Tuesday, March 14, 2006

From Tokyo with love, Jean-Paul Hévin macarons

Comparing a city to Paris - Buenos Aires is the Paris of Latin America! Shanghai is the Paris of the East! - is an ubiquitous, tired and often misleading travel guide cliche. Paris is Paris is Paris, and there is no other city like it (and vice versa). Having got that out of the way, I have a confession to make. In my books, in sheer terms of where to wear and what to eat, I must say Tokyo is right up there with Paris, with the added bonus of being this much closer to home. The Japanese have long had a profound appreciation of all things fine and French, so strangely enough, if you're a hardcore Francophile, visiting Tokyo feels like you've died and gone to retail therapy heaven. But come to think of it, you don't have to be Francophile - just born to shop - to experience this sense of celestial well-being in Tokyo. And in certain respects, shopping in Tokyo is an altogether more pleasant experience in no small measure because in the land where consumer is queen, whether it's Hermès or Hédiard (or both) that makes your heart beat a little faster, you'll never have to put up with a surly word or sour puss look even if you're simply browsing.

The haute boulangerie and pâtisserie fiend is utterly spoilt for choice. Fancy a loaf of artisanal bread? Maison Kayser, L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Poilâne and Viron of la baguette Rétrodor fame, to name a handful, are all here (although if what you're after is not tartine but a New York deli-style sandwich, Dean & Deluca has several outposts; if it's ciabatta and their ilk you're in the mood for, Milanese institution Peck has a branch, as does Garbagnati). Need to put your feet up in the hushed environs of a salon de thé? Fauchon and Mariage Frères have locations all over the city.

And to misappropriate the aforementioned travel guide phraseology, if chocolate is your drug of choice, Tokyo is Amsterdam. Aside from Parisians, Tokyoites are likely the world's most discriminating consumers of designer chocolate. Every chocolatier/pâtissier worth his weight in fleur de sel, the names spoken of in only the most reverential of hushed tones - think the likes of Pierre Hermé, La Maison du Chocolat, Jean-Paul Hévin, Richart, Dalloyau , Pierre Marcolini (the Belgian prince of pralines, this last) et al - all have lavishly appointed boutiques in Tokyo, luxe temples to the cult of Theobroma. If bilateral relations could be quantified in terms of chocolate, Franco-Nippon relations are at an all-time phenylethylamine high. Love is a two-way street; in a poetic turn of things, the fabulous creations of Sadaharu Aoki and Madame Setsuko are as sought-after in Paris as they are in Tokyo, justly celebrated for fusing traditional Japanese flavours like matcha, goma, azuki and yuzu with classical French technique.

Before W left for Tokyo on a work trip last week, he endearingly muttered something about perhaps having an hour or two to spare. I didn't have to think long and hard despite the boggling wealth of choice, given that it was a simple matter of elimination. If there is one thing I never can get enough of, it's a good macaron. The macarons in question would also have to travel well, so that ruled out any raspberry-filled Ispahan fancies from Pierre Hermé. Chocolate macarons it would be then, and my favourite chocolate macarons are from Jean-Paul Hévin (but please don't take my word for how astoundingly good they are; see here). The new branch that opened this February also happens to be located in Omotesando Hills - the latest luxury emporium in the swank Aoyama area - which is just a few subway stops away from Roppongi where he was staying. I printed out a map, slipped it into his luggage, and kept my fingers crossed.

W is not one to do things in half measures. He came home on Saturday bearing a pile of macarons, and then some.

I've been on a perpetual sugar high since, meting the stash out through the day, washed down by copious cups of coffee. Despite already knowing what every flavour tastes like, I continue to be amused (it doesn't take much to amuse me) 4 times a day (with my first morning coffee, my mid-morning coffee, my late afternoon coffee, and postprandial), mulling over the right choice of macaron, the one whose flavour is really speaking to me at the moment. This delicious indecision is not helped by the fact that each and every one is a paradigm of macaron perfection - a pair of elegantly domed, daintily footed cookies with the thinnest of crusts and the moistest of interiors sandwiching the lushest of fillings. Chocolat amer? Chocolat framboise? Chocolat miel? All?

Magically, W had also managed to cart back my favourite Jean-Paul Hévin pastry aside from the petite format gerbet macarons. Unsurprisingly, it's the Macaron Chocolat à l’ancienne - a squat little tower of plump, fragrant, almond-rich macarons filled with a plush cushion of silky ganache and finished with a shower of chocolate curls.

As for the tablettes of milk chocolate (Lait Caramel à la fleur de sel; Lait amandes) and dark chocolate (Noir amandes), they're safely tucked away in the wine fridge for a rainy day.

31 Comments:

Anonymous Anita said...

J,
Lucky you! Those pastries look scrumptious. I have noticed that Japan has taken quite enthusiastically to French patisserie and have put their own unique spin on it as well- good for sweets lovers everywhere, I guess!

4:03 am, March 14, 2006  
Blogger Cathy said...

Ooo, everything looks so good! I really enjoyed your description of Tokyo as well. Enjoy the rest of your macarons!

10:16 am, March 14, 2006  
Anonymous Clare Eats said...

awwwww awww
That is almost pinful to look at

11:31 am, March 14, 2006  
Blogger Eggy said...

I should have asked you to make me a list too! Those macarons are amazing. I've been doing four a day as well -- mostly after dinner. The chocolate cake we devoured in one sitting. The Naked Eater was very pleased indeed. Lost 15 onwards should be here soon. Am getting my friend to get us the rest of Desperate Housewives too. We should be busy when the boys are away by the looks of it :)

12:57 pm, March 14, 2006  
Blogger Piperita said...

mmmmh, le chocolat au Lait au carmael salè!!! what a wondefull conbination! Last summer I ate a wonderfull icecream in Nantes, au caramel salè: unforgettable!!!

Impossible to find it in Italy! Lucky you've got all this in Tokio!!!

4:38 pm, March 14, 2006  
Blogger Santos said...

i think it's rather canny that "blade runner" predicted future los angeles to be the new tokyo, i see it slowly but surely coming. however, i'm not patient enough to wait 13 years for pierre hermé, jean-paul hévin et al to realize this, too.

when W travels, does he put his suitcase inside a bigger one so he'll have something to carry all your purchases home? ;)

7:08 pm, March 14, 2006  
Blogger eatzycath said...

lucky girl, such beautiful macarons and 3 boxes at that!

7:33 pm, March 14, 2006  
Blogger Ruth said...

What a wonderful post - beautiful photos, as always. And I've learned something new about Tokyo (that's my Honey's next dream vacation - last one was Tahiti & Bora Bora).

And need I mention, I love macaron, not just for the fabulous flavors, the chewiness of them and that melting, crunching sugary cookie - oh!! It's also that they bring back memories of my childhood. I loved them before I learned to SAVOR them, and just gobbled them up until my mom took them off the table.

Thanks for sharing

9:05 pm, March 14, 2006  
Anonymous keiko said...

Hi Joycelyn, I really enjoyed the post and your photos are beautiful as always - you certainly know what that means when I say there aren't many things that I can get here for my folks in Japan - you can get literally everything in Tokyo.

I've learnt (again) how sweet W is :) - you've made me seriously homesick though ;)

10:08 pm, March 14, 2006  
Blogger mg said...

mmmm... mmmm... you lucky you! They sound sooo good. I've never had the pleasure of tasting them. Can i pinch one? Do you mind? hehe...

10:14 pm, March 14, 2006  
Anonymous S said...

I have only downed one from my box (thank you for sharing your stash), but oh it certainly woke me up from my morning stupor. I absentmindedly popped it into my mouth as I rushed around the apartment in preparation for my mad rush around the market before heading off to a photoshoot. It had reached room temp (I had, at least, planned that far ahead) and gave forth all of its bounteous chocolatey charms. These are macarons that deserve one's rapt attention. I think I shall save the rest to share with CH when he gets home.

10:25 pm, March 14, 2006  
Anonymous bea at La Tartine Gourmande said...

Jocelyn,


What a well written post you have here.
Just reading it makes me homesick now for France and Paris. I have always heard about the Japanese/French connection through my Japanese friends but have never been to Japan yet.
This is such a treat, and it makes me laugh to hear about your consumption daily pace!
Funnily enough, they mispelled caramel on the label from last picture ;-).

1:35 am, March 15, 2006  
Anonymous sha said...

Hi J I just arrived from Dusseldorf...
I cant resist sticking my nose at elegant kondetorie and splurging on wonderful chocolates.

I left with 10kls of luggage
and came back with 2x the weight
and few extra handcarries

ahha

I have not been to tokyo, amazing what u can find in that city eh... those macaroons make me wish I was in Zurich...Sprungli sells good one too.

Hmm got to make this wish to see Paris come true.

2:27 am, March 15, 2006  
Blogger J said...

hi anita, it's downright fascinating...i'm always tempted to buy those fancy japanese patisserie mags and cookbooks even though i can't read a word!

hi cathy, thanks! i'm very inclined to do what i used to as a kid when i was particularly fond of a food - cut it up into tiny pieces to make it stretch!

hi clare, not quite as painful as seeing my rapidly diminishing stash!

hi a, i'll be the first to confess to being a type A list-making fool ;) happy to hear you and m like the sweets. am looking forward to completing that darned season of lost!

hi piperita, salted caramel has got to be one of my all-time favourite flavours; glad to hear you are a fan too!

hi santos, now you know why i make it a point to have a good hot meal ready when he steps through the front door ;) the dear man actually hand carried the bag of beribboned brown boxes home so everything would arrive unscathed

hi cath, i know i am a very lucky girl ;)

hi ruth, thanks. when i'm eating a macaron, i really have to tell myself to slow down and savour each mouthful or they simply vanish way too fast!

hi keiko, thanks. it must be challenging thinking of what to bring your folks when they have everything at their doorstep! - except of course exquisite pastries handcrafted by their daughter ;) i'll be the first to concede that w, despite his tough and gristly exterior, really is the biggest sweetheart

hi mae, most certainly :)

hi s, always glad to share. thing about having eaten a fair share of proper macarons is it puts me off (even further) attempting to make them myself - things that could go wrong, let me count the myriad ways...

hi bea, funny you should mention - i had put it down to quick cursive writing! i have a feeling if you ever visit tokyo, you would love it...

hi sha, glad to hear you enjoyed your trip to dusseldorf - i can only imagine how much chocolate you lugged back! sprungli's luxemburgerli are fab - i can usually finish a large ballotine all by myself in the span of 2 days ;)

4:03 pm, March 15, 2006  
Blogger deborah said...

where can I get a W? ;)

9:10 pm, March 15, 2006  
Anonymous spots said...

hee... can u believe i've NEVER tasted a macaroon before? :)

9:42 pm, March 15, 2006  
Blogger Vivilicious said...

Oh J., I know what you mean about the delights of Tokyo having lived there fore 3 glorious years (and just after my 3-year stint in Paris funnily enough). That's one of the things I'm looking forward to about living in Singapore, the fact that it's closer to Tokyo! Caramel au Beurre Salé was my favourite flavour of all the macaron fillings that Chef made at the restaurant I worked at in Paris, scrummy (all this despite me not having a sweet tooth!), Anyway, as usual, thanks for a beautiful post about a thing of beauty.

1:07 am, March 16, 2006  
Blogger dilek said...

Lucky girl! I konw only the macaroons from Sprüngli in Switzerland. The name is here Luxemburgli because a Conditor from Luxemburg brought them here.
I love your pics!!!

2:22 am, March 16, 2006  
Anonymous Ivonne said...

J,

These are stunning! Is there anything more beautiful than a beautifully made pastry or sweet?

I don't think so ... lovely photos!

10:48 am, March 16, 2006  
Blogger fooDcrazEE said...

what a great picture.

9:14 pm, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous lindy said...

Gorgeous. I feel pampered just looking at these photos.

9:19 pm, March 17, 2006  
Blogger Nic said...

Beautiful photos, J. I am completely taken by the descriptions, as well. I think I will have to track down some similar treats in my neighborhood later.

10:36 pm, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Melissa said...

You are one lucky girl! I had the pleasure of sampling an array of Hevin's macarons in Paris last December. What I wouldn't give for a box of them now! I wouldn't say no to a trip to Tokyo either, you paint such a luscious picture of it. And of course your photos are gorgeous - every bit as elegant as the macarons themselves.

2:03 am, March 18, 2006  
Blogger MM said...

Gawd ... drool.

I know what you mean about the Japanese cookbooks. Every time I see one, I am so tempted to buy one even though I don't speak or read a word of Japanese!

I should not have come here. I now have a craving for sweets ...

10:41 pm, March 18, 2006  
Anonymous jeanne said...

I need one W and a dozen Macaron Chocolat à l’ancienne. Sheer indulgent pleasure!

4:04 am, March 20, 2006  
Anonymous astridcmoi said...

ha la rétrodor combien de fois par semaine, je vais à ma boulangerie rue Montorgueil pour demander une "retro s'il vous plait" et la maison du chocolat à se rouler par terre. Je ne connais pas Jean-Paul HEVIN mais je vais me renseigner. Bravo pour votre blog de trés belles photos....

10:35 pm, March 21, 2006  
Anonymous mari said...

Hi, I just found your lovely blog...Your post about Tokyo made me miss it so much. I lived in Japan for a total of seven years, and your description of it is very accurate, very true. The Japanese fascination with food, attention to detail, obsession with things refined, presentation, is amazing. Oh, did you finish all the macaroons already? m

1:01 am, March 24, 2006  
Blogger putoseko said...

I was in Tokyo last year, and I had the pleasure of tasting Pierre Herme's famous macaron at Omotesando. It was heavenly. I wish I had more time and money to spend so I could taste all his goodies. Nevertheless, the experience was worth the memory of a lifetime

10:31 pm, March 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear J,

How much is one macaron?

CC

8:10 pm, March 29, 2006  
Blogger J said...

hi saffron, i had to kiss my fair share of proverbial frogs first, that i can assure you ;)

hi spots, that first taste is always the dangerous one (the one that leads to a lifelong addiction ;))

hi viv, thanks! you lucky girl you - tokyo? and right after paris too! caramel au beurre sale really is something else isn't it?

hi dilek, thanks! glad to hear you love luxemburgerli too - they are the lightest puffs of airy delight

hi ivonne, thanks! i feel the same way about pastry - nothing makes me happier than looking at pictures of sweet treats (except eating them, of course!)

hi foodcrazee, thanks!

hi lindy, thanks, glad to be of service anytime ;)

hi nic, thanks! you are always so kind

hi melissa, thanks! i well recall your paris post (and plan to refer to it the next time i visit ;)) and your macaron tour of duty in the name of due diligence - i certainly would have done the same!

hi mm, walking into kino is very dangerous for me; my credit card just quakes in fear of the naughty deeds i'm apt to commit ;)

hi jeanne, w is indeed the biggest sweetheart ;)

hi astridcmoi, thanks for visiting; really glad you like the pictures!

hi mari, glad you love tokyo too - it is one of my favourite places to be in. sadly, the large box of macarons disappeared within the week (largely into my gullet)

hi putoseko, indeed; i think if budget (and waistline) were no concern, i would try everything in his shop!

hi cc, you can check the jp hevin website (click on the link in the post) for prices

6:06 am, March 30, 2006  
Blogger cucina testa rossa said...

i'm speechless!

12:44 am, March 31, 2006  

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