There's a topic about Henri Charpentier shops, but I thought it would be helpful to have just one topic on French pastry shops, whether they be in Tokyo or elsewhere in Japan.
I'm currently in Tokyo, and have been making the rounds. I'm trying not to eat too much (I'm only here for a few days, after all), but when your eyes are bigger than your stomach, it's hard not to buy too much!
First stop was A Tes Souhaits. It's a bit out of the way, but since I was sort of in the neighbourhood, I stopped by. They have a few tables, but it's primarily a take-out place. I got some kind of caramel cake. The bottom layer was praline, I think, and then there were alternating layers of cake and buttercream. I like this cake a lot. It's not too sweet, and the praline layer adds a nice bit of texture contrast. The caramel flavour is pronounced, but not overwhelming, so it's a nice cake if you like caramel. I also got some vanilla caramels (not yet tried), a couple of florentines (not yet tried), and a very good kouign aman.
Later that evening I had dinner at L'Atelier Robuchon, so I shopped at the bakery first. Here I picked up a couple of savoury breads (one with olives, the other with sun-dried tomatoes), three macarons (caramel, citron, and praline), and a salted caramel tart. The caramel tart wasn't quite what I expected. It was good, and not too sweet, but I would have preferred a thinner crust. There was also a thin layer of chocolate between the crust and the caramel, and I would have preferred that chocolate not to be there. It interfered with the enjoyment of the caramel, I thought.
Yesterday my only cake stop was Hidemi Sugino. I arrived bright an early at 9:20, knowing the line-ups would be long by the time the shop opened at 10. I was the fifth person in line. Score! But imagine my surprise when passing by the shop, I noticed a sign in the window stating the shop would not be opening until 11. . . With nothing else to do until 1, I stayed in line for 1 hour and 40 minutes until they opened.
They've got some very strict rules about shopping there. About 15 minutes before they opened, a staff member came out to explain about shopping there. You have to line up a certain way, and then you're only allowed 2 cakes to eat in, and 6 cakes to take out. Some cakes can't be taken away, but must only be eaten in the cafe area. I got a bunch of little things (madeleines and the like), and then got one cake to eat in, and two cakes to go. My eat-in cake was Arabique, I think. It was coffee-flavoured, and coult only be eaten in the shop. The first bit was powerful. If you like coffee, this would be a good cake for you. After a few bites, however, I could no longer taste the coffee flavour, or any other flavour for that matter. I could only "taste" the richness of the cake. This was a mousse cake with layers of coffee jelly and another kind of mousse inside (a lighter, creamier, more pudding-like mousse than the rest of the mousse of the cake). It was very very soft. So soft that whenever I took a bite, it reminded me of how when you have a cold and you try to breath in through your nose, the mucous sometimes slides down the back of your throat. Not that I've ever had that happen to me, but if I did, that's what the texture of this cake reminded me of.
I took out the Bresilienne (sp?) which was coffee and caramel, and his version of black forest, called something like charme (with an accent aigu on the e). I don't particularly care for either of them. The black forest is just sweet to me, and the Bresilienne was more coffee than caramel. And it, too, was very much like a soft mucousy mousse.
I know Hidemi Sugino is famous in the world of pastry, and his cakes are very good, but I don't think I'll be standing in line for 1 hour and 40 minutes ever again for them. Or even 40 minutes.
Tons of macarons have been purchased, as well. To follow-up on my caramel macaron taste test last spring, I've tasted last year's winner with some other untried ones. The contenders are Chez Cima (last year's winner), Henri Charpentier (my go-to caramel macaron), Laduree, Sebatian Bouillet, and Joel Robuchon.
None were necessarily bad, but if I had to choose an order of preference, it would be:
Henri Charpentier has excellent filling:shell ratio, but it's got a very pronounced caramel flavour, leaning more towards burnt caramel. I like that, but if you don't, you won't like these. The filling is caramel, not buttercream.
Chez Cima has a pronounced salt flavour to its salted caramel macaron. If you like chewy caramels, these are a good choice, as the shell is thicker than most. Buttercream filling in these, I think
Sebastian Bouillet has a very buttery flavour to it. it's not very chewy at all. It's got a caramel filling.
Robuchon has a good salted caramel flavour (buttercream filling). It's a wee bit chewy, and it has a bit of an odd aftertaste. It's not quite an artificial flavour, but I can't pin it down. I liked the saltiness of the filling.
Laduree was the least caramelly of the bunch. It's mostly just sweet, and the almond flavour is more pronounced than the caramel flavour. That's why these are in last place.
I still have some other Laduree macaron to try (mango, praline, and citron), and a couple of Robuchon left (praline and citron).
I might (very big might) stop by Toshi Yoroizuka today, too. But I think I might be all done with pastries for this trip.