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There’s a fairy tale-like quality to the Tokyo outpost of Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura, which opened — after a nearly year-long, pandemic-induced delay — on Oct. 28 in Ginza.

As in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” a grinning cat leads the way. The entrance to the restaurant — located on the fourth floor of the fashion brand’s second Tokyo flagship — is adorned with an eye-catching mural of a cat in a red frock and white knee socks wandering through a lush garden while carrying a yellow handbag.

Beyond, a splendid corridor, painted a vibrant shade of olive green and decorated with antique mirrors, conjures the foyer of a magical palace. The elevator opens onto a light-filled space, with a trellised, open-air terrace preceding the main dining area. Tall banquettes upholstered in peacock-colored velvet complement the hand-painted flooring and floral-patterned teacups. The atmosphere is redolent of a high-Renaissance Florentine fantasy, complete with marble tabletops and boiserie paneling embellished with lines of poetry penned by Lorenzo de’ Medici.

The dining room at Gucci Osteria Tokyo is painted a vibrant olive green and decorated with antique mirrors. | HIROKI KOBAYASHI
The dining room at Gucci Osteria Tokyo is painted a vibrant olive green and decorated with antique mirrors. | HIROKI KOBAYASHI

All of this style is backed by culinary substance. The brainchild of chef Massimo Bottura, of three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, Gucci Osteria’s concept brings together the worlds of haute couture and haute cuisine to offer a casually elegant expression of Italian culture, inflected with international twists.

The first Gucci Osteria, led by Mexican-born chef Karime Lopez, debuted in Florence in 2018 and earned its first Michelin star the following year; the Beverly Hills outlet, which opened last February with Mattia Agazzi at the helm, received the same coveted accolade this year. The third child in the Gucci Osteria family, the Tokyo branch, is run by up-and-coming chef Antonio Iacoviello.

Chef Antonio Iacoviello | GABRIELE STABILE
Chef Antonio Iacoviello | GABRIELE STABILE

A native of the Campania region in southern Italy, Iacoviello has worked under chefs such as Alain Ducasse at Cucine Byblos in Saint-Tropez and Rene Redzepi at Noma in Copenhagen. Prior to taking the reins at Gucci Osteria Tokyo, Iacoviello trained with Lopez at the Florence branch of Gucci Osteria, and then joined Bottura and Osteria Francescana’s sous chef Takahiko Kondo in Modena to prepare for the new role before moving to Tokyo earlier this year.

“Each Gucci Osteria has its own narrative and identity which is very much linked to the cultural history of the city that it finds itself in,” Bottura says. “You could say that Gucci Osteria is more than my Italian grandmother’s pantry; it is multiple grandmothers’ recipes, treated with a touch of nostalgia, a pinch of irony and a desire to make guests feel at home, wherever that may be.”

Until relatively recently, food and fashion were viewed as unlikely bedfellows, but the collaboration between Bottura and Gucci “grew almost organically,” says Gucci President and CEO Marco Bizzarri.

“Massimo and I went to school together, sharing the same desk, having a lot of fun and laughing every day. When we discovered our respective vocations, it felt quite natural that we’d end up collaborating eventually,” Bizzarri recalls, explaining that the hope is to share their vision of beauty with a global audience. Plans are already in the works for a fourth location in Seoul.

While Bottura works closely with all of the Gucci Osteria teams, the young head chefs that helm each restaurant are given the freedom to develop menus that reflect the food culture and character of each city. With the help of sous chef Hayao Watanabe, who worked with Lopez at Gucci Osteria Florence, Iacoviello has immersed himself in the food culture of Japan by visiting markets and meeting with local farmers and purveyors.

A take on the breaded Milanese cutlet, with wagyu, carrot cream and mayonnaise horseradish | HIROKI KOBAYASHI
A take on the breaded Milanese cutlet, with wagyu, carrot cream and mayonnaise horseradish | HIROKI KOBAYASHI

“It’s a steep learning curve and a big responsibility, but I’ve always been motivated by challenges. Once you escape the fear, you can focus on pushing boundaries,” Iacoviello says.

The food, he says, will be a meeting of the cuisines of Italy and Japan — a reflection of the cross-cultural dynamic in the kitchen.

“I’ve been teaching the team about the basics of the Italian pantry — what gives the cuisine its ‘Italianness’ — while learning about Japanese cuisine from them,” he says. “We’ve discovered that there is a great affinity between Japanese and Italian food.”

An anmitsu dessert with Hokkaido blueberries and white bean-rosemary gelato | GABRIELE STABILE
An anmitsu dessert with Hokkaido blueberries and white bean-rosemary gelato | GABRIELE STABILE

While the a la carte menu features a handful of Bottura signatures — such as classic tortellini with Parmesan cheese and a succulent, umami-dense beef slider stuffed with Parmesan and slathered with salsa verde — Iacoviello aims to include “elements of his personal journey” in new recipes.

Drawing parallels between the tradition of fermentation in Japanese cuisine and his experience at the Noma fermentation lab, he introduces creative fusions such as “the Parmigiana that wants to be a ramen.” The dish is an imaginative merging of two iconic Italian staples — eggplant Parmesan and pasta with garlic, olive oil and red pepper flakes. Iacoviello’s version uses the extracted juice of salted and smoked eggplants to make a broth flavored with shio-kōji and roasted sesame oil.

For dessert, a daring composition pairs kabocha pumpkin with citrus ice cream and a raw scallop seasoned with konbu kelp and Disaronno. The meal is a delightful interpretation of contemporary Italian cuisine. Iacoviello weaves an edible narrative full of unexpected twists and takes diners on a tour of the world that centers on his home country of Italy.

When asked what makes a dish quintessentially Italian, the chef pauses for a moment.

“The key ingredient in Italian cooking is love. There’s an element of joy that we’re trying to pass on from the kitchen,” he replies, a sly smile in his voice. “There’s also a little element of surprise.”

Ginza 6-6-12, Chuo-ku 104-0061; 03-6264-6606; gucciosteria.com/en/tokyo; open Mon.-Sat. lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., aperitivo 4-6 p.m., dinner 6-11 p.m., Sun. lunch 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; set menu from ¥10,000, also a la carte; nearest station Ginza; nonsmoking; major cards accepted; English spoken; English menu

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