Among the many fond memories I’ll bring back with me of my trip to Japan are the numerous meandering interludes I’ve spent with many a directionless cab driver over the course of my stay. Like today, for instance, when a ride to the Jiyugaoka Sweets Forest turned into a seemingly endless cruise through the narrow side streets of Meguro. There was point where my driver simply gave up on his dashboard nav system, double-parked and hurried into a nearby convenience store for directions. He was gone for a good five minutes before stepping back outside – I assume to make sure I was still there waiting for him – then ducking back inside for another five minutes. He returned to the car, drove around for a while, parked again, and this time popped into a retail store for a second opinion. At this point, I really did think I’d be better of taking my chances on foot but he returned, seemingly buoyed by whatever information he’d received. It was back in the car, a quick right turn, then a sharp left down an alleyway, then him making a sound like your mother used to make whenever she caught you being naughty. He rolled to a stop and waved down a passing pedestrian, carefully reading out the address of the place. “Sweets Forest?”she asked. Yes! YES! For Godsake, YES!!! She pointed to the building just across the street. My driver looked like he was about burst into tears, he was so happy.
Relieved and more than a little weary, I headed up to the Jiyugaoka Sweets Forest where I was transformed into a modern-day Hansel eating my way through the wicked witch‘s house – and that of her neighbors‘ as well. The dessert-theme park offers a variety of sweets at various stations, ranging from fresh fruit creations to time-consuming soufflés. Our first stop was at a place called Emo-Café where we sampled two desserts: a chocolate mousse and a green tea cake. I thought the chocolate mousse was very nice, smooth and bittersweet, but the center of the dessert contained some sort of glutinous rice paste that spoiled the whole. The green tea cake was a far cry from Sadaharu Aoki’s matcha opera cake but, despite the fact that it was a bit heavy on the butter cream, I did enjoy it. Next up was another dessert station whose name escapes me where we had a blah milk-chocolate banana mousse and a dry flourless dark chocolate cake. Our next stop was Le Souffle where, after a twenty minute made-to-order wait, we were served up two soufflés – chestnut and cream cheese. We were instructed to poke a hole in the soufflés, pour the creamy contents of some copper pots inside, mix, serve, and eat! Despite the wait and the more labor-intensive process, this was, by far, the best of the Sweets Forest offerings. Our next stop landed us at PastaHouse Awkitchen(?) where we ordered a baked sweet potato dessert and an orange crème brulee prepared inside an actual orange. The sweet potato was fine but I felt really pushed the definition of a dessert. The orange brulee was a pulpy disaster.
Having had enough of the Sweets Forest, we ventured out and over to the neighboring Origines Cacao and split three very good desserts (a rich chocolate cake, a tasty Mont Blanc, and a golden delicious Savarin), and some not-so-hot macarons (Pierre Hermes has spoiled me!). Then, we worked up an appetite walking two blocks over and dropped into Café Mozart where we had an alright pudding and a second pretty good Mont Blanc.
By this point, we were pretty stuffed – if not somewhat queasy. However, we still had a lot of eating ahead of us. And so, we hopped into a cab and headed to Nishi-Azabu’s Notting Hill Cakes. We were there, along with about a dozen and half other people, for a very dignified afternoon tea hosted by owners Mark and Sayeh Peterson and organized by social butterfly Richard Mort and his lovely wife Kaori. Mark kicked things off with an overview of the history of various cakes and the sweets market in Tokyo. According to Mark, less than 10% of the shop’s customers are male. Much like in France, dainty desserts are apparently the purview of women in Tokyo. The numbers are this afternoon’s gathering seemed to bear this out as I was only one of two men in attendance – and I think the other guy was just there because his wife made him go. Anyway, I chatted, ate (carrot cake, rum cake, four types of cupcakes, scones), and learned more than I could ever want to know about the tea-making process.
We wrapped up at around 3:30 and decided to work off the 12 000 calories we’d consumed by walking to Omotesando. Half an hour later, we were in the Omotesando Hills shopping complex. With time to kill, we stopped by DelRey for butter truffles and HP Hevin for chocolates, then opted to unwind at a local café where we had two croissants (salt caramel and green tea) with homemade whipped cream.
By the time we were done, I was thoroughly exhausted and ready to head back to my hotel for a good night’s sleep.
Unfortunately for me, it was only 5:30 p.m. and I had dinner reservations at 7:00 p.m.