Just in time for the festive season, Tokyo has been given a timely infusion of fine dining. And it has everything going for it: plush designer decor, one of the best locations in the city center (overlooking the Imperial Palace moat) and modern Italian cuisine from one of Europe’s top chefs.
German-born, but based in Rome for two decades, Heinz Beck may not be a household name among Japanese gourmets but he is the only chef in the Eternal City to hold three Michelin stars, at La Pergola. He also oversees half a dozen restaurants around Europe and the Middle East. Now he has touched down in Japan with a splash, opening in early November with a double-decker operation.
At the top of an imposing flight of stairs inside the shiny new Nissay Marunouchi Garden Tower, Beck’s eponymous high-end dining room is chic and elegant with a heavyweight wine cellar and waiters in two-tone beige-and-black uniforms. The quiet, restful ambience is perfect for extended meals, such as the nine-course tasting menu (¥19,000 lunch or dinner), which is much the same as at La Pergola.
By contrast, the ground-floor restaurant, Sensi, is busy and bustling. Sunshine pours through the picture windows and the furnishings have a bold, black-and-red color scheme. It also has a menu priced to appeal to just about anyone.
The set menus (¥2,600 or ¥3,700 at lunch; ¥4,500 or ¥7,000 dinner) offer a straightforward, affordable introduction. But there are a lot more rewarding options to be found on the a la carte menu.
One of the best of the starters has the least appealing name. Fish Variation (¥2,800) comprises six separate seafood preparations, each served on individual small plates that fill the table in front of you. Among the highlights: tartar of tuna; delicate aori-ika squid topped with a dusting of nori seaweed; sashimi-quality sea bream with tiny cubes of tart green apple; and crisp, hot fritters of shrimp on a mayonnaise lightly infused with wasabi.
Beck’s signature pasta is fagotelli, ravioli-like parcels filled with a molten mix of egg and pecorino cheese. But this is only served as part of the tasting menu upstairs. Instead, the standout selection on the downstairs menu has to be the tortelli stuffed with duck meat, which is served with a rich Grana Padano sauce, a few lightly cooked vegetables to add a dash of color and plenty of black truffle shaved over the top.
One of the signature main dishes is suckling pig, which comes with a puree of spinach and a foam of Jerusalem artichoke strongly perfumed with coffee. Light, flavorful and with some intriguing combinations of ingredients, these are more than enough to whet your appetite to discover Beck’s cuisine in greater depth.
From the tidbits served through the meal — crisp, puffy crackers as appetizers; smoked salt to go with the bread and olive oil; and complementary mignardises after your dessert — to the extensive (and well-priced) wine list and helpful, polished service, there is much here to enjoy.
Nissay Marunouchi Garden Tower 1F, 1-1-3 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo; 03-3284-0020; www.heinzbeck.jp; open daily lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; afternoon 2-5:30 p.m.; dinner 5:30-10 p.m. (LO); nearest station Otemachi; no smoking; lunch from ¥2,600, dinner from ¥4,500, also a la carte; major credit cards; English menu; English spoken.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5