“I am not very fond of sugar and sweet things, and yet I became a pastry chef.” The story of British pâtissière Rose Carrarini, whose quote adorns the wall in the growing number of cafe-bakeries that bear her name, is an eye-opener on many levels.
It’s not just that the cofounder of Rose Bakery is now famous for a talent she never realized she had. Nor that she has progressed from a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop in London to becoming a surprising hit in Paris, and now the figurehead of a growing chain of chic-casual eateries in the fashion centers of Europe and East Asia.
Carrarini’s real accomplishment is that she is silencing the naysayers — and there are as many in Japan as in France — who still believe there’s nothing worth eating north of the English Channel, especially when it comes to cakes and dessert. If you’re still not convinced, drop into one of the three Tokyo branches of Rose Bakery.
The first opened in Marunouchi in February 2011, sharing shop space with a Comme des Garcons boutique. Six months later, a much larger eat-in cafe was unveiled in Kichijoji, in the atré Store at the JR station. Sleeker yet and most impressive of all is the Ginza branch, on the top floor of the Dover Street Market complex, which will soon be 1 year old. Whichever you choose, you will find an impressive array of cakes, tarts, scones, cookies and other baked goods.
Among the temptations: rich fruit cake, dense and moist from all the dried fruit; pretty Victoria sponge cake with chunks of strawberry folded into the generous stratum of cream that runs through the middle; squares of date slice, topped with chewy porridge oats; gooey, sticky treacle tarts; and (a personal favorite) lemon tarts filled with custardy curd that tastes refreshingly of real citrus fruit.
Obviously these are a far cry from the svelte, light-as-air mignardises of Paris or old-fashioned Viennese tortes and strudels. The desserts at Rose Bakery have a simpler, almost home-made charm. They are wholesome and healthy — often made with unrefined flour — and never too sugary sweet. But you’re unlikely to find a better, more satisfying carrot cake or green-tea brownie in the city.
There is actually a lot more to Rose Bakery that just cake. All the outlets serve savory dishes such as soup and wholemeal bread, salads, quiches and pasties, while the two larger branches also offer hot foods such as pasta and burgers, even kedgeree or eggs benedict.
There are baskets of farm-fresh vegetables for sale (organically grown where possible), Fairtrade teas and even jars of that most British of condiments, Marmite. But at the end of the day, it is likely to be the cakes that draw you back and fill your shopping bags as you leave.
Rose Bakery Ginza: Komatsu West Wing 7F, 6-9-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo; (03) 5537-5038; www.rosebakery.jp. Open daily 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. (Sat., Sun. and hols from 9 a.m.). Nearest station: Ginza (Ginza, Hibiya and Marunouchi lines). A new branch opens March 6 on the 3rd floor of the Isetan department store in Shinjuku, serving tea and cakes only.