Okay, this is a question for you francophiles out there. Where should you go if you’re in Tokyo and you want to eat and feel like you’re in France? Ask Tokyoites, and chances are they’ll say Kagurazaka, where the official Institut français du Japon–Tokyo is located and where you’re liable to find many French nationals as well as numerous French restaurants. But according to an article that appeared recently on Japanese news site Excite Bit, there’s another rather unexpected area of Tokyo with a surprising concentration of shops offering a taste of France.
And just where might that be? Well, the article informs us that quite a few famous French gourmet establishments have set up shop in Shibuya, that mecca of young pop Japanese culture.
In the Tokyu Hikarie, a 34-story office/dining/shopping/entertainment complex connected to Shibuya station, you can find a delightful selection of French shops to seriously titillate your taste buds, including Pierre Hermé, Le Pain de Joël Robuchon, Sadaharu Aoki and Mariage Frères.
Mmmm.. these names are already making my mouth water. Who can resist Pierre Hermé’s divinely sweet chocolate creations? (Definitely not this writer, who would be all too willing to fall into temptation in this case.) Interestingly, it was in Japan that the famous French pâtissier first opened his own shop in the luxurious New Otani Hotel, after gaining experience at Fauchon and Ladurée (also names that can set your mouth watering). Internationally renowned as an artistic pâtissier and even dubbed the “Picasso of Pastry” by French Vogue magazine, Pierre Hermé now has 27 shops world-wide, eight of which are in Tokyo. His shop in Aoyama near Omotesando Station, which is just one train stop away from Shibuya, even has a chocolate bar where you can enjoy chocolaty bliss to your heart’s content in elegant surroundings.
▼Beautiful creations by Pierre Hermé
photo: Pierre Hermé Japan site
For more daily (but still gourmet) sustenance, you can buy your bread at Le Pain de Joël Robuchon, the first and only specialty bakery shop in the world to be set up by three-star Michelin chef Joël Robuchon. Yes, bread is still bread whoever bakes it, but this is from a bakery that bears the name of the chef who holds more Michelin stars than any restaurateur in the world! The stuff has to be good! Oh, and if bread is too simple for you and you want to go all the way with a gourmet French meal, you can always go to the Joël Robuchon Restaurant (also known as the Château Restaurant and yes, the building really is designed like a château!) in Yebisu, which is also just one station away from Shibuya.
▼Bread by Joël Robuchon
And Sadaharu Aoki’s confectionaries are also not to be missed. Aoki, who has four shops in Paris and five in Tokyo, is probably the best known Japanese pâtissier in France. Renowned for his exquisite macarons, Aoki is credited with introducing matcha (powdered green tea) as a new ingredient into the world of western confectionaries. He even has an original creation called the “Tokyo Baked Macaron Chocolat (Tokyo Yaki-Macaron Chocolat)”, a ridiculously delicious looking treat consisting of chocolate macarons baked in a Japanese-style matcha flavored pancake-like batter, available only at the Shibuya Hikarie store — just one more reason to visit Shibuya if you have a sweet tooth.
▼Aoki’s gorgeous macarons
photo: Sadaharu Aoki site
▼The Tokyo Baked Macaron Chocolat
photo: Sadaharu Aoki site
After all that shopping for bread and sweets, you can quench your thirst with excellent tea from Mariage Frères. The long-established French tea manufacturer has 35 shops around the world, including ten in Tokyo, two of which are located in the Shibuya area. The rich flavor and aroma of their carefully blended teas are simply a treat for the senses.
photo: Mariage Frères English site
But it’s not only in the Hikarie complex that you can find tastes of France in Shibuya. Just a short walk across the street from Hikarie will take you to the first shop opened in Japan by master baker Gontran Cherrier. The fourth generation boulanger, who enjoys star status among food enthusiasts in his native France, offers creations using typically Japanese ingredients like miso (fermented soybean paste) and yuzu (a citrus fruit often used in Japanese cuisine as garnish), and some of his breads, like the “curry bread with mushrooms” (Pain au curry avec champignons), are sold only in the Tokyo shop.
▼The curry bread with mushrooms available only in Tokyo
photo: Gontran Cherrier Japan site
Viron isn’t exactly a shop run by a Paris restaurant, but they import a specific flour called Retrodor from the flour manufacturer Minoteries Viron in France, and many bread lovers in Japan are passionate fans of their retrodor baguettes made using this flour. There’s no question that flour from Minoteries Viron is high quality material, as three of the top ten finishers in the the Paris baguette competition (Grand Prix de la Baguette de Paris ) in 2012 used the company’s flour in their baguettes. Well, it so happens that Viron is the only bakery in Japan that is allowed to use Retrodor flour — okay, another tasty reason to go to Shibuya. And although their golden bread is the main attraction, Viron also serves some very nice French style dishes in the brasserie on the second floor.
▼Viron’s beautiful breads and sandwiches
photos: Tokyo Cuisine Guide
Les Deux Magots Paris, both the restaurant/cafe and bakery, is located in the Bunkmaura building , a shopping/dining/theater/museum complex less than a minute’s walk away from Viron. The famous cafe in Paris, which gained its name from the two Chinese figurines (les deux magots de la Chine) displayed in the shop, was frequented by artists and intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway. Fittingly, the shop in Shibuya is also located in a center of art and culture, as the Bunkamura building houses a museum, art gallery facilities, a movie theater and two concert/theater halls. Enjoy a cup of café or a nice quiche at Les Deux Magots after a ballet or musical performance, and it’s just like being in Paris, isn’t it?
▼Les Duex Magots’ artistic Rubens plate offered in collaboration with the Rubens exhibition at the Bunkamura Museum
I’m sure there are other shops in Shibuya not mentioned in the Excite Bit article that offer tantalizing French foods, but you’ve got to admit the selection of shops listed here alone is really quite impressive. If you ever find the need to satisfy the French gourmand in you, it looks like a stop at Shibuya could be the next best thing to a trip to Paris. Bon Appetit!