“Freshness, flavour and fragrance, these are the key elements of our success,” says Grand Chef Norihiro Nakamura, before adding, “we don’t use much oil, so it’s healthy.” For a truly Roman experience in Tokyo, Cuore di Roma is the place to go.
The trendy restaurant in Daikanyama is owned by Hiroshi Imaizumi, a unique guy who used to run the Sabatini in Aoyama. After half a century of hard toil, he is now reaping the benefits of his labour.
Inazumi spins a great yarn about his search for inspirations. Compelled as a youngster to take a journey across the world after reading the novels of cult writer Hiroyuki Itsuki, his journey turned into a longer than expected stay in Italy. Backpacking accross the Middle East and through Turkey and then Yugoslavia opened his eyes to the world but it was harvesting grapes and working with farmers, before finding restaurant work in the Italian countryside, that gave him a purpose.
Famed for its simplicity and its focus on the freshness that he now embraces, Italian food lit the culinary spark which would lead Inazumi to take the flavours back to Tokyo – still only 20 years old – and eventually to Sabatini in Aoyama, where he trained under the owner and continued “growing up into a decent human being.”
For Cuore di Roma to open it took a conversation with chef Norihiro Nakamura, who had spent his apprenticeship in the north-western Italian city of Piemonte. He agreed to be Grand Chef, and the restaurant was born.
Mountainous Piemonte is famous for its rice, meat and the slow cooking techniques that have long been at the heart of Italian home-cooking. Roman cuisine is heavy on hams like prosciutto and rich, meaty flavours but here at Cuore di Roma we found something a little more refined.
Blending hearty regional Italian recipes into more restaurant-like dishes requires skill. Borrowing Japanese principles of market-freshness, with seafood the star of the show, this is a success story.
Weekender started with Garlic roasted sazae (a large spiny mollusc that is popular in Japan). It was fresh, soft, and tasty.
“It’s from Tsukiji Market,” says Imaizumi, “our Grand Chef Nakamura checks what’s new every morning, as early as possible.”
Next was the signature dish, or primi piatti, which was Linguine con Hamaruri e Ricci di Mare – Linguine with baked scallops and fresh sea urchin roe. The chef’s instinct for freshness of ingredients shone through; it was delicious.
The Grand Chef will cook the fish of the day as you wish – Weekender followed the owner’s suggestion for the next course, his broiled Broadbill Sword Fish. Despite its slightly tough look, the texture was fluffy and the fresh herbs balanced well.
“Again this is fresh from Tsukiji,” Imaizumi added, “we never use frozen swordfish.” Meat came next, and our grilled ox fillet was truly a highlight.
“It’s well cooked, but pink,” the owner explained. “Its called cuisson sous-vide, vacuum-packed pouch cooking, a style which was started by Alain Passard, a French chef who owns the Michelin three-star restaurant, L’Arpège, in Paris. It seals flavour and deliciousness inside the meat.”
No Italian meal is complete without a glass or two of wine. Weekender started with Spumante and then moved onto wine from Piemonte, Gavi o Cortese di Gavi, an Angelo Gaja masterpiece. After this, the owner recommended a Tuscan Villa Antinori.
The freshness, flavour and fragrance are all enhanced to perfection by the daily efforts of the owner and Grand Chef, who, after all that, are no longer such a mystery.
Price: Fixed Course ¥6,930
Check the website, here.
Location: First floor, Daikanyama Address Building, 17-6 Daikanyama, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.
(See map, below)
All photographs courtesy of the Cuore di Roma.