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Friday, May 2, 2008

TOKYO FOOD FILE

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Wine bar/caffe/hip diner Sin exudes cutting-edge cool — and decadence. ROBBIE SWINNERTON PHOTOS

In the carnal realm of Sin


We've always been suckers for sexy interior design, especially when it's backed up by the promise of good food. Throw in an extensive wine cellar and our interest is seriously piqued. Give it a name that sounds a wee bit carnal, and how could we possibly resist?

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Sautéed lamb chops with a sweet Passito wine sauce

Sin is seriously alluring. From its sleek trilingual Web site to its ultra-chic location among the fashionista back streets behind Omotesando Station, this Italian wine bar/caffe/hip diner exudes palpable cutting-edge cool.

The premise is unbeatable. Create a dining room striking enough to grab the vernacular style magazines by the lapels; keep it casual and accessible with a young, multilingual floor staff and no snotty dress code; stock the cellar with more than 420 different wines (according to what the blurb says); and bring in two top-name chefs to oversee the kitchen.

Vittorio Cocchi and Pietro Androsoni honed their skills at Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence, then came to Japan to open the Ginza branch of that renowned ristorante. Later they became the culinary team responsible for the excellent (if a tad too staid for our taste) Riva degli Etruschi, just a few blocks away in Minami-Aoyama.

And now they are, in the terminology of their Web site, "executive sinners" in charge of a remarkably photogenic space. In the daytime, when Sin functions as a cafe, it's the designer chairs in shades of ocher that grab the eye. By night, when it segues into wine-bar mode, it's the glow from the arty lampshades, the illuminated glass of the bar counter, the room divider and the ceiling-high computerized columns that can beset to emit any color under the sun.

This has got to be the best-decked out wine bar in the city. It also boasts one of the most comprehensive selections of Italian wine. From the Alps down to Sicily, all the regions are well represented. But Sin isn't nose-in-the-air exclusive and doesn't have to be expensive. The stemware may be all Riedel (water glasses too) but there are plenty of budget bottles to pour into them.

Equally laudable is the range of wines by the glass: 40 or so by our count. That gives you the option of either picking out a bottle to see you through the evening or working your way through a number of different styles to match whatever's on your plate.

And how is the food? Well, rather disappointing. When we first dropped by for lunch, we were impressed enough by the pasta — fresh, homemade tagliatelle with an excellent ragu of honeycomb tripe, not weighed down with tomato sauce but delicately calibrated with flecks of seasonal vegetables — that we overlooked the limp, scantily dressed baby-leaf salad that came with it and promptly booked ourselves in for dinner.

Obviously we picked the wrong evening (it was a Saturday), when chef Vittorio was not around. The complementary appetizers served with our first wine — crostini topped with a dab of salt cod, and pastry shells stuffed with salmon mousse — tasted stale. Then, having ordered two starters, pastas and main courses, not only were one of each off the menu, it took the kitchen at least a quarter of an hour to tell us.

The pan-fried noisettes of scallop (¥1,700) were very good, seasoned with mint leaves and red peppercorns. But the dough of our ravioli (¥2,000) was so thick and heavy — at a guess, it was straight from the freezer — and stuffed with such a minuscule portion of fish, we would have left them if we had not been so hungry.

Our main course, sauteed lamb chops with a sweet Passito wine sauce (¥3,400 for a serving plenty big enough for two), was cooked with assurance, pink but not rare. But it managed to be simultaneously oily, salty and sweet, and garnished with swirls of deep-fried onion that looked pretty but were so hard and chewy they could have been left over from a previous week's menu.

So it appears that corners are being cut and quality control is lax.

Even though the desserts (these are the province of chef Pietro) looked outstanding, we decided to head home.

Will we be back? Probably, once the weather warms up and they open the glass frontage onto the outside basement patio — maybe for one of their live jazz evenings — and especially if we have guests in town who need to be shown that Tokyo is every bit as in tune with the times as Milan or Barcelona when it comes to wining and dining as the ultimate fashion statement?

Italian in the most unlikely of places

A theme-park piazza on the furthest extremity of Shiodome — undoubtedly the most sterile of Tokyo's high-rise developments — would hardly seem the most promising place to go looking for good Italian food. But this city can still pull surprises.

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Ferrarini's caffe is all about the pleasures of the table, not the walls

Right behind the ugly, hulking facade of the JRA building, you will find a gaggle of cafes, restaurants, design shops and even an art gallery that rejoice in the collective name of Shiodomeitalia. Don't waste your time: head straight for the sign that says Ferrarini.

The name's familiar if you've trawled supermarket gourmet aisles looking for prosciutto and salami. In Italy, Ferrarini is one of the big names in premium pork products, and it handles a range of food items, including Parmesan cheese and wines. Now, for the first time, these are available from this excellent restaurant/caffe/retail outlet in Shiodome.

No spurious designer details here: The decor is the array of hefty cheeses along the walls flanking a glass-enclosed, temperature-controlled chamber in which the trademark Parma ham is kept. The furniture is simple but cheerful — you're here to eat (or buy provisions), not gawk.

The menu is remarkably substantial. As a starter, if there are enough of you, don't fail to order the generous platter of cold cuts (selezione Ferrarini, ¥3,200), which, besides the freshly cut prosciutto, includes speck, salami and white, fatty lardo ham. There are a dozen different pastas to choose from, four or five of which will be freshly made; plus six varieties of risotto (each around ¥1,500).

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Main courses run from around ¥2,500, though serious carnivores will want to check out the mixed grill (¥4,200 for two). Wash it all down with a bottle of one of the very affordable Ferrarini house wines; tack on dessert or a plate of cheese — you won't find fresher Parmesan than this in Tokyo — and you should still emerge with a bill of under ¥15,000 for two.

Simple, casual and highly enjoyable, this is not a date spot; it's all about eating. That's why the Ferrarini catchphrase is "italian [sic] food philosophy," with their stress very firmly on the second word.

Ferrarini is in Comodio Shiodome 1F, 2-14-1 Higashi-Shinbashi, Minato-ku; open Tues.-Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m., closed Mon. For more information call (03) 6430-0486 or visit www.ferrarini-ifp.jp


Sin

MAP
Location: B1 5-7-2 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku
(03) 6419-3838
sin-tokyo.com

Open: Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. (lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner last order 11:30 p.m.); closed Sunday

Nearest station: Omotesando (Ginza, Hanzomon and Chiyoda lines)

How to get there: From Omotesando Station (Exit A4), walk toward the Nezu Museum; turn down the first side street to the right; after Pure Cafe (the Aveda Shop) turn left; the steps leading down to Sin are visible on the right after 20 meters.

What works: Brilliant decor; excellent wine list

What doesn't: At these prices, we expect far better quality food.

BGM: Jazz, R&B and soul

Smoking: No-smoking seats available but not separated

Price per head: Lunch from ¥1,400; dinner a la carte figure ¥4,000-¥6,000 without drinks

Drinks: Beer from ¥600; wine from ¥600/glass, from ¥4,000/bottle; cocktails from ¥1,000; grappa from ¥1,000

Credit cards: Major cards accepted

Language: English/Italian menu; English and Italian spoken



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