Nico's Reviews ( Cafes )

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  • Cafe Landtmann: Omotesando (Cafes / Omotesando, Aoyama)
  • 2013/01/23
  • I've never quite understood the appeal of sacher torte. It's one the most venerated things out of Austria (together with Mozart balls, if you've ever been the recipient of this most popular souvenir), and I just don't get it. I even had sacher torte at the sacher hotel in vienna, and it still didn't make sense. It consists of a dry chocolate sponge, layered with a thin (read: too thin) layer of apricot jam, topped with a chocolate glaze and served with a side of whipped cream. Thank god for the cream, because otherwise this would be dry as hell.

    Still, sacher torte holds some sort of appeal to many people, and thusly I ended up having dinner at the branch of this Vienna institution. The meal was for the most part good. We got a set menu that includes a choice of appetizer, main dish and dessert (4,500yen if i remember right). The soups were tasty, but on the salty side. The main Schnitzel done right, which was the highlight of the meal. The other main was described as boiled beef, and that's basically what it was -- a perfectly decent slab of boiled beef with boiled veggies and a side of boiled potatoes. Authentic? Maybe, but you'd expect the kitchen to elevate the dish a bit more too.

    Dessert was, as you'd expect, a slice of that dry chocolate cake, and this interesting ricotta dumpling with berry sauce, which although a tad dry, it was much better than the cake. (In all fairness, my dining partner thought the cake was delicious)

    The view out the terrace is nice, and would recommend the patio if the weather permits.
  • Amy's Bakeshop (American / Kichijoji)
  • 2012/09/29
  • This shop has a lot of buzz amongst foodies in Tokyo. Having lived in the United States though for a few years, I can't see what is so special about it. They offer American-style pastries well made, and that's good, but they're not reinventing the wheel here.

    I've tried several of their offerings, and my favorites were the zucchini and walnut loaf, and the lemon curd muffin. The loaf was moist and just a tad sweet, while the muffin has an intense lemony kick that keeps you interested (I often loose interest in muffins after a few bites).

    I wasn't crazy about their carrot cake -- found it to be dry, and only worked together with the cream cheese icing. The cheesecake, on the other hand, was quite delicious. This is not the dense New York deli style cheesecake, but a much lighter and subtler version.

    Unless you live in the area, this is a bit of a trek. I'd recommend going there for a bit of nostalgia, if you hail from North America, or to taste what well-made American pastries taste like.
  • Levain (Bakery / Yoyogiuehara)
  • 2012/08/25
  • This is fantastic bread. I have to confess I don't really care for Japanese soft bread, shokupan. I like crusty, chewy and slightly heavy bread, and Levain makes some of the best I've had in Tokyo. The bakery offers breads made with various mixes of flour, nuts or raisins. The cafe next door offers light lunches and pretty yummy sandwiches.
  • Il Pleut sur la Seine (Classes-Cooking / Daikanyama)
  • 2012/01/22
  • I was pretty disappointed by my visit to this shop. This was supposed to be one of Tokyo's top rated pastry shops, and I made a special trip out to Daikanyama to try their confections.

    And they ranged from average to mediocre. What a pity. The bockstock was well made, if kind of boring. They toasted it before bringing it to the table, so it was nice and warm.

    The "fantasy" cake, unfortunately, was an ill-conceived dream. It combined dark-caramel buttercream with a raspberry gelee, fruit cream, booze and tons of other stuff. None of it added up, and the buttercream hardened, making it unpleasant.

    Who knows, maybe some of their other stuff is better?
  • Streamer Coffee Company (Coffee / Shibuya)
  • 2011/10/17
  • I worked in coffee shops for a while, and tried to teach myself how to make latte art. However, what I was able to make, and what they're pouring at Streamer, are completely different beasts.

    The staff is damn good at making latte art. Some of the designs I've seen them pour are off the hooks. And the coffee is good. And they have free wifi. And the coffee shop has a cool, laid back atmosphere. Why aren't you there already sipping a latte?

  • Cafe L'Ambre (Coffee / Shimbashi)
  • 2011/10/17
  • Cafe L'Ambre was quite the experience. It was recommended to me by some of the most coffee-obsessed people I know, and was unequivocally declared 'the best coffee shop in the world.' I just had to try it.

    I was a bit worried about whether the staff would be friendly, but those worries melted away as soon as set foot on the shop. They have an English menu, and lots of coffee choices. No lattes here, or anything like that. Just serious coffee, most of it made with the drip method over a cloth filter. They also do cold brewing, but I didn't try it this time.

    I ordered what struck me as the most unique thing in the menu -- beans from El salvador that had been aged for 30 years. I've had aged beans before (5 years), but never to this extent. Since I don't know what these beans tasted like before 30 years, it's hard to know how exactly they changed, except that this coffee had a very long finish and a depth of flavor that was intense yet gentle at the same time (hard to'll just have to go and try it!).

    After finishing my coffee, I explained to the staff that I wanted to make better coffee at home, and was happy to find that they sell some moderately-priced coffee brewing equipment (cloth filters). They also sell some not-so-moderately-priced grinders, so I just bought the filter.

    All in all, if you care about coffee, definitely drop by to try some of the best coffee on offer in Tokyo.
  • Bake Shop (Bakery / Jiyugaoka)
  • 2011/10/14
  • This bakery epitomizes some of my stereotypes of what a cafe in Jiyugaoka should be like.

    Inside a shop selling expensive lifestyle products? Check.
    Laid back, yet sophisticated atmosphere? Check.
    Use of fair trade, organic ingredients? Check.

    That being said, this would be a good place to kick back, catch up with a friend, and load up on American-style pastries (pancakes anyone?). It won't blow your mind culinary-speaking, but the quality is good and the atmosphere is nice.
  • Patisserie Paris S'eveille (Bakery / Jiyugaoka)
  • 2011/10/14
  • Tokyo has spoiled me to expect flawless pastries. Anywhere else in the world, I'd become a die-hard regular of a pastry shop that could match the standards of Tokyo's top-end patissiers.

    The problem -- and that is if you could call this a problem from my consumer point of view -- is that it's difficult to stand out when perfection is expected. That is why I was so glad to try the cakes at Paris S''eveille.

    My dining partner and I tried three different confections. The masterpiece was an unusual combination of raspberry mousse, red wine and raspberry jelly, layered with a black tea mousse and topped with a streussel that mysteriously never became soggy. I can only imagine that the chefs were drunk one day carrying a glass of red wine in one hand, a box of raspberries in the other, and then fell down and dropped everything in a pot of tea. The flavor combination is unusual, but it works.

    The second cake was a pistachio and cherry tarte that provided great textural contrast (crunchy pastry, soft innards), but tasted more like cherries than pistachios. Our last cake was a more traditional combination of flavors: pear, dark caramel and vanilla.

    The shop has a few tables, and can you can order cakes from the display, or from their plated dessert menu. They also have goodies to go, bread and jams. Be prepared to wait on weekends for a table.
  • Twentyeight, Conrad Hotel: Shiodome (Night View Spots / Shimbashi)
  • 2009/08/10
  • Twentyeight surely offers a nice view of the city, but the drinks didn’t measure up to the posh surroundings.

    We were first ticked off by the attitude of the host, who made us feel like we didn’t belong with one quick glance. Luckily, our waiter had better sense not to judge customers by their cover, and provided great service all night long, and also moved us to a window seat as soon as a couple left.

    We ordered two rounds of drinks. We started things off with a Strawberry mule and a bond 0028 martini. The strawberry mule was crisp, with bits of ginger giving it a refreshing taste. The bond martini was so blah i can’t even remember what it tasted like.

    For our second round, we took recommendations from our server. One of them, the house original martini, with lemon and vanilla vodka, was bright and tasty. The second one, lychee martini, would best be forgotten. It tasted suspiciously close to canned juice, and when I’m paying 2,000 yen for a cocktail, I expect better than that. Even if the juice wasn’t canned, it tasted bland. Four drinks and the cover charge for two came to 10,800 yen.

    The live music, on the other hand, was a pleasure. A Brazilian musician kept us entertained with his ample repertoire and strange abilities to make sounds like a trumpet.

    Twentyeight is a nice cocktail lounge, but at their price range, the cocktails should have been much better. There’s no shortage of bars with a view in Tokyo, and others can offer better cocktails.
  • M Cafe de Chaya (Vegetarian & Healthy / Akasaka)
  • 2008/09/04
  • I used to be a vegetarian for about five years. Now that I eat meat again, I realize how much restaurants rely on animal fats to make food taste good. A place like Cafe de Chaya faces an uphill battle with a meat eater like me, because they have to make the food taste good without resorting to all the usual tricks restaurants pull.

    Taking that into consideration, and that cafe de chaya is in the business of making healthy bentos, the food tastes quite good. It’s expensive though. When I can get a bento box for 500 yen or a full lunch for 1,000 yen, it’s hard to justify the 1,300 yen price tag for one bento box.

    I ate the bento a couple of times, but considering all the tasty animal dishes I can get for 1,300 yen in the area, I’d rather take my money elsewhere.
  • Kitayama Coffee: Ueno (Coffee / Ueno)
  • 2008/08/14
  • I live on the “Shinjuku” side of the yamanote line, and don’t venture often into the Ueno/Asakusa part of the city. Kitayama coffee however is reason enough for me to start visiting more often!

    This tiny coffee shop hardly has space for customers because most of the floor is taken up by bags with beans. There is a roaster on site, and the whole place smells beautiful. The owner ages the beans before roasting them, and they range between 1-15 years!

    At his suggestion, I got the mocha java beans that were on special -- 1,000 yen for 200 grams. This is some of the most delicious coffee I’ve ever had. I don’t know the chemistry behind aging beans, but the flavor becomes easier on the palate and is a pleasure to drink. They also brew coffee on site, but I didn’t have time to sit down and chat that day.

    The shop might be a bit of a challenge if you don’t speak some Japanese. They don’t seem to speak any English and nothing was on English in the menu or signs. At the same time, all the coffee is on display with the prices on it, so you can pick it that way, and the owner was pretty friendly.
  • Zoka: Mejiro (Cafes / Ikebukuro)
  • 2008/07/29
  • I worked as a barista for a while, and watching somebody murder a latte makes me cringe. At Zoka, however, I want to jump behind the machine and learn from their baristas, because they’re damn good.

    I’ve tried most of the menu at Zoka, and pretty much anything liquid is awesome...latte, espresso, clover coffee, etc., all of it is top-notch.

    The lunch special is not bad either, with a panini sandwich and small scoop of ice cream (900 yen).

    What I’d definitely stay away from are the pastries -- they’re in desperate need of a proper pastry chef! The scones are so dry they suck all the saliva out of your mouth in the blink of an eye; the muffins fare equally bad, while the cakes have been all crappy.

    If you like a proper espresso bar, I can only recommend this place...absolutely awesome coffee! (They have two branches in Tokyo (mejiro and akasaka) plus one in Yokohama.
  • Toshi Yoroizuka: Roppongi (Bakery / Roppongi)
  • 2008/07/23
  • Toshi Yoroizuka’s store commands attention worldwide. Foodies from around the world line up at his store to try his desserts.

    I was lucky when I arrived without reservations, because someone had just cancelled and my dinning partner and I were immediately seated at the counter from where you can see the chefs in action.

    Unfortunately (or luckily) I’ve been spoiled by Tokyo’s amazing pastry chefs. Getting it perfect is pretty hard, and anywhere else in the world I’d be blown away by Toshi Yoroizuka. But, to stand out in Tokyo you need to go the extra mile to wow customers who already expect perfect pastries, and in that respect he fell flat.

    We got two seasonal creations from the kitchen (1,200 yen each) -- peaches poached in white wine with ice cream, gelee and a galette for crunch, and a coconut and pineapple souffle.

    Both dishes were beautifully presented and the flavors spot on. At the same time, they lacked wow factor. Peaches and white wine are a pretty common combination (think of a bellini) and so is pineapple and coconut.

    On my way out I picked up an apricot tart, a chocolate tart and a financier, all to the same effect. They were technically perfect, but forgettable.

    If you like your pastries to be comforting, this is the place for you. If you’re looking for that little extra something, then better head somewhere else. I expected Yoroizuka-san to deliver that extra touch, but found out that he’s in the business of comfort pastries done well.
  • Jean Paul Hevin: Roppongi (Chocolate / Roppongi)
  • 2008/07/07
  • Tokyo attracts world-renowned pastry chefs from the world over, and Jean Paul Hevin is one more of this exclusive list that opened boutiques in Japan.

    Jean Paul Hevin’s specialty is chocolate. He sources some of the best cacao beans from around the world and crafts them into beautiful truffles and other sweets. His reputation is that no chocolate sits on the shelves for more than three days before they throw them away.

    His resume is impressive: he was awarded the Meilleur Ouvrier de France award (best craftman in France) in the confectionery category, and spent seven years working side-by-side with another heavyweight chef from Frace, Joël Robuchon.

    We visited his store in Tokyo Midtown and there was a perpetual line to get in. We finally secured a table and ordered a coffee and chocolate mousse and a bitter chocolate cake. The bitter cake was excellent ? a moist sponge covered with some of the best dark-chocolate ganache I’ve ever tasted. The mousse, however, was too sweet for my taste and needed some more coffee to balance all the sugar they added.

    Jean Paul Hevin’s stores are designed to impress, and this would be a great date spot (not to mention the supposedly aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate!). The Tokyo Midtown and Omotesando branches have a full tea-service complete with light lunches, while the branch at Isetan works as a chocolate boutique. Be sure to come in small groups because it will be difficult to get a table.
  • Musee du chocolat theobroma: Hiroo (Chocolate / Hiroo)
  • 2008/07/01
  • TheObrama bills itself as a chocolate museum. I’m not sure there are that many chocolate choices to justify the moniker, but they definitely make some interesting sweets.

    I’ve bought chocolates from them on a few occasions, with mixed results. The almond and chili pepper ones were good, the passion fruit lacked a bit more of a kick, and I can only wonder why they decided to make a tomato chocolate. It didn’t taste bad, but it wasn’t good either; all I could wonder was why they went in that direction, other than shock value.

    On a different occasion I sat down and had a cup of lemongrass hot chocolate, which tasted pretty good, together with a perfect blanc manger.

    The room is inviting, and I’ve enjoyed my visits so far. I think I still enjoyed the chocolates better at Jean Paul Hevin, but this is some serious competition.
  • Paul Bassett: Jiyugaoka (Cafes / Jiyugaoka)
  • 2008/06/17
  • Paul Bassett is worth the walk from Jiyugaoka station. The lattes and espresso drinks are some of the best I’ve ever had, and the shop speaks of a level of professionalism that you’d never find at excelsior, doutor, starbucks or any of the other mass chains.

    While you’re there, you can get the pastries of xxx, who won the world pastry championship (Bassett won the barista cup). The pastries are definitely good, but I still think the coffee is better.

    We got a coffee and pastry set that came to 900 yen. The latte was beautifully made with latte art on top. The pineapple and raspberry tart was also good, and the tiny verbena leaf on top added an extra layer of flavor that was more than welcome.

    The shop is small, so you might be out of luck for a table. In that case, there’s a plant and interior shop right next to it where you can wonder around. Paul Bassett also has a line of jams, and I found them to be quite good and reasonably priced (500 yen each).

    If you like espresso drinks, this is a must.
  • Le Chocolat de H (Chocolate / Roppongi)
  • 2008/06/16
  • Everything was good, but nothing wowed me at Le Chocolat de H. Hironobu Tsujiguchi is one Japan’s heavyweights in pastry making, and I expected a lot more. Maybe that was the problem -- my expectations were too high, or he played it too safe.

    The cafe is small, but we were lucky and got a table almost right away. The drinks are quite expensive -- my cold chocolate drink set me back a whooping 1,200 yen, but a much better choice was a glass of sweet red wine (840 yen), which pairs really well with dark chocolate.

    For cakes we got a chocolate eclair (320 yen), a slice of opera (chocolate and coffee cake, 420 yen), and two macarons (190 yen each) in addition to two small bites that came with the chocolate drink. Everything was good, but also forgettable. On a different occasion I tried a chocolate bar, some chocolates and a chocolate financier to the same conclusion. What I like about shops like Pierre Herme, Aigre Douce or Hidemi Sugino are the surprises, but here there were none.

    If you’re ok without the wow factor, then Le Chocolat de H delivers impeccable technique and a ritzy atmosphere for a nice afternoon out. Otherwise head to one of those other pastry shops.
  • Bon: Shinjuku (Cafes / Shinjuku)
  • 2008/05/28
  • Bon is incredibly expensive, and I expected more from my cup of coffee. I had never paid 1,050 yen for a coffee before, and given that I did, I expected the brew to blow my mind. Instead, it was fairly good and served in a beautiful porcelain cup, but nothing worth writing home about.

    If you enjoy the old-school coffee atmosphere, Bon certainly delivers it. Their porcelain cup collection is interesting and beautiful to watch, and they roast their own beans, which fills the air with coffee aromas. But, the coffee was average tilting towards good in my books, and overpriced. The bitter chocolate cake (450 yen) was moist, but again, forgettable.

    If you enjoy coffee, and want to taste the old-school atmosphere, complete with the porcelain cups, better head to Chatei Hatou in Shibuya. They deliver a better experience for slightly less money, and the coffee and cakes taste better.
  • Sadaharu Aoki Paris: Tokyo Midtown (Bakery / Roppongi)
  • 2008/05/23
  • I want to like Sadaharu Aoki more than I did. His store is fun; the music is upbeat and modern, his cakes colorful and bright, and the level of baking is high. But, when somebody announces him/herself with such a boom, I expect awesomeness.

    Over time I’ve tried cakes, baked goods and his famous eclairs. I definitely come on the side of the baked goods. The croissants are some of the most amazing ones I’ve ever had (a whooping 300 yen for each) and a fig tart (680 yen) was also superb.

    The cake was called bamboo (700 yen), and was a mix of several layers of green tea, beans and multiple other flavors. The cakes was beautiful, but there were so many flavors going on that it lost me at some point.

    The downside were the eclairs, which I had heard were awesome, but didn’t think so myself. The yuzu cream just wasn’t tart, and the shell had become soggy. This is normal with an eclair after a while, but when I’m asked to pay over 600 yen for one, and to order a 900 yen coffee to be able sit down at the cafe to have it, I expect it to be flawless.

    Definitely drop by to taste one of the big names in Japanese pastry. My take though is to stick to the baked goods.
  • Funabashiya (Japanese Sweets & Cafes / Hiroo)
  • 2008/03/05
  • Funabashiya is a Japanese confectioner who also deals in savory foods. Nonetheless, the emphasis is obviously placed on wagashi--Japanese sweets. I got the set lunch for 1,050 yen, and it included a fish dish with salad, rice and miso soup. The food was plain average, and in fact slightly boring. Where funabashiya comes alive is in the four desserts that come with the set, including a light pound cake, sweet bean paste with jello, rice sweets with roasted soy bean flour and vanilla custard. Once you add all of this, the lunch set delivers far better value.

    The first floor works as a take-out retail store while the second houses the restaurant. On various visits I’ve seen adults and children alike slurping on massive mountains of shaved ice with syrup, munching on chestnuts, and working around a mandarine cake. The sweets change with the seasons, and this is an inexpensive store to give Japanese confectioneries a try. At the same time, these are not the best ones out there, and the best I can describe them is as just average.
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