Looking for a stylish spot to meet a client? Blossoming romance needs to be nurtured over a cappuccino? Maybe, like most of us, you just need a respite from the mad rush of the city, but don’t have the time (or cash) to catch the next train out of town.
Well, as they say, sometimes you don’t have to look any farther than your own backyard — especially if you live in Akasaka. Behind the Ark Hills towers and the Suntory entertainment complex, set back on the curve of a quiet, tree-lined lane, is Kihachi Patisserie. If the name sounds familiar, it should: There are 10 shops in the Tokyo area alone.
As Maiko Inaba, Kihachi’s publicity person explains, the original idea behind Kihachi, brainchild and namesake of founder Kihachi Kumagai, was to create a fusion of cuisines — French, Japanese, Italian, Chinese — offering the best of all epicurean worlds. Anyone who has been to the French and Chinese “sister” Kihachis in Ginza can attest to Kumagai’s success.
Of course, Kumagai put in his time: Six years of study and work at Maxim’s in Paris, with an additional 10 years as head chef for a seafood restaurant in Hayama, gave him ample opportunities to perfect his unique dishes, such as sashimi carpaccio and Cajun lobster. In 1986, he opened his first French-cuisine Kihachi in Minami-Aoyama; recently an Italian-cuisine Kihachi opened near the South Exit of Shinjuku Station.
Although his main job these days is to oversee all the Kihachi shops, Kumagai still creates new dishes. Fortunately for his fans, he’s willing to share some of his recipes, which are frequently featured in popular food magazines; aspiring chefs can read his book, “Issho(ku)kenmei Monogatari.”
The Ark Hills Kihachi, which opened in January 1998, was designed specifically to be a patisserie. Small and secluded, with an outside patio covered with a Valentine-red awning, guests could enjoy a matcha cappuccino or a black sesame-seed pudding (both house specialties) and feel they had successfully escaped the noise and the crowds — in reality, only a few minutes away.
Needless to say, the word got out, and with Ark Hills movers and shakers descending like hungry locusts at lunchtime, Kumagai quickly came up with an all-day, California-style menu featuring pastas, salads, pizzas and fresh juices. From 2 p.m. on, though, the peaceful atmosphere returns, and as supervisor Ryosuke Mizuta explains, “the high society ladies” come to have tea and cakes.
Yes, the glare from the highly polished chrome of a cobalt blue BMW certainly could be a problem for some. For others, the naturally lit interior (enhanced with a few well-placed halogen bulbs), designed by Rikuzo Suzuki (who has designed all the Kihachi interiors to date), with its buttercream walls and foam green chairs, offers a gentle invitation to spend a quiet afternoon, sipping on a Kihachi original blend mint tea or the unique matcha cappuccino (650 yen), a delicate mix of matcha, Earl Grey tea and milk. Served with a tiny bowl of sugar, it looks like a regular cappuccino, but in order to enjoy it correctly, “just sprinkle a little sugar on top,” a friendly waitress advises. “It cuts the bitterness.”
The pastries, all reasonably priced, are delivered fresh daily from the Kihachi factory in Higashi-Ojima in Koto-ku, and always feature seasonal fruits. While other Kihachis offer pastries only at certain times of the day, at Ark Hills, Mizuta and Inaba chime in, “you can order them anytime you want.” The matcha mousse and black tea chiffon cake made my list, but according to Inaba the Ark Hills set prefers the blueberry cheesecake (looking as though it was designed by a jeweler) and English trifle.
Though the tea and coffee list might not look unusual, that’s where Kihachi works its subtle magic. As Inaba and Mizuta explain, “the water in Tokyo tastes different depending on the area,” so each Kihachi chooses only the tea and coffee that tastes best with that area’s water.
Indeed, it would be hard to find a more original blend. So if you aren’t bothered by the idea of sitting among a few very well-dressed women enjoying blueberry cheesecake and lemon grass tea, being served by a charming young staff decked out with French berets, and gazing out on a peaceful side street, Kihachi might become your new best friend.