It’s the season for being outdoors. Head for the hills, the beach, the nearest park or perhaps just a deck chair on your veranda. There’s only one question: who’s making the sandwiches?
Not so very long ago, even in Tokyo, when you wanted anything half decent as a filling between slices of good, wholesome bread, then you had to buy the ingredients yourself and prepare your supplies at home. These days, there’s a burgeoning and highly welcome artisanal sandwich movement — in the capital, at any rate.
Some of the shops propelling this are bakeries, adding extra value to the output of their own ovens. Others prefer to focus on the fillings, and leave the baking up to the specialists. And then there are the cafes whose well-crafted sandwiches are the central part of their appeal. Here are six that are well worth knowing about.
When it comes to wrapping good bread around tasty fillings, size doesn’t matter. The smaller newcomers are just as good as larger, established bakeries. That said, the arrival of Viron from France some 10 years ago was a game-changer for Tokyo’s sandwich-deprived.
Both its stores, in Marunouchi and Shibuya, offer an excellent array of fillings generously stuffed inside crisp, freshly baked baguettes. Whether it’s pate de campagne, cured ham, Brie cheese, a healthy mound of Mediterranean vegetables — or even a slab of premium Valrhona-brand chocolate for the those with a sweet tooth — Viron has something for just about everyone.
Tokyo Bldg. 1F, 2-7-3 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo; 03-5220-7288; www.marunouchi.com/e/shop/detail/3018.
Le Pain de Joel Robuchon
Offering less choice, but higher quality, the boutiques of the great French chef Joel Robuchon are a reliable source of premium baguette sandwiches, especially if you’re craving some Gruyere or Camembert together with your ham. Look for the distinctive red-and-black decor of its outlets in Roppongi Hills, Marunouchi Brick Square, Yebisu Garden Place or Shibuya’s Hikarie complex.
B2F Shibuya Hikarie ShinQs, 2-21-1 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-6434-1837; www.robuchon.jp/lepain_menus-en.
Toshi Au Coeur de Pain
Small-scale craft bakeries have been cropping up all over town in the last few years, even well away from the city centers. Out in Meguro Ward, few are producing better bread than the brilliantly named Toshi Au Coeur de Pain (literally, “Toshi with a heart of bread”). Alongside excellent pain au levain sourdough, hearty campagne and rich, dark rye bread, you will find baguettes stuffed with strips of coarse-cut bacon, cooked ham or even a nifty curry-tuna mix.
Despite the shop’s minuscule footprint, there is still room for a counter with two stools where you can eat on the spot or just sip on freshly made coffee. It may not be worth a dedicated trip across town, but for those in the area of Toritsu-Daigaku Station this is an excellent resource.
1-20-18 Nakane, Meguro-ku, Tokyo; 03-5726-9545; ja-jp.facebook.com/toshipain.
There is no better example of the new artisan approach to sandwich-making than Camelback. This tiny one-counter hole-in-the-wall boasts just enough room to fit in an impressive espresso machine and a small kitchen area where former sushi chef Hayato Naruse turns out some of the most sophisticated creations in the city. He brings a forensic precision to his work, with original combinations such as prosciutto and green shiso (perilla) leaf or home-cured lamb bacon with coriander. His egg sandwich features a generous slab of sushi-style tamagoyaki omelet. And look out for his occasional seasonal specials, such as ankimo (steamed monkfish liver) with namasu (sweet and sour slivered vegetables) and a dab of sweet-chili sauce.
With Yoyogi Park so close, Camelback is the perfect place to pick up the makings for a superb leisurely picnic.
42-2 Kamiyamacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-6407-0069; www.camelback.tokyo.
There’s no substantial parkland over in Daikanyama. But that poses no problem once you arrive at the neighborhood’s preeminent sandwich bar: King George. When the weather is clement, you can climb the stairs up to their fourth-floor rooftop terrace to enjoy the view and the sunshine. At other times, there are two floors of cafe space where you can do justice to their specialty creations.
King George is all about the filling. Each sandwich is a meal in miniature, with huge amounts of salad, cold cuts and colorful julienned vegetables compressed between the two slices of bread. Among the standouts are the Mexican Chicken, with its avocado and taco sauce seasoning; and the Meat Head, which features turkey together with turkey pastrami.
Fudosan Bldg. 2F, 11-13 Daikanyama, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-6277-5734; www.crownedcat.com.
Caviar House & Prunier
Who says sandwiches have to be healthy? Or eaten outside? Or even affordable? Just to show that Tokyo can embrace conspicuous consumption as readily as any other metropolis, the new Caviar House & Prunier in Tokyo Plaza Ginza offers the ultimate in luxury fillings. Roast wagyu beef, Spanish jamon serrano ham, smoked salmon, foie gras, lobster and crab are among the delicacies on offer, with caviar as the ultimate indulgence. At ¥6,000 apiece, this is unlikely to be topped as the priciest, most decadent, most over-the-top sandwich in the city.
Tokyu Plaza Ginza B1F, 5-2-1 Ginza, Chuo- ku, Tokyo; 03-6264-5800; www.caviarhouse-prunier.com/japan-store.
The Japanese sando: a filling history
Sandwich culture in Japan harks back to the days when just about the only type of bread was white, pulpy and rectangular. Often referred to as Igirisu-pan (“British bread”) or just shokupan (literally “food bread”) — as if reassurance was needed that it really was intended for eating — this formed the basis for the archetypal Japanese sando (sandwich).
The classic filling has long been tonkatsu — breaded deep-fried pork cutlets of the type that has made the Maisen restaurant chain a household name. Initially these sandwiches were available only from the original restaurant near Omotesando. Now they are found far and wide across Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures.
Another perennial filling favorite is chopped hard-boiled egg mixed with mayonnaise and held between crustless slices of white bread. Canned tuna, also blended with mayonnaise, makes another well-loved standard, as is potato salad.
But nothing is as Japanese as the ichigo (strawberry) sando. Halves of the plump fruit are embedded in whipped cream, with strawberry jam giving an extra level of sweetness — and sometimes slices of kiwi fruit as well, for a vivid contrast of colors.
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