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Il Ristorante Luca Fantin

Ginza 2−7−12, Chuo, Tokyo, 104-0061, Japan

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Il Ristorante Luca Fantin is located on the ninth floor of the Bulgari building in the heart of the Ginza shopping district, its dining room looking out over the nearby rooftops through its floor to ceiling windows. The head chef Luca Fantin looks after Bulgari hotel restaurants in Osaka and Bali as well as the flagship here. He trained at Cracco, Gualtiero Marchesi's Osteria dell'Orso, Akelarre, La Pergola, Mugaritz and had a three month stint at Ryugin. The restaurant has held a Michelin star since 2011. Mr Fantin focuses on using Japanese ingredients to create Italian classics with a modern twist.

He also received the “Best Italian Chef in the World” award in 2015 in the Identita Golose magazine. The restaurant was renamed as “Il Ristorante - Luca Fantin” from April 2015, having previously being called 'Il Ristorante'. The room has a very high ceiling, an extravagant use of space in such an expensive area of real estate, illuminated by a series of spectacular chandeliers. Tables are well spaced and covered in high quality, perfectly ironed white linen. There were tasting menus at ¥15,000 (£111) and ¥19,000 (£141). 

The wine list was mostly Italian with a few luxury French additions, with labels such as Andrea Paoletti Rancore 2009 at ¥16,000 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for ¥7,834, Planeta Cometa Fiano Menfi 2014 at ¥15,000 compared to its retail price of ¥4,054, and Spinetta Barolo Garretti 2014 at ¥25,000 for a wine that will set you back ¥5,915 in a shop. For those with the means, there were plenty of prestige offerings such as Antinori Solaia 2005 at ¥100,000 compared to its retail price of ¥43,802, right up to Petrus 1998 at ¥700,000 for a wine whose current market value is ¥289,378.

Our meal began with a series of canapés. A frozen sphere of aperol had smooth texture and plenty of characteristic slightly bitter taste. A corn meringue was remarkably light, as was an ultra delicate cheese flavoured rice crisp topped with summer truffle. Finally there was a take on “Caprese” salad, here with goat cheese set in red pepper jelly. These were unusual and impressively executed nibbles (19/20).

The first formal course was a variation on Hokkaido sea urchin, with five different ways of serving it. There was sea urchin bruschetta, fried sea urchin, sea urchin in a beetroot jelly, a zabagliano of sea urchin and a granita, the latter being particularly impressive. This was an inventive take on a top quality ingredient, the sea urchin itself bursting with briny flavour (18/20).  Bread was made from scratch in the kitchen, a choice of either crusty white bread or very delicate, thin grissini.

Next was an unusual dish to see in Japan, langoustine tail with green asparagus, herb garnish and a sauce of fermented tomato. Langoustines are usually associated with Scotland or Scandinavia, but these were caught in the seas off Japan. The shellfish themselves were quite lively, being displayed before serving, and were lightly cooked, having excellent natural sweetness, the herbs being very aromatic. This was a lovely dish (18/20).

This was followed by spaghetti cooked with red pepper and topped with white crab meat from Hokkaido. The pasta itself had excellent texture and the crabmeat had lovely flavour, but for me the red pepper flavour, with its distinctive metallic note, was overly dominant, and I think the dish would have been better just with plain pasta (16/20). 

Risotto used one year aged carnaroli rice and was beautifully cooked in a rich stock. The topping for the risotto was a mix of matsutake mushrooms and chestnuts, with a garnish of white truffle. It was too early in the season for Alba truffles, and yesterday had seen the very first truffle delivery, from the Marche region of eastern Italy. This was lovely risotto with gorgeous texture, and the small white truffle actually had good fragrance, though not quite the same as the Alba truffle that appears several weeks later (18/20).

The fish course was fillet of kinki, or thornyhead in English, a shrimp-eating fish that tastes a little like red snapper, but with a more buttery flavour. This was served with a sauce of lettuce oil and fish stock, topped with a tiny courgette flower and some caviar. The fish was beautifully cooked and its delicate flavour went well with the courgette flower and light sauce (18/20).

Venison from Hokkaido had lovely flavour, served with a light reduction of the cooking juices and a high quality Japanese fig, whose natural acidity nicely balanced the richness of the meat (18/20). A cheese board had some European cheeses like Taleggio but also three Japanese cheeses, which was interesting to see. One was a mild goat cheese, one a creamy Camembert style and the other a very good blue cheese from Kyushu.

Pre-dessert was a pretty presentation mixing grapes with delicate grape-shaped meringue, along with ricotta and a pistachio cream as well a grape sorbet. This was a refreshing and attractive transition from savoury to sweet (18/20). Dessert itself was a classic combination of cherry and chocolate, a base of chocolate crumbs mixed with cherries and gianduja, the hazelnut flavoured chocolate spread, as well as a touch of vanilla. This was pretty but, more importantly, gorgeous to eat, a lovely balance of flavours with just the right amount of cherry to cut through the richness of the chocolate (19/20). Coffee was a blend of Ethiopian beans from Lavazza.

Service was impeccable, being very slick and attentive. This was a wedding anniversary meal and I did not see a bill, but if you shared a modest bottle of wine and went for the cheaper menu then a typical cost per person might be around £140. Over several meals here I have been very impressed by the standard of cooking. When I travel around I frequently feel that Michelin overrates restaurants these days, but this is one of the few places where the star rating feels distinctly too low rather than too high. This is a fine and definitely luxurious experience that fits its glitzy location like a glove.

Further reviews: 12th Sep 2018 | 11th Oct 2015

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