A delectable combination of tradition and innovation
by Christine Cunanan-Miki
Serious ‘foodies’ were ecstatic when Claudio Sadler, one of Italy’s brightest culinary lights and the proprietor-chef of a two-star Michelin restaurant in Milan bearing his name, decided to hang an apron and kitchen knife in Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills in April 2003. Finally, truly creative Italian cuisine had arrived in town to supplement the equally delicious but more traditional fare that had long been the staple of our city.
The much-admired Mr. Sadler is a modernist who gained his stars by experimenting and innovating on traditional cuisine. This means that most of his dishes seem familiar at first glance until you realize that something somewhere is deliciously challenging your sense of the usual right and wrong. Thin slices of veal make their appearance, but in a sauce made from tuna; while spaghetti with sea urchin sauce is tossed with ricotta cheese; (now, who said cheese and seafood can’t mix in a pasta?) and coffee powder (yes, that’s right) and mango are made into noodles and served with yoghurt and crunchy pomegranate seeds. The effect of such novelty varies depending on each diner, of course, but Mr. Sadler has obviously entranced legions of fans with this style.
Mr. Sadler visits Sadler Tokyo at least five times a year. In his absence, Andrea Tranchero very capably oversees the kitchen and ensures that Sadler’s only branch lives up to its stellar name. Tranchero is a talented young chef who already made waves at Bice, the former Italian restaurant of the Four Seasons Chinzanso, before returning to Italy to work with Mr. Sadler in Milan.
One recent evening, my husband and I decided to try the su misura (¥18,000 per person), an eight-course meal made up of the chef’s particular recommendations, and to pair this with the degustacion de vino (¥10,500 per person), a wine-tasting course that is also tailored by the sommelier to complement your meal.
Food-wise, Mr. Sadler is famous for his seafood, so naturally our su misura course for that night consisted mostly of crustaceans and fish. We began with a medley of fresh sweet shrimp and fish cheeks in a tomato and orange sauce (¥3,000), followed by very subtly marinated baby squid stuffed with cod mousse (¥3,500) and breaded but tender sole fillet stuffed with buffalo mozzarella and topped with a tomato jelly (¥3,500). Next, we shared two outstanding pasta-with-meat choices: for the first, very thin tagliolini noodles were flavored so perfectly with saffron and tiny flecks of ham; while for the second, home-made casoncelli, which is similar to ravioli, were filled with spicy sausages that were so wonderfully overpowering that the accompanying truffles were for once almost just an aftertaste. For our main courses, we had both meat and fish, but the three dishes featuring guarnard, dorade and sea scallops completely eclipsed our tasty grilled lamb kebabs. Finally, whatever you do, you must leave room for the cheese trolley, which is laden with all kinds of unusual goodies like burrata, a to-die-for creamy cheese from Puglia that currently tops my list of favorite foods, and Gorgonzola dolce, which is sweeter than the regular kind. Sadler serves your choices with thinly sliced prune and walnut bread and assorted homemade jams made from apple, tomato and strawberry, among others.
Sadler Tokyo is not cheap, but then formal dining restaurants never are. In terms of the level of food, service and even wine choices (its cellar is stocked with thousands of unusual Italian wines) this restaurant is above most other establishments. Accordingly, regular clientele consist mainly of well-heeled couples and businesspeople with expense accounts. But, happily, those with more modest budgets need not feel deprived because next-door is L’Estasti, Sadler’s more casual sister restaurant. Also run by Mr. Sadler and Andrea but in an entirely different, more traditional style, L’Estasi serves excellent pizza and pasta, and has reasonably priced lunch sets.
Just last weekend, my husband and I dropped by for a relaxing Saturday lunch at L’Estasi. Mr. Sadler happened to be there and we discussed the merits of his two Tokyo restaurants. “The chef is the same but the styles are completely different,” he explained. “Sadler is for occasions when you have lots of time to sit back and enjoy a good meal, while L’Estasi is for those who are in more of a hurry.”
WHAT TO EAT
We loved the pastas and the seafood. The tagliolini with asparagus, saffron and speck ham (¥3,800) and the homemade casoncelli with Italian sausage, green peas and black truffles (¥3,400) were especially delicious. For the main course, try the santeed sea scallops with anchovy-flavored popcorn and hell peppers (¥3,500) or the warm red guarnard with zucchini carpaccio (¥5,300).
WHAT TO DRINK
Sadler has a wine tasting course (degustacion de vino, ¥10,500 per person), which is good for those who want to taste several types of Italian wine. For diners who prefer to nurse a hottle at a time, we also found a lovely Sicilian dry white (Riflessi Di Sole Insolia 2003, ¥8,400) and an aromatic Northern Italian red from Piemonte (Barbera d’Asti La Court 2001, ¥13,000 per hottle).
WHERE TO SIT
The best tables are located at the end of the room looking out onto the terrace and the TV Asahi headquarters. It’s a shame that Sadler’s terrace is currently not being used for outdoor dining, hut it you’re keen on alfresco. L’Estasi has a great terrace all set up that’s perfect for a Sunday Italian lunch with the kids.
HOW MUCH DID IT COST
At Sadler, plan on spending ¥50,000 to ¥60,000 for a dinner and wine course for two.
WHO GOES THERE
Food lovers, Roppongi Hills residents, and lots of couples, both young and old.
WHO TO ASK FOR
Look for Masayoshi Shiokawa, the assistant general manager for both Sadler and L’Estasi anil a veteran of the line dining circuit.
Sadler Tokyo/ L’Estasi
Roppongi Keyakizaka Gate Tower 3F
Roppongi Hills, Roppongi 6-11-1, Minato-ku