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Ahiru Store
Meghan McCarron

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How to Spend the Day in Paris Without Ever Leaving Tokyo

Nobody does France like Japan

France and Japan have a long and occasionally fraught history of culinary cross-pollination, dating back to the late 19th century, when chefs from both countries began to work in the kitchens of the other. During Japan’s rapid economic growth during the 1960s, Japanese chefs started to train in great numbers in French kitchens, and French chefs, many invited to Japan by famed culinary expert Shizuo Tsuji, learned the Japanese techniques that informed nouvelle cuisine (though Japan’s influence is sometimes lost in the official French history of that culinary revolution). Now, Japanese chefs run many of the best restaurants in Paris, which boasts its own Little Tokyo, and Japan’s capital is home to some of the finest French cooking in the world, both classy (three-Michelin-starred Quintessence) and casual (pastries).


Recently, many of the stars of the new Paris dining scene — funky, heritage grain- and natural wine-slinging establishments — have expanded to Japan, which means it’s now possible to construct a near-identical on-trend day of eating in both cities. In Tokyo, you could start your day with a praline-studded escargot pastry from Rituel, the outpost of the baker behind the famed Du Pain et Des Idées, go on to a lunch of featherlight buckwheat crepes with Breton butter from Breizh Café, and end your night sharing thoroughly modern (but undeniably French) small dishes — and a bottle of wine or two — at the Tokyo outpost of one of Paris’s best wine bars, Le Verre Volé.

Meghan McCarron

But why would I go to Tokyo to just eat like I’m in Paris??? you might protest. Certainly, if you’re not a Francophile, you can skip the crepes for another round of soba. But unless you’re in Paris on the regular (lucky you!), Tokyo offers an opportunity to enjoy French food of a quality that is hard to find outside France. Francophilia is woven into the fabric of contemporary food culture in Japan; a myopic focus on washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine) might rob you of the chance to try a wonderful pate, crepe, or French wine.

The Tokyo outposts of Parisian restaurants echo their originals, generally offering very similar decor and food. At Breizh Cafe on the 13th floor of Shinjuku Takashimaya, the crepes are a perfect clone of those served in Paris, down to the funky, smoky buckwheat flour, which has more heft than any other I’ve tasted. Servers in matching black-and-white striped shirts tend to tables overlooking a manicured rooftop garden, but the restaurant still can’t match the relaxed ambiance of the original location’s narrow corner on the Rue Vieille du Temple in the Marais. It feels like what it is: A copy of something original. But that also gives it a particularly Tokyo charm, especially positioned alongside the culinary wonders of one of the city’s best department stores. At the very least, it’s an unmissable opportunity to sate a craving for those crepes half a world away — if you’ve had them once, you probably want to have them again.

For the best Paris-in-Tokyo experience, skip the Japanese outposts of French restaurants, and go right for the places helmed by Japanese francophiles. The closest Parisian analogue in Tokyo I experienced was Ahiru Store, a natural wine bar located on a backstreet in a winding, pedestrian section of Shibuya. Except for the huge line to get in, the entire experience recreates the best of Paris: The crowded wooden bar; the wine barrels repurposed as standing tables; the whitewashed walls and chalkboard menu; wine bottles on display in the windows; the friendly, warm lighting; and the casual service. All of it would be perfectly at home in Paris’s bougie, hip 11th arrondissement just as well as it fits in to the equally bougie, hip Tokyo neighborhood of Tomigaya.

The pleasure of such a place is a little uneasy, of course: Crossing a threshold and realizing you’ve left Tokyo and arrived in Paris (albeit a version where almost everyone speaks Japanese) can be destabilizing. But leaning into that discomfort can transform the experience into something transcendent, a reminder that reality is full of pockets and folds that don’t obey the laws of culture and place the way we might expect them to — and isn’t that at least a little liberating?

Rituel
Worth a stop for its delicate escargots pastries alone, Rituel also serves the rustic bread made equally famous by the original Paris boulangerie. Several tartines are available for a light lunch.

3-6-23 Kita Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
TEL: +81 003 5778 9569
www.rituel.jp

Breizh Café
Breizh Café has five stores in Tokyo, which are sometimes confusingly listed as "Le Bretagne" on Tabelog and its own Japanese website. The menu is a little different to the French original, with the notable addition of sweet buckwheat crepes, but the crepes are still incredible. Each Tokyo location also carries the range of Breton Val de Rance ciders the French locations are known for.

Several locations
www.le-bretagne.com

Le Verre Volé a Tokyo
Stalwart of the Parisian wine bar scene, Le Verre Volé came to Tokyo via Ryotaru Miyauchi, who spent four years at the original before opening his branch in Meguro. The restaurant serves a full menu mixing French and Japanese cuisine, and wine obsessives will find lots to enjoy.

4-10-7 Meguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
TEL: +81 03 3713 7505
Facebook

Ahiru Store
A small, delightful, incredibly popular natural wine bar in the pedestrian part of Shibuya. Go early or late to avoid the wait. Run by a tag-team of siblings, expect obscure, nerdy, and funky French natural wines and a fairly extensive, fairly French menu (but don’t skip the octopus and avocado salad if it’s available).

1-19-4 Tomigaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
TEL: +81 03 5454 2146
No website

Bar à Vin Maison Cinquante Cinq
Many of Paris’s best wine bars are attached to some the city’s best restaurants and can dip into their cellars filled with hard-to-find allocations (Septime La Cave is a wonderful example). The tiny Bar à Vin Maison Cinquante Cinq, attached to restaurant Maison Cinquante Cinq, re-creates this experience in Tokyo, with a few small bites to accompany wines by the glass.

3-5-1 Nishihara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
TEL: +81 03 5454 5631
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Ladurée
You can get Ladurée in a giant outdoor mall in Los Angeles and in the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. Its ubiquitous-but-delicious macarons are also scattered through Tokyo’s high-end depachikas (food halls in the basement of department stores) and — unsurprisingly — Haneda airport.

Several locations

Pierre Hermé
Like Ladurée, Pierre Hermé has outposts in many of Tokyo’s high-end food halls. Unlike Ladurée, it lacks a U.S. location, so Tokyo is as good a place as any to get your fix. That said, the set of macarons I picked up at the Shibuya Takashimaya were on the stale side.

Several locations

Want to go really deep on Francophilia, Tokyo-style? Punch has a excellent list of the best of Tokyo’s natural wine scene, and Tabelog is an excellent resource for finding a great French bistro in whatever neighborhood you’re visiting.

Meghan McCarron is a senior editor at Eater.


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