“Soprano” is located in “Nagisamachi” Mie prefecture, which opened as a maritime base connecting Mie prefecture and Chubu International Airport “Centrair” in Aichi prefecture on the opposite bank, which opened in 2005.
You can reach Nagisamachi in about 45 minutes from Centrair by crossing Ise Bay by high-speed boat. The Soprano is in a spectacular location with blue skies and calm blue waters in front of you. You can enjoy the chef’s heartfelt dishes using the special ingredients of Mie prefecture such as fresh seafood and its famous Matsusaka beef.
We interviewed the manager who has been taking care of Soprano for 16 years since the beginning, and the chef who will be responsible for the future Soprano.
-Interviewed by Ayumi Kawasaki
Hiromi Sugimoto -General Manager
Hiromi Sugimoto, General Manager of Soprano
“People gather only in fun places”
– There are several casual Italian restaurants in Tsu-city that mainly offer pizza and pasta but why did you decide to open a high-end Soprano instead of a casual experience that is relatively popular?
Ms. Sugimoto : I asked myself what kind of restaurant is ideal for Nagisamachi, which became the new entrance of Mie prefecture to the world in 2005.
We would like to offer both domestic and foreign customers who come from the otherside of the sea, a high quality cuisine using ingredients from the mountain and ocean from Mie prefecture in a sophisticated atmosphere.
We wanted to introduce a new concept of meals to the local people as well.
Our philosophy is to provide an appropriate restaurant that serves high quality of course meals to enjoy.
– I assume that when the restaurant opened, it became a hot topic in the local area, but how was the reputation of customers, then and now?
Ms. Sugimoto：When we opened our restaurant 16 years ago, it was a bit controversial about our price setting starting from 3,500 yen for lunch. For casual lunches, the average price is around 1,000 yen, many people said that it was too expensive. However, the concept of our restaurant was to “use high quality ingredients and provide them in the course menu” and we stuck with it.
For customers who hesitate because of the price, we just kept telling them, “Please come to the restaurant once. You will surely understand the value of the price if you try our food.”
Steady efforts have paid off little by little, and now, many people understand our philosophy and cherish our restaurant. Nowadays, it’s not only local customers who choose to celebrate their wedding anniversaries and birthdays at our restaurant, but also we have regular customers from Aichi prefecture and even Tokyo.
– I heard that you are from Mie prefecture. Can you please tell us what is special about the local ingredients from Mie prefecture?
Ms. Sugimoto：There are so many delicious foods in Mie prefecture, but they are not as well known as we hope. We always have a strong desire to support and contribute to the local community, and that has never changed since we opened Soprano.
Speaking of Mie Prefecture’s special ingredients, we have our very proud Matsusaka beef and Ise lobsters, Matoya oysters, scampi from Owase region, Kumano chicken from Kumano and citrus fruits in the southern part of the prefecture. We are truly blessed with food from both the ocean and the mountain. All of the dishes we provide at Soprano are “excellently delicious” using them.
A few years ago, we started our own “Grandpa’s Strawberry Farm”. We receive compliments for our desert using our home-grown tasty strawberries.
– Where do you get your local seafoods from?
Ms. Sugimoto：All the seafood used in the Soprano is from Iwasaki Fish Shop in Owase, Mie prefecture. Since opening, we have been dealing with Mr. Iwasaki, who has been selected as one of the “100 people in Mie”. It is very attractive to have fish that are so fresh that you can get super freshly landed from Owase Port and also fish that you cannot find in general fish shops and supermarkets. This famous fish shop also provides their fresh seafood to high-end Italian, French and Japanese restaurants in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
– I am sure all dishes by Soprano are delicious, but can you please pick one particular “Soprano’s specialty”?
Ms. Sugimoto：I would say Bouillabaisse made from fresh seafood procured at Iwasaki Fish Shop. It is a luxurious dish of soft-shelled turtle soup with abalone, blowfish, clams, spiny lobster, and cutlass fish. It hasn’t been well known as we expected yet, but we would like to make it popular so that people will say, “Soprano is this Bouillabaisse.”
– What kind of place do you hope Soprano to be for Mie Prefecture?
Ms. Sugimoto：Considering Tsu City, Mie Prefecture, the atmosphere of the restaurant looks a bit exclusive, and the price of food is a little high on average. Some people might feel it’s not welcoming, but we aim to create an enjoyable experience.
We hope that you will enjoy our delicious food, drinks, and enjoyable conversations with people and the breathtaking ocean view in front of you. That’s all, because people only gather in fun places.
We would like to support your precious and enjoyable time here at Soprano. Good food will enhance your fun time.
We hope to create a high quality time together with our customers and make it a restaurant that will be remembered by everyone.
Tsukasa Shimano -Chef
Tsukasa Shimano, Chef of Soprano
“Continuation leads to trust”
– Please tell us about your interest in using local ingredients from Mie prefecture.
Mr. Shimano：All the dishes we serve at the Soprano are local ingredients of Mie. We use vegetables from the contracted farmer using organic farming methods and fresh seafood from Iwasaki Fish Shop in Owase.
We are particular about the freshness of our food. Getting fresh fish is important. For example, when we order seafood from the Iwasaki Fish Shop, it will be shipped from Owase by courier that evening and will arrive at the store the next morning. I think I can still say that it’s “fresh” enough, but I want to prepare it on the day it’s caught. Specifically, I want to remove the “gills”. It’s an important process for preparation. By removing the internal organs while it is fresh, the generation of odors can be suppressed and the body part can be kept in good condition. Once a week, I drive to Owase to select and buy the fish myself.
Mr. Iwasaki’s selling method is unique, you just tell him how many kilos of fish you want and he will sort it out for the amount. It’s up to Mr. Iwasaki what he chooses. You’ll never know what fish you get. (laughs). The chef’s skill will be tested, I would say.
If the fish that takes the soup stock changes, the flavor of the soup also changes, so it may be one of the fun things for our customers that they will never get tired of it. If you come once a season, you can enjoy various flavors.
I’m afraid many people in Mie prefecture aren’t aware of it, but Mie’s water is very delicious. When I came to Mie from Osaka, the first thing I noticed was how delicious the water was. If the water is delicious, the rice will be cooked deliciously.
In that sense, I would say that the dishes served at Soprano are condensed with the delicious foods of Mie prefecture.
– What is so special about the Soprano’s famous “Bouillabaisse”?
Mr. Shimano：“Bouillabaisse” is becoming a new specialty of Soprano. I prepare 2 liters of soup stock using a whole soft-shelled turtle (Suppon) which gives a great taste. As you may know, soft-shelled turtle blood contains rich nutrients, so the blood is also used as soup stock. Of course, it takes time and effort to prevent it from becoming too fishy and to clear the soup, but it is indispensable because the flavor will be different depending on whether blood is added or not, and the taste will be richer. I receive their life and appreciate it, so I don’t want to waste anything.
– What are your thoughts on the future of “Soprano”?
Mr. Shimano：We appreciate that local customers choose our restaurant for anniversaries and celebrations. It would be great if many more people from outside the Mie prefecture will say, “I’ve come to Mie prefecture, so I want to go to the Soprano.”
To that end, we would like to continue making unique Soprano dishes with pride. I think that continuity leads to trust. To do so, “continue what you should do.” That’s all. We can only do our work professionally and satisfy our customers.