I try not to over-associate being vegetarian with being somehow fancy or trendy — organic-diet this or macrobiotic that. While I prefer to think of it as a rather everyday lifestyle, the oshare (hip) association in Japan runs strong.
Still, I’m not going to deny that I thoroughly enjoyed my fancy, organic quiche at Le Pain Quotidien last week.
A late morning appointment had brought me to Omotesando and so, taking in the crisp winter air and feeling spontaneous, I decided to see what this cafe could offer a stray vegetarian for lunch.
Le Pain Quotidien is a bakery and cafe from Brussels that has locations worldwide. Using simple, old-fashioned ingredients, this boulangerie boasts a beautiful array of freshly baked bread and homely meals such as shepherd’s pie, risotto and macaroni and cheese.
Inside the Omotesando cafe (3-5-15 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-6721-1173; www.lepainquotidien.jp) — one of six locations across Tokyo — I was greeted with a rustic, casual feel, topped off with a “Don’t panic, it’s organic!” sign and tasteful Christmas decor. Though oshare to be sure, the wooden tables were open and inviting enough for casual, solo diners.
Tempted by the quiche on the lunch special, I had assumed I’d have to ask for it with no meat or settle for a plainer dish. To my delight, the quiche of the day was vegetarian, as was the soup.
A quick glance at the menu revealed all sorts of other vegetarian options: quinoa salad, a hummus platter, a cheese plate — even the shepherd’s pie was vegetarian! Faced with such hard choices, I knew I’d found a truly veg-friendly place. Vegan items are even marked with little leafy signs.
Though not surprisingly a little pricey (full salads start at ¥1,190), the lunch set was fairly reasonable at ¥1,290 and included quiche, a bowl of soup, a small salad, bread and a generous pot of tea.
The most delectable part here was not the delicate, mouthwatering quiche or even the warm, dill-accented minestrone; it was the bread — or rather the assortment of 10 different toppings provided on the main table — that brought me the most satisfaction.
I got myself a little dish of morello cherry and hazelnut spreads, speculoos and fig jam, and saved a bit of bread just so I could go back for some rich, buttery praline spread. And, because it’s the holidays after all, I indulged in some Belgian dark chocolate spread to finish the whole thing off. I made sure no one was watching me as I cleaned the last bit off my plate with my fingers — and made a note to remember this place.
3-5-15 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-6721-1173; open daily 8 a.m.-10 p.m. (last order at 9:30 p.m.); nearest station Omotesando; English menu, some English spoken; no smoking. Ananda Jacobs is a musician and actress in Tokyo (www.anandajacobs.com). She has been ovo-lacto vegetarian for more than 20 years.