Don’t be surprised to find extraordinary Italian restaurants in Tokyo — Italian fine dining is more popular here than in Japan’s other cities. One likely reason the Mediterranean fare is so popular is that Italian and Japanese chefs share a policy of sourcing only very fresh, seasonal food with a balance of flavors and multiple, highly structured courses.
Here are a few can’t-miss restaurants — from side-street joints to luxury hotel establishments — so authentic you might just forget you’re not dining in Rome.
The Restaurant by Aman, Aman Tokyo
This restaurant tucked inside Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Aman Tokyo in the Otemachi neighborhood specializes in dishes from the Veneto region on Italy’s Adriatic coast (yet you’ll still see a few Japanese fusion dishes on the menu).
The Restaurant by Aman represents gastronomic fine dining at its best with a menu dedicated to the seasons. Using fine local Yamagata wagyu beef and the freshest seafood from Tokyo’s fish markets, course menus are carefully constructed.
And while the fare harks to what you’d find in a traditional trattoria, the aesthetic of the restaurant does not — the elaborate Italian cuisine is served on simple Japanese earthenware plates and the look is decidedly minimalist Japanese. The low-lit restaurant and lobby of the Aman Tokyo are beautifully designed in black basalt stone with water features and fresh plants surrounding the diners. This very comfortable Japanese scene is set off by sky-high views of Mount Fuji, a lovely backdrop for lunch or dinner.
Mamma Luisa’s Table
In a charming location off Meiji Street in Shibuya is a cheerful, fresh restaurant with an open kitchen counter. Mamma Luisa’s Table is like walking into an Old-World kitchen: jams, pickles and cookies are made on the premises and stacked around the walls. A fresh, seasonal flower arrangement adorns the enormous family dining table in the middle.
The menu features black-and-white photos of Mamma Luisa, mother of owner Pietro Androsoni, who has long been a chef in some of Tokyo’s most acclaimed restaurants (Enoteca Pinchiorri). Highlights from the kitchen come from Mamma Luisa herself — the rabbit ragu and beef lasagna are her own traditional recipes.
As a whole, Mamma Luisa’s Table is a fusion of traditional Italian recipes and modern haute cuisine. The pumpkin and prosciutto ravioli in Bolognaise sauce is phenomenal, as are the crispy pork Milanese and the elaborate desserts. If you’re lucky, you may get to see Androsoni whip up an elaborate cake in the open kitchen as you dine.
A tiny little Italian restaurant in Kagurazaka was once only known to locals who tried to keep Stefano a secret — but now the word is out. Owned and operated by Stefano Fastro, the chef who is known as “The Magician” for turning a culinary sleight of hand with a simple potato, piece of chicken or cake.
His restaurant operates day and night, creating fresh, seasonal food. Stefano serves homemade sausages, pasta, pastries, bread and ice cream that are all nothing short of excellent. Expect chiefly Venetian dishes with the odd seasonal French fancy. Enjoy the fresh pasta and mains that switch with the calendar but leave room for Stefano’s daily desserts, which include cannolis, zabaglione and real rum-and-raisin ice cream. It’s constantly changing and always exquisite.
The restaurant is a bit of a hidden jewel and takes time to find: look for the entrance on Kagurazaka next to a phone shop. Reservations are essential here. (Note: Stefano is closed Tuesday and Wednesday during lunch).
Piacere, Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo
On level 28 of Four-Star Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo is this signature Italian restaurant. Meaning “pleasure” in Italian, Piacere certainly delivers on the name with a menu that delights the senses. The renowned wine cellar has a fine international selection with a focus on Italian pours. Boutique and vintage wines are available, but heavy Bordeaux reds and and Italian Boroli are the headliners.
Piacere, furnished with comfortable chocolate sofas and illuminated with a soft golden light, is a relaxing place to enjoy a fine vino with a view of Central Tokyo.
But beyond vistas, the establishment offers an opulent five-course champagne dinner menu of seafood, fish and a divine pork cutlet that’s followed by a dessert with Veuve Clicquot. Head chef Andrea Ferrero offers an exclusive monthly cooking class, which consists of a cooking demonstration followed by a wine and food tasting. Private dining rooms are also available for you to have an oh-so exclusive dinner party.