Name: Ian Gibbins
Occupation: Owner and operator of British deli and bakery Swan & Lion
Likes: Riding his bicycle to/from work
Dislikes: Having to take the train on a rainy day
1. What first brought you to Japan? Love and the urge for a new challenge in life.
2. What’s keeping you here? Love and my latest adventure, Swan & Lion.
3. When you think of Japan, you think of … Tokyo, a city of villages, joined by train lines. Each village has its train station and a pulse of its own.
4. Whom in Japan do you most admire? Japanese who lobby and/or demonstrate against injustices, government policies and the like. In Japan, I feel it’s a big deal to really speak your mind.
5. Where do you go to escape Tokyo? Isshiki Beach, Hayama. The thing I miss most from my time in Australia is the beach. Being able to go for a quick ocean swim before or after work is really something special.
6. You opened a British deli and bakery called Swan & Lion in Tokyo’s Kudan-Minami district in November 2015. What first inspired you to open such an establishment? I first started doing the weekend farmers markets around Tokyo in 2013, selling homemade chutney, pickles and marmalade. I quickly realized there is a real interest in British food here, and not many opportunities for customers to buy the real thing. In 2015, I decided to take the business to the next stage, and opened the deli and bakery.
7. How did you come up with the bakery’s name? The logo actually came first; it’s a modern take on a traditional British coat of arms. The elements in the logo represent my life so far, the main ones being a lion to represent my British origins and, being a long-time fan of the Sydney Swans Aussie Rules football team, a swan to represent my Australian life.
8. What difficulties did you experience getting Swan & Lion off the ground? How did you resolve them? Getting the food preparation/hygiene licenses. I started the business in my house, which was challenging. However, with a lot of help from friends and the ability to install sinks and other equipment in my house, I obtained all the necessary licenses.
9. Your regular menu includes a cold pork pie. What’s your secret to making a perfect pork pie? The spice mix, which is a Swan & Lion secret!
10. Yorkshire pork pies are traditionally eaten cold. Are there any circumstances in which you might ever consider eating one that was served hot? No, they’re best eaten cold. I have seen references to reheating a pork pie but at Swan & Lion we recommend eating them cold. The pastry is a hot-water pastry, which is crispy when it cools after baking. If this is reheated it loses that crispiness. And the meat filling will give off more fat on reheating, which further adds to the softness of the pastry.
11. Speaking of warm pies, what’s the best way to reheat a pie so that it retains its fresh appearance/taste? For a Swan & Lion pie, in an oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes. If you don’t have an oven, the pie can be wrapped tightly in aluminium foil and heated in an oven toaster.
12. What’s your own favorite ingredient in a pie? For me it has to be British stilton cheese. We have a lovely beef and stilton pie. The cheese adds a nice hit of sharpness that balances well with the rich sauce.
13. We have to ask: Who ate all the pies? My chef, Luke, and I, when we were fixing all the recipes for our new range of gourmet meat pies on opening the bakery. It went on for days and days, but someone had to do it.
14. Swan & Lion also offers a range of homemade British products, including its own preserves. Which Japanese dishes work well with such pickles? Our piccalilli works really well with a tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlets). The piccalilli is spiced with a nice kick of mustard, which goes well with the pork. However, there are no rules when it comes to our products — we encourage customers to experiment.
15. What’s the strangest request you’ve ever been asked in your line of work? Please reheat this cold pork pie.
16. What song best describes your work ethic? “Enjoy Yourself” by The Specials. Written about young people, this ethic applies throughout your working life.
17. Who would win a fight between a lion and a tiger? I want to say the lion, but I think history bears out that the tiger would win.
18. Tweaking our regular question slightly, who would win a fight between a lion and a swan? I am going to have to say a draw — I don’t want any unrest in my logo.
19. What do you want to be when you grow up? Happily retired living by the beach.
20. Do you have any words of advice for young people? Don’t feel pressure to rush into a career. Travel, volunteer, challenge yourself. New experiences open new opportunities.
For more details on Swan & Lion, visit www.facebook.com/SwanLionTokyo.
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