packed with flavour, perfectly cooked, and very tender. It is not as melting as the most marbled pieces, but due to the dry ageing, the flavour here is more developed, and complex than other Japanese beef can be. The jus too, is an explosion of flavours. It is concentrated, complex, and combines beefy, and truffly notes beautifully. The garnish is almost unnecessary in this case, but the combination of turnip, and truffle with a bite of beef, and its jus is hard to fault.
Another pairing of humble vegetables, with high quality protein, and truffle also results in a truly memorable dish: turbot with radish, cannellini beans, and truffle. Turbot is delicately cooked, and served with a cream of the beans, slivers of Jerusalem artichoke, and shavings of truffle. What sounds simple turns out to be a plate of food that is not only extremely flavoursome, but also a lesson in carefully judged composition. The gelatinous turbot combines perfectly with the creamy, earthy beans, fried Jerusalem artichoke, and slivers of it, and finally, the truffles that bring it all together.
Service-wise, this restaurant is on the same level. The service brigade here is very strong, and the wine selection here has some of the finest names in Italy; additionally, this must be one of the few restaurants in the world, where wines such as Dom Pérignon Œnothèque, or Luciano Sandrone’s Barolo Le Vigne are served by the glass. Having stunning wines in combination with such clear, and unadorned food is a match made in heaven.
Of all the Italian restaurants in Asia, few, if any are as good as Il Ristorante. Luca Fantin’s cooking is carefully judged, full of flavour, and does not lack character. Dishes such as the turbot exemplify this and make this a restaurant not to miss.