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An experimental approach to afters

by Robbie Swinnerton

Japan’s prodigious ability to assimilate, reproduce and then develop homegrown adaptations of products from other cultures is legendary. Why should it be any different when it comes to patisseries?

Having mastered the standard repertoire of classic European pastries, the new generation of Japanese pâtissiers are busy working up their own crossover versions. Among them is C*Lab Project, a small workshop that opened in Tokyo’s Asakusa district last year.

Just a short stroll south of the historic Kaminarimon gate, C*Lab looks and feels über-contemporary. The walls are smooth, bare concrete; chilled electronica plays on the sound system; and soundless video flickers overhead in the compact cafe space that looks out onto the street.

There is no lack of imagination at play in the workshop at the back of the store, as evidenced in the display case next to it. Among the highlights are the jewel- like cubes of mousse cake, in flavors such as Cassis Fig, yuzu-accented Citron, or the excellent raspberry-infused Chocolat Rouge with its glittering of gold powder.

And then there’s the Camouf Roll. As the name suggests, this is a roll cake prepared in a camouflage mottle of chocolate brown, plain white and matcha green — both the sponge cake on the outside and the sweet cream inside. An alternate version, called the Ladies Roll, offers the same pattern, but in pink and white.

As Valentine Day approaches, chocolate is featuring prominently. C*Lab’s version of a classic gâteau chocolat comes as small, individually wrapped bite-sized portions in the shape of squat mushrooms. More conventional are the orangettes, strips of candied orange peel dipped in dark chocolate, which are sold as gift packs in boxes of light kiri (paulownia) wood or in simple plastic “refill” pouches.

Furthest out of all is the Mochi Chocolat. Bite-sized portions of the same sticky rice “cakes” eaten everywhere in Japan at New Year’s are paired with a blob of tsubu-an (thick adzuki jam), enrobed in rich chocolate ganache and then covered with a thin layer of chocolate imbued with aromas such as strawberry, matcha and orange.

The concept may sound dubious, but it works really well, thanks in great measure to the rum with which the tsubu-an is infused. Sold in presentation boxes of five assorted flavors, these could be the most outré of all the Valentine’s Day gifts you will find this year.

4-14-8 Kotobuki, Taito-ku, Tokyo; (03) 6802-7425; www.clabproject.com. Nearest station: Tawaramachi (Ginza Line). Open 10:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. (Sun. till 5 p.m.); closed Wed. C*Lab Project also has a small outlet in Tokyu Food Show under Shibuya JR Station: (03) 3477-4267.