Chocoholics should be warned that Tokyo abounds with chocolate shops. Here are just a tiny few of what tempts customers. This article first appeared in Metropolis magazine.
http://archive.metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/619/localflavors.asp (text follows)
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to find a man who was rich, sweet and most important, who would satisfy me. But I had no idea I would be courted by a cadre of chocolatiers. I share this with you for Valentine’s Day as there is only one me and many of them, and they are oh so sweet.
The first to tempt me was Pascal Caffet as we both work at Takashimaya in Nihonbashi. He offered me a glass of champagne with his specialty, a chocolate disk studded with hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios and raisins. I never say no to champagne, and the yeastiness from the bubbly melds with the nuttiness of his Croq’tele Noir.
I was curious to see what the competition had to offer and made a beeline to Isetan in Shinjuku. Jean-Paul Hevin warmed me up with a velvety rich chocolat chaud that had hints of warm spices like cinnamon. Jean-Paul’s café is next door to his shop, where the chocolates are on display like jewels in a jewelry shop.
Having lived in Brussels, and having been told by the Belgians that their chocolate is the best in the world, I thought it was time to pursue Pierre Marcolini. He was playing hard to get and each time I went to his shops in Ginza there were long lines of ladies waiting patiently to get a piece of him. I finally managed to squeeze a seat at the bar, and it was well worth the wait. He played it cool and offered me a scoop each of his chocolate sorbet and chocolate glace. The contrast between the two was necessary; as the glace alone was too rich, the sorbet worked almost as a palate cleanser—albeit a very rich palate cleanser.
So far so good, but it was time to be wooed by an older and perhaps wiser man. The legendary chocolatier Robert Linxe invited me to relax at La Maison du Chocolat. This may be the most luxurious of destinations in Tokyo. There is a long bar at which to sit and indulge, but buyer beware: Once you let your hair down here, it is hard to leave. These are classic creations and perhaps the most seductive of all the chocolates in town.
Finally, I was seduced by a Spaniard in Shiroganedai who offered me something unique. Oriol Balaguer’s shop is intimate if you can find it, but he blew my mind with his firecracker chocolate. If there is one chocolate you should try, this is it. I had never had a chocolate go snap, crackle and pop in my mouth before, but it was brilliant. Then he tempted me with his unique Nippon Collection featuring savory soy sauce, spicy wasabi and roasty toasty hojicha tea. But he won my Midwestern heart with a chocolate filled with crunchy bits of corn.
These are just the tip of the truffle; there are many more to explore.
I did check out a few Japanese chocolatiers, but I’m sad to say that, even though their shops were always busy, none compared with the Europeans. So indulge yourself with my sublime new friends. Theirs are not the chocolates of childhood but sweets for the savvy and sophisticated. And guaranteed to put a smile on any winter-worn face.
Pascal Caffet Nihonbashi
Takashimaya, Nihonbashi 2-4-1, Chuo-ku
Shinjuku Isetan, Shinjuku 3-14-1, Shinjuku-ku
Ginza 5-5-8, Chuo-ku
La Maison du Chocolat
3-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku
2F Barbizon 32, 4-9-18 Shiroganedai, Minato-ku