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The Flavors of France: A Picnic at GINZA SIX

Hiroaki Ikeda

GINZA SIX EDITORS Vol.39

I lived in France for a while, and every now and then, I find myself longing for its flavors. My personal bread awakening has a lot to do with my encounters with bread in France. The baguettes are just too delicious. Once I began biting into them, I ended up eating them at some point in their entirety all by myself (they’re around 60 cm in France, longer than the baguettes in Japan). That happened a fair number of times.

In thinking about GINZA SIX for this article, I again found myself wanting to experience the flavors of France. Of course, this didn’t just drop out of the blue. It’s partly because I know Le Boulanger de Monge on the belowground floor sells breads made with French flour.

That’s ideal: I’ll just make France my theme for this Ginza Editors piece. I’ll buy various items with the flavors of France, bread or other things that go well with bread, and have a picnic on the rooftop. So, with such gluttonous designs, I’m off to wander GINZA SIX.

I’ll need a tablecloth for my picnic, so I first stop by #0107 PLAZA and find a Marimekko tablecloth (1,800 yen; all prices listed before tax). And I find something typically encountered alongside bread, an attractive, appealing cutting board (3,500 yen).

The store also sells a large assortment of jams and canned goods that would go companionably with bread. This Tartufata Rossini, porcini mushroom paste with truffles (2,500 yen), for example, caught my eye. I snap it up after deciding its aura of luxury augurs exquisite flavor.

If you wander around #0107 PLAZA, you’ll find a lot of things that make you think, “Oh, that’s interesting!” or “Wow, isn’t that cute?” Facebook often reminds me it’s someone’s birthday, and I’ll dash out to buy a present. I make a mental note that running to #0107 PLAZA would be a good idea.

Now it’s time to go buy some food, so I proceed to the second belowground floor. At Le Boulanger de Monge, I’m almost enticed by the Pain de Mie Monge (503 yen) and its puffy top. But it’s not made with French flour, my theme for the day. The most popular item is the Baguette Monge, a bread made with French flour. On sampling some, I find this light bread, ideal everyday breakfast fare, discloses the unmistakable notes of an authentic French flavor.

But in the midst of wondering if it would go with black truffles, I find the Polka (670 yen for a half loaf). It’s big, shaped like a sea cucumber, and practically spills out of your arms. It’s made with French flour leavened like pain de campagne—French sourdough. It’d be perfect for something with the pungent aroma of truffles. It’s almost mouth-watering to imagine setting a table in my mind with this and truffle paste.

Right next door is Viennoiserie JEAN FRANCOIS, a new format for GINZA SIX of Boulangerie Jean Francois, known for its many items derived from the croissant, its signature product.

I’ve loved the Croissant Francois since its first shop opened in Japan. The shape itself, wrapped in a ribbon, is remarkably elegant, and the crunchy texture within is very French, a quality attributable to the thick layers of this croissant compared to the croissants you encounter in Japan, which tend to have thin, delicate layers.

The viennoiserie is known for its Double Cheese Cake Danish (380 yen). This features a white dome of cheese, like a snow hut, on top of the croissant bread. It’s tantalizing! I buy one to accompany that favorite croissant of mine and a fresh-baked Danish French Toast (340 yen).

Next, I go to L’ABEILLE, a retailer specializing in honey from all around the world. The store offers honeys into whose aroma textures are interwoven truffles, Cognac, and other ingredients, as well as honeys from specific plants like acacia and buckwheat. The spectacular and well-organized selection always leaves me awestruck.

The focus of my search today is France. Quite generously, the store lets you sample the various honeys. I end up trying all the varieties from France. Rosemary features the aroma of rosemary; Acacia has a complex aroma more substantial than Japanese varieties. Today, I get the made-in-France Lavender (2,100 yen/125 g), which offers up aromas like the cherry leaves used in certain bean jelly breads and rice cakes, swiftly followed by a burst of lavender. It’s a fragrance you can eat.

I continue my wanderings on the same floor and find myself drawn to 10FACTORY, a store with no particular connections to France. It’s a store that develops processed citrus products from mikan oranges grown by farmers in Ehime Prefecture.

The extravagance of jam on a croissant is a very French approach to food, one I dearly love. To pair with my croissant from JEAN FRANCOIS, I choose the acidic, flavorful Kawachi-Bankan Jam (843 yen).

Breaking from the picnic theme, I find myself tantalized by the mikan sherbet (324 yen) sold in this store, and I eat it right there. On the recommendation of the staff member, I add dried mikan as a special topping. The mikan aroma accelerates rapidly, like fireworks, and a brief but unprecedented chilled mikan festival flares across my palate. How delicious would it be to put some on brioche and eat it?!? It’s something I register on my internal to-do list as something to try.

Lastly, I need something to drink. Since the theme is France, it has to be wine. But I don’t want my face turning bright red midday. Does Wine Shop Enoteca stock grape juice?

It does, a wonderful Alain Milliat made from wine grapes from the French producer. I take in the lovingly detailed account provided by the sommelier, who is always stationed, and pick up a beautiful amber Chardonnay and a Merlot of impressively deep ruby (800 yen each).

I take the elevator all the way up from belowground to the roof, where the open sky awaits, and enjoy a picnic in the middle of Ginza. I spread out the tablecloth and set out the spoils. I gulp my grape juice. The sweet and cool liquid goes down smoothly to appease my thirst, and the flavor of the grapes rushes up, like artesian water, to my nose. The aroma alone takes me back to France.

I open the jar and truffles, truffles, truffles—in a moment truffles fill the air. Impatiently, I smear the paste on the Polka and take a bite. It’s not just truffles—the aroma of porcini, the flavor of anchovies, and more—an awe-inspiring richness of flavors. Holding its own against all this is the foundational mineral flavor of the French flour. But the aroma of the truffles is deep and rich and lingers about my nose.

It feels wonderful to hear the crunch as I bite off a piece of the croissant. I apply the mikan jam to the end where it’s crunchiest. The bright and nuanced sweetness isn’t quite what I recall from France, but the earthy aroma of the peel goes well with the croissant’s buttery sensations.

I bought the French toast to go with the honey. I scoop out some and dribble it over the golden surface, infused with the sweet delicious sauce. I bring it to my mouth, careful to avoid spilling a drop or crumb, and take a bite. As the milk and egg flavors come gently into focus, another memory of France returns: pain d’épices (“spice bread”), which I remember slathering with lavender honey from a Parisian honey retailer.

I fill my mouth with the Double Cheese Cake Danish and chuckle and congratulate myself on the extraordinary success of my Ginza picnic.

Buying fresh-baked bread and bringing it all the way back home is a challenge for a glutton like me. But a picnic with friends is the perfect setup for trying lots of different breads. Eat the French toast while it’s hot and inhale the “keep refrigerated” Double Cheese Cake Danish while it’s pleasingly cool.

I’m reminded once again that it’s encounters like this that make bread so interesting. Bread alone feels a little lonely and at loose ends. So you add jam; paste; honey; juice. You bring various things together and fashion a meal. The effort summons forth new and lovely flavors.

On my own, I go back and forth on what to get. Come to think of it, all the stores I visited today are attended by helpful staff members, who provided remarkably trustworthy opinions. Having professionals with their own views and the ability to express them is one of the profound strengths of GINZA SIX.

Text:Hiroaki Ikeda Photos:Shizuka Suzuki Edit:Yuka Okada

editors_ikeda

Hiroaki Ikeda

Head honcho at Panlabo with a professed obsession for all things related to bread. Chairperson of the nonprofit Shinmugi Collection Crisscrosses Japan sampling bread and taking in the words of bakers and wheat farmers. Recent publications include This Bread is Amazing! All Across Japan (Asahi Shimbun Publications); Bread Manga 2: The Wandering Mr. Croque-Monsieur (Guideworks; co-authored with Michihiro Hori); Sandwicherie Imaginaire (Guideworks; co-authored with Itsunari Nishiyama); and Pain-thology (Heibonsha). Pens the regular columns “Community Bakeries” for the magazine Hanako and “This Bread is Amazing!” for Asahi Shimbun Digital & w. (http://www.asahi.com/and_w/konopan_list.html). Twitter → @panlabo
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#0107 PLAZA

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le Boulanger de monge

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Viennoiserie Jean Francois

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L'ABEILLE

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10FACTORY

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wainsshoppu Enoteca

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2018.05.03 improves