|

Cafe Bleu: A new face in Shibuya’s least-known corner

by Robbie Swinnerton

Maruyama-cho is one of the least-known corners of Shibuya. A generation ago, it was more famous for its “short-stay” hotels and carousing salarymen’s sake bars than its dining options. While those pleasures are still available, today the neighborhood attracts a rather more varied — and less predominantly male — demographic.

Just five minutes’ walk from the Hachiko Crossing (and only a couple from the rear of the Mark City complex), the short street that undulates through the heart of Maruyama-cho is buzzy and bright in the evening. One of the landmarks is Kaikaya, a seafood-specialist izakaya tavern that has evolved from cult favorite to local institution while more than doubling its footprint. Its new annex next to the original premises is not just larger, it’s entirely nonsmoking.

At the far end of the street, Meri Principessa offers budget Italian drinks and snacks in its ground-floor standing bar (currently nicely open-fronted), with seats for 26 in the compact basement. Its diminutive wood-fired oven produces highly acceptable pizzas from as little as ¥500 apiece.

But the real sign of Maruyama-cho’s evolution is that it now has a daytime presence, too — especially since the opening of Cafe Bleu this month. Glass-fronted and light-filled, this is the latest outlet from the folks at To-vi (Buchi, Bongout Noh, Kitchen Cero, Kinsai) and bears their unmistakable imprint of easygoing professionalism.

It’s also a tie-up with Setagaya-based Nozy Coffee, one of the city’s premier artisan espresso shops, so you know the java is going to be good. At dinnertime, ever-energetic owner/manager Hisae Iwakura (pictured right) offers a wide selection of wines (including many Japanese ones) to go with the tasty hybrid Japanese-Mediterranean cuisine.

Kaikaya: 23-7 Maruyama-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3770-0878. Open Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; daily 6-11:30 p.m.; www.kaikaya.com. Meri Principessa: 22-11 Maruyama-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 5456-9364; open daily 5 p.m.-3 a.m. Cafe Bleu: 23-9 Maruyama-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 5428-3472. Open 10 a.m.-midnight; www.to-vi.jp/bleu.