When chef Ezio Santin crossed the stone bridge over the Naviglio Grande, his life was forever changed. The former wine salesman-turned-sommelier created a Michelin-starred restaurant there in an old inn by the bridge, despite a lack of culinary training. It was his knowledge from his former career — the foods and where to source them — that brought his success: In his book European Master Chefs, French food critic Henri Gault points out that “beneath the restaurant is a wine cellar, and behind it are vegetable gardens. (Ezio’s) ingredients are, without exception, carefully selected with the keenest eye.”
Here in Tokyo, thousands of miles from its namesake is another Antica Osteria Del Ponte, one of only two in the world. Entering the restaurant on the top floor of the Marunouchi building, you are guided through arguably the most important part of the restaurant: the wine cellar. All visitors are welcomed with a chilled glass of sparkling spumanti, a wine produced exclusively for Antica.
The food is simple and artfully presented fare. On a recent visit, we started with an creamy appetiser of carrot flan, after which a guilt inducing, gorgeously rich foie gras followed, with an unusual mango and pineapple chutney, balsamic sauce and toasted bread.
The current menu revisits 15-year-old classics, as was obvious with the extravagant beluga caviar-topped pasta that is clearly more indebted to the heady Bubble Era than today’s recession times. Thankfully, the chef, who refused to compromise on ingredients, is still living in the past. The handmade Mediterranean style parcel containing shrimp and shell fish was the highlight of the meal that was paired expertly with a chilled 2007 Pino Bianco.
The main course offered a simple choice: fish or meat. Opting for the red wine roasted pork cheek was a good decision, the dish so soft it fell off the fork. Presentation was excellent as well, with a simple potato puree and colorful circle of crunchy, raw vegetables contrasting perfectly with the meat.
According to maitre d’ Galardi Maurizio, the wine selection at the original Antica houses enough of a supply to last 10 years. There are roughly 27,000 bottles of over 2,200 types of wine, including Romanee-Conti, Chateau Lafitte Rothschild and Chateau d’ Yquem and renowned vintages from across Italy. The Tokyo restaurant may only have a fraction of these, but the condensed selection is hugely impressive and staff were eager to assist with pairing. For any Epicureans looking for a chance to live large, you now know to head to the top of the Marunouchi building if the big-one ever hits Tokyo.
Open all week, 11:30 am-9 pm