Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Japan >
May 3, 2009 05:32 PM

French pastry shops

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
Chez Cima
Sebastian Bouillet

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.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Thanks for the great report!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robb S

      You're welcome!

      I lied about no more pastries. . . I just couldn't help myself!

      I went to Le Chocolat de H just to look. Really, it's true! But I ended up buying some little things--madeleines, florentines (can you tell I have a thing for madeleines and florentines?), some kind of chocolate covered cake thing that looks like it comes in a lipstick box, some caramels, and another caramel macaron!!

      The caramel macaron was a bit of a disappointment. I think I should just stop buying macaron from chocolate shops. I have the same complaints about the LCdH one as I did about last year's Jean-Paul Hevin macaron--they taste almost nothing of caramel but almost entirely of chocolate.

      I tried to go to Toshi Yoroizuka, but the line up was quite long (just for take-out, too!) and after yesterday's long wait at Hidemi Sugino's, I just wasn't up to it. I might try again tomorrow--I've got a long day before the night bus leaves!

      On my way back to my hotel I stopped by Isetan, my favourite depachika in the world! I stocked up on Henri LeRoux CBS tarts and caramels. I also picked up some omiyage from a place called Yokohama Francais Patisserie. They sell chocolate covered millefeuille-like bars. And I got some leaf pies from Confectionary West for my mother.

      I think that's all I bought today. Of pastries, that is. . . (National Azabu has a sale on Thai and Filipino mangos, so I couldn't resist! Now to get them back to Kansai without too much bruising. . . )

      I forgot--there were a total of three kouign aman--1 each from A Tes Souhaits, Joel Robuchon, and BE-Japon (boulangepicier). A Tes Souhaits was the best, except it was strangely cinnamony. BE-Japon's was very good, too. It had a good amount of caramelised sugar on it so it was almost like eating bread and candy in one! Joel Robuchon's was in last place. I wouldn't buy another one.

    2. I was in Nagoya last weekend, and came upon some macarons at the Takashimaya depachika from a place called Cafe Tanaka. OMG they rock. I only got two--fig and caramel. The caramel has knocked Henri Charpentier's out of its number 1 position, and the fig was out of this world.

      I wish I could go back to get more. I don't think they have stores outside the Nagoya-area. They do mail order through Amazon, but I don't think you can choose your own macaron flavours!

      1. Hi prasantrin,

        Great report! :) I don't know how I missed this thread. So of your Top 5 shops for Macarons...

        Henri Charpentier
        Chez Cima
        Sebastian Bouillet

        (and now Cafe Tanaka also :),

        Which of these would you say also has excellence in other pastries (like Millefeuille or Eclair or in general)? I may not be able to stop by all of your recommended shops, so I want to at least get 1-3 shops that are generally great. :)


        9 Replies
        1. re: exilekiss

          I don't often buy other pastries, but I do have a thing for caramel and matcha eclair, and of those I've tried (not too many), I did like Laduree's matcha eclair. I think (it's been several months since I had it). Sadaharu Aoki's matcha eclair was OK, too. I've not yet found any eclair that has changed the way I think about them (like how my first "fine dining" experience changed the way i thought about service and food).

          The only other pastry I fell compelled to buy regularly is kouign-aman(n). I think Donq has the best one I've tried, and if not for the cinnamon flavour, a tes souhaites might be tied for number 1.

          If you're even in the Nagoya area, there's a restaurant/pastry shop called Chez Shibata that might have excellent pastries. I had lunch there, and while the food was OK, the dessert was outstanding and well worth the Y500 surcharge. It was a scoop of excellent caramel ice cream with chestnut cream topped with a crepe and chantilly cream. It was their take on Mont Blanc. I'm not a fan of Mont Blanc in general, but this dessert was really excellent and I thought if they could make me change my mind about Mont Blanc, then they must do a pretty good job with their other cakes and pastries. In their pastry shop, they had only two flavours of eclair--caramel and salted butter caramel. The salted butter caramel had little chunks of French butter on it. I wanted to try it, but I was much too full and still had several hours to go before leaving, so there was no way to keep it in relatively good condition. I would bet either eclair would have been excellent.

          Pics of my dessert and the eclair are attached.

          To add to my macaron list--I forgot that I gave JP Hevin caramel macaron another try. I had always suspected the first time I had tried it, they had given me the wrong flavour, so I bought another one. And I was right; they had given me the wrong flavour. Their caramel macaron are really quite nice, though probably not in my top 3.

          I also picked up a couple of macaron from a place called boul'mich. It's based in Tokyo, but have a little shop at the Kyoto Takashimaya. No caramel, but I tried salt and yuzu (those are two separate flavours). Won't be buying them again. Not bad, but not really good and both had an odd almost chemical flavour to them.

          Henri Charpentier fig macarons are not as good as Cafe Tanaka. But the Spekulaas are quite nice. They taste like a light gingerbread cookie. I like them.

          1. re: prasantrin

            Hi prasantrin,

            Thanks for the detailed reply. :) You had me at Salted Butter Caramel with chunks of French Butter. :)

            Is this the Chez Shibata you're talking about? It looks *incredible* :) -


            1. re: exilekiss

              That's the guy, but I discovered I went to his new bistro L'assiette de Shibata, not the main restaurant/cafe Chez Shibata. I'm fairly certain the desserts and other sweets are made at a common location, though (except for plated desserts like the Mont Blanc crepe I had). L'Assiette didn't have chocolates, and it's also possible their selection of take-out desserts was smaller. L'Assiette is much more conveniently located, though, so if you happen to be in Nagoya, you'll probably be closer to L'Assiette than the main store.

              But don't bother with the food, just go for dessert!

              Oh, I rechecked my notes, and I didn't like the eclair at Sadaharu Aoki that much. I do remember having a very good eclair somewhere, I just wish I could remember where. Maybe it was Laduree?

              1. re: prasantrin

                Prasantrin, I love your reports. If only my partner (and my waist) would let me devour such decadents... I have been having a love affair with Pierre Herme macarons for a while. When I was in Japan last year, I asked the hotel concierge to buy me some rose ones. They were good, but I felt that the ones in Paris tasted better.

                How would you rank Pierre Herme to Charpentier or Chez Cima?

                1. re: theskyflyer

                  Thanks! Fortunately, I'm willing to sacrifice my waistline for higher pursuits. Assuming I ever had a waistline to begin with. . . :-)

                  Pierre Herme is not in my top 3. I've not been to Paris, so I can only speak of the Japanese ones, but I find PH macarons to be too sweet, and they have too much filling. To me, the shell should be the star, and the filling the supporting actor, but in PH macarons, it's the opposite. There's so much filling, it's easy for the shell to get lost.

                  Generally, I think the area where PH macarons excel is flavour. He has a lot of innovative flavour combinations, and in general, his flavours are usually quite strong. By that I mean, for example, his coffee macarons really taste like coffee, not just a hint of coffee. I like that. If his macarons were less sweet, and had less filling, I'd probably rank them higher. But overall, they're not in my top 3.

                  1. re: prasantrin

                    I have not had a macaron in Japan as I'm carbed out on noodles, rice, mochi, and other wagashi while in Japan but macarons are part of my daily diet in Paris and I completely agree with your assessment of PH's macarons. As I've been writing on France board, for me, macarons are all about texture and PH's macarons do not have the texture I'm looking for.

                    If my companion ever makes it to Japan, I'll have him try some of your top picks.

                    1. re: kikisakura

                      Yes ! The rich research on the all sweet.
                      To pick the macarons ones... Macarons one by one of Pierre Herme a pronounced taste and is for that reason that I appreciate them. My preference goes for the caramel ones with a bit burnt accent. On the other hand, the shield bottom will soften on the fingers. The texture macaron shield of the macaron, the closest is at Laduree. The fruit flavour ''framboise'' is famous but is really sugar. The macaron ''reglisse'' taste nothing like it. Macarons Henri Charpentier are less sugar like and aere worth it for the ''framboise'' ''citron''.
                      The sweet road is quite wide. In description, my choices go for chocolates or bar of black chocolate (Sao Tome) at JP Hevin (200yens furthermore only than carte noire), the chocolat sorbet at Henri Le Roux, the madeleines at Henri Charpentier, the verine at Les Trois Gros, cakes at the Epicurien (even a macaron tea cake), the Chez Matsuo (matcha-mame), the KK Vincent (chocolat fondant like)... the Sadahara Aoki (not the ones choices as best).
                      The cakes are really a fantasy, all their colors, their little size luxury. At the end of a meal, it will complete definitively all the flavors and the different mix taste of a dinner.
                      All sweet Tokyo. Agree on that.

                      1. re: Ninisix

                        Have you tried Henri Charpentier's caramel macarons? You might like them since they tend to have a darker (i.e. burnt) caramel flavour.

                        1. re: prasantrin

                          You're right. I did like it, they do have a dark caramel flavour and are lighter one's. The Pierre Herme caramel macarons ganache have a very profound flavour caramel salt butter. Didn't find any good pistaccio macaron.... or any good pistaccio cakes.

        2. If you happen to be in Kobe. . .

          In the Okamoto area of Kobe, there's a little French pastry shop that specializes in macarons. It's recently new, but Glamourdise has also opened at the Umeda Hankyu depachika.

          I bought six macarons (yuzu, cashew, caramel chocolate, praline, and one more I can't remember). So far I've tried the yuzu and the one I can't remember (some kind of chocolate flavour, but not just chocolate. I'd never have bought a plain chocolate macaron.). The flavours are very strong, but it a good way. The shell is fine (not too dry), but I do find the filling to be a bit overwhelming (there's a high filling to shell ratio). I like them more than Pierre Herme macarons so far.

          They had some interesting flavours like tofu that I didn't try, but I might one day. Like next week when I have to go back to the dentist.

          3 Replies
          1. re: prasantrin

            Prasantin, nice dig out. The macarons look original, even I don`t have a predilection for macarons, I am curious and just command a box of 6. WE desk snack.

            1. re: Ninisix

              Are you saying you tried the Glamourdise macarons? If you did, what did you think of them?

              I really liked the matcha one--it had a nice slightly bitter matcha flavour, rather than just being sweet and barely tasting of matcha as many matcha macarons are. I didn't care for the cashew one too much.

              I still have praline and caramel chocolate left. I wish they'd do a straight caramel one. Maybe I'll find one there when I return tomorrow!

              1. re: prasantrin

                The web site looked fantastic, also the pistaccio flakes on the pistaccio macaron, and I told myself to command and I taste them this week-end. But, but, but, I have to say there are like an heavy cake macaron. Not as expected.

          2. Was in Tokyo just for the day, and I stopped by three places.

            First stop was Echire. My plan was to check out the location, then return around 9:30 am to stand in line for the 10am opening time. I arrived shortly after 9 (around 9:10) and swung by on my way to find a restroom, and there were already 5 people in line!! So I decided to stay in line. Good thing I did, because by 9:30, there were about 15 people in line (including me), and by opening time at 10, there were probably close to 40.

            One nice touch--a woman (middle-aged, probably the manager or owner??) came out to the line and handed a pamphlet and small kairo to everyone waiting. She started doing this around 9:15. It wasn't too chilly outside today, but it was still a welcome courtesy.

            I was able to get 2 of each type of croissant, 2 madeleine, 2 financiers, and 1 palmier. The palmier is huge, but quite expensive at more than Y800!

            The regular croissant isn't anything to write home about. It's a good croissant, but no better than Donq or Bigot, or any number of French pastry shops in Tokyo.

            The 50% more butter with salt (or is it 50% butter?) is fabulous! I love the salty flavour, and the croissant is very buttery.

            The 50% more butter no salt is also very good. It's just as rich as the 50% more with salt, but not as salty (obviously), and it has a very pleasant sweetness to it that I didn't notice in the regular croissant.

            The madeleine and financier are fine, but I prefer Henri Charpentier. The financier are a little hard--I think they overbaked them a little.

            The palmier are good, if you like palmier. They are also more "well done" than I usually like, and I think Freundlieb (afaik, only found in the Kobe area) palmier are even better than these (and are cheaper). Freundlieb's are more caramelized, though, and I think that's what I like in palmier.

            That was my morning. Then after my primary purpose for being in Tokyo, I went back to Marunouchi. I had forgotten to get caramel sale at Echire that morning. Unfortunately, by 4pm, they were all gone. I considered getting the caramel sale cake, but it was too big (why don't they sell it in slices?). The line up was still pretty long although all the croissant were gone. They only had madeleine, financier, and some of their cakes left.

            So instead I went to Joel Robuchon to pick up dinner. I also got the tarte au citron and tarte caramel sale. I've had the caramel one before and liked it, and I've heard good things about the citron, so I wanted to try it.

            Last stop was viron. I was hoping to get some frites before leaving, but unfortunately, I arrived at 4:30. It was just past last order for afternoon snacks, and too early for dinner. All I could get was hot chocolate! But I also got the pate de campagne cassecroute and a kouign aman to go. The pate de campagne is just OK. I like the baguette (it has poppy seeds, and I love poppy seeds), but the pate de campagne could certainly be more flavourful. Donq had the best pate de campagne cassecroute, but they've not had it (at least in Kobe) for eons.

            Will try the kouign aman tomorrow, and hopefully the tarte au citron, too.

            15 Replies
            1. re: prasantrin

              Yes, butter is very important. You can't have too much butter. There is a Freundlieb in Hiroo, BTW. It is down at the end of the shotengai, to the left of the Homework's burger place.

              I've never had the kouign amann at Viron, but their bistro fare is pretty good and their baguettes are the best in town.

              1. re: Uncle Yabai

                If you haven't tried Freundlieb's bread, try their sourdough rye. I don't know if the Tokyo branch is of the same quality as the original in Kobe, but the rye is pretty good.

                And their palmier are second only to Erawan Bakery in Bangkok! (caveat--never been to France)

              2. re: prasantrin

                I passed by Echire this morning again, but after seeing this line around 10:30 gave up, got a Konbini sandwich on the way into the office. I really want to try their croissants but it's a freaking croissant! Why would people wait 1-2 hours for it. ;-)

                1. re: Scharn

                  I hear ya!

                  But that 50% more salted one is quite addictive if you like salt.

                  I still want to try the salted caramels, so I might have to wait in line again, and if I'm going to wait in line, I may as well get a couple of croissant. :-) But I doubt I'd go again just for croissant (and definitely not for madeleine, financier, or palmier).

                  1. re: Scharn

                    Well, Auntie Yabai overcame her self-loathing and being a dutiful wife went today to Echire to stand in line with the rest of the chumpy crowd there. She had a specific mandate to purchase a salted caramel cake, a mille-feuille, some high-butter croissants, a mocha eclair, and assorted financiers and madeleines.

                    She was successful in her endeavor, and I am happy to report that the mocha eclair (the only thing I've eaten so far) is #1 in my book. The bread is firm and crusty, with a extra creamy rich filling. Previous to that, my benchmark for eclairs was the El Globo main store in Mexico City (huh? you may say, but it is a remnant from the French occupation of Mexico, and according to my grandmother, who knew everything, the El Globo eclairs were better than anything you could find in France). However, that has now been dethroned. Echire in Marunouchi is the new champion. Vive la globalisation!

                    1. re: Uncle Yabai

                      Did she have to buy a whole cake, the one that's about Y3000? A little less, I think, but I vaguely recall it being around that price.

                      I really want to try it, but I only want a slice! Or two if it's good. . .

                      Have you every tried the caramel sale? I'm still curious about them. I might have to go back when I'm in Tokyo in February just to try the caramels. I just hate the thought of having to line up at 9am-ish on a Friday! Don't people have better things to do Friday mornings? Like work? Other than me, that is. . .

                      1. re: prasantrin

                        Yea, she bought the whole cake, so it will be a multi-day affair, unless you want a slice....

                        1. re: Uncle Yabai

                          If you can ship it to Nishinomiya intact, I'd be happy to take some off your hands! ;-D

                          Back to Viron, I'd like to report on my kouign amann, but i seem to have lost it. Seriously. I know I had it, and I'm pretty sure I unpacked it when I returned home, but I can't find it anywhere, and I know I didn't eat it. I'm very sad about losing it!

                          I did manage to find my last unsalted high butter content Echire croissant, though. It was rather hard by the time I found it, but I still enjoyed it.

                          1. re: prasantrin

                            I found my Viron kouign amann. It's very good, despite being 6 days old. When I'm in Tokyo at the end of February, I'm getting another one (or two or three), so I can try it when it's fresh. A good amount of caramel, and the bread part is moist and buttery.

                            1. re: prasantrin

                              Well, I was in Paris recently and tried kouign amann at a number of places, including the much heralded (and rightly so) breakfast room at the Park Hyatt Vendome, and I have to say they were excellent... But not as good as Viron's in Tokyo!

                              1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                Does this mean I don't have to go to Paris, but I just need to go back to Japan? That would suit me just fine!

                                1. re: prasantrin

                                  That's right! Isn't that convenient?

                          2. re: Uncle Yabai

                            Well, I hate to break it to all of ya, but the salted caramel cake was pretty disappointing, at the edge of inedible. It was salty! (Yes, I know it is "salted caramel", but you expect a bit of a zing, not a sea wave). Fortunately, the mille feuille redeemed itself beyond expectation. So more or less even on those two. The eclair and the croissants larded with butter still A+.

                            1. re: Uncle Yabai

                              It seems I am going to have to reconsider a little on the caramel cake. Today I had an outing and a picnic with some friends, and I took the remainder of the cake to share at the picnic. In small doses, the cake is pretty good. I had eaten a whole chunk and it was just too much.

                              1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                Crap! Now I'm tempted again! I was all prepared not to buy one, and now I might have to bite the bullet! Or the cake, as it may be.