Osteria Il Leone: A Tokyo Restaurant with Deep Ties to Fukushima
We introduce Osteria Il Leone, an Italian restaurant located near Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo. Mr. Nihei, the head chef who previously worked in Italy, serves superb dishes with a menu using freshly caught seafood in Fukushima.
Osteria Il Leone, a Popular Italian Restaurant in Tokyo
Mr. Nihei, the head chef, in the midst of preparing a dish. Photographed at Osteria Il Leone in December 2021.
Osteria Il Leone, a popular Italian restaurant, is located near Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo.
It is managed by chef Ryota Nihei, who followed in his father's footsteps. As a child, Mr. Nihei sometimes felt lonely because his father was a busy chef who worked on holidays.
At first, Mr. Nihei aspired to be a rock musician instead of a chef. After realizing the difficulties behind his dream, he tried to be an office worker, quickly discovering his heart was not in it.
That was when he decided to walk the culinary path.
At the age of 25, Mr. Nihei began an apprenticeship at an Italian restaurant in hopes of working in a chic environment. While it was a new endeavor, he likely inherited his father's culinary skills. He moved to Florence, Italy, to further brush up his skills four years later.
If you're visiting Tokyo, why not taste Mr. Nihei's delicious Italian cuisine at Osteria Il Leone? While the most popular dish is the Italian-style T-bone steak, the menu features many specialties inspired by Tuscany.
A Special Menu Dedicated to Fukushima
Mr. Nihei during the interview. Photographed at Osteria Il Leone in December 2021.
While Osteria Il Leone is famous for its meat dishes, the menu occasionally features seafood. Mr. Nihei is currently focusing on seafood caught in Fukushima Prefecture.
Although Mr. Nihei grew up in Tokyo, his grandparents hail from Fukushima. He hopes that more people will taste Fukushima seafood to help the prefecture.
After the nuclear power plant accident caused by the Great Earthquake on March 11, 2011, the sale of agricultural and marine products from Fukushima suffered from harmful rumors. Although the prefectural government monitors products with strict guidelines, some people continue to avoid them today.
The Tastiness of Freshly Caught Fish
Photographed at Osteria Il Leone in December 2021
On the interview day, Mr. Nihei prepared dishes showcasing Fukushima seafood.
The menu consisted of deep-fried greeneyes in marinade, flounder carpaccio, grilled flounder with balsamic sauce, and pasta with spisula and fresh vegetables.
Deep-fired greeneyes in marinade. Photographed at Osteria Il Leone in December 2021.
The photograph above is the deep-friend greeneyes (mehikari) in a mariande. The official name of this dish is "in saor," which is a traditional Venetian cuisine using fried fish, stir-fried onions, pine nuts, and raisins all marinated in vinegar. This popular appetizer will pique your appetite with its sweet and sour taste.
Flounder carpaccio. Photographed at Osteria Il Leone in December 2021.
Flounder (hirame), which is well-known in Fukushima, is used in the second and third dishes. The lean meat from the back of the fish is perfect for cold dishes. Mr. Nihei transformed it into a delicious carpaccio.
The original Italian word describes thinly sliced meat, in particular beef. However, sashimi has became a popular ingredient for this dish in Japan.
Grilled flounder dressed in balsamic sauce. Photographed at Osteria Il Leone in December 2021.
The main dish is the grilled flounder with balsamic sauce, which uses belly meat laced with fat. The crispy skin contrasting with the soft meat makes it an irresistible dish.
Pasta with spisula and fresh vegetables. Photographed at Osteria Il Leone in December 2021.
Spisula is known for its mild taste. It is caught in the coastal waters of Fukushima, where Oyashio (Kurile Current) and Kuroshio (Japan Current) converge. Mr. Nihei boiled the shellfish, using the remaining broth for the pasta. This is an excellent dish to enjoy the rich spisula flavor.
Keeping an Eye on International Markets
Twenty-three years have passed since Mr. Nihei started his career in Italian cooking. With his eye on the future, Mr. Nihei hopes that the stigma surrounding fish caught in Fukushima will eventually perish.
"It's my wish that people from overseas, including Italy, taste fish caught in Fukushima. I'm dreaming of spreading Fukushima specialties to the world."
Drop by Osteria Il Leone to sample delicious wine paired with Italian cuisine. You can even have a chat with Mr. Nihei, who might discuss the joys of cooking and Fukushima seafood.
Our writer hopes that his dreams of helping Fukushima from Tokyo and propagating its cuisine to the world will come true.
Written by Kenko
In cooperation with Osteria Il Leone
Sponsored by Fukushima Prefecture