Food & Drink | OSAKA RESTAURANTS

Louis Blanc: A French study in culinary contrasts

by J.J. O'Donoghue

Louis Blanc is the new French kid on the block. Just around the corner, almost in loud-talking distance, is Difference, where chef and restaurateur Yoshiaki Fujimoto has had a Michelin star for several successive years.

Atsuya Shimada, chef and owner of Louis Blanc, set up shop in this genteel neighborhood in Osaka looking out over Utsubo Park in 2016. Shimada came via Paris, where he trained, and Kobe, where he first opened Louis Blanc. The restaurant takes its name from a Parisian metro station of the same name close to where Shimada lived.

The big difference with Louis Blanc, though, is that you notice it. Architecturally it’s a fairly cliched mix: The front of the restaurant is wall of glass, inside it’s minimalist, almost brutalist — a bare concrete box in the mold of Tadao Ando, Osaka’s most famous architect. But it’s a mix that works, as sunlight floods in through the glass front wall. It also helps that Louis Blanc looks inviting, as Shimada has a tiny bakery right by the door, from which you can pick up baguettes and croissants.

Shimada operated a bakery and patisserie in Kobe for 20 years before making the move to Osaka. Without doubt, Shimada made one of the most memorable and magnificent cakes that I have eaten this year. For lunch he actually serves a kind of a double dessert and, in this season of indulgence, this seemed apt.

Shimada’s cooking alternates between simple and undiluted dishes and richer French-style cooking. Lunch opened with one of Shimada’s baguettes, a lump of butter and a small pot of olive oil served with a gorgeous salad. Red and green organic chard lettuce masked small bites of pan-fried squid dressed in a garlic vinaigrette. But in amongst the forest of lettuce there were other little treasures, such as the steamed taro and, best of all, the slice of beetroot that had its deep beet appearance colored over with black squid ink.

While there were no starched linens at Louis Blanc, there were the obligatory over-sized French plates or, as with the second course, the UFO-size soup bowl. Shimada served up a delicious velvety parsnip soup. A slab of slow-cooked Iberico ham followed, slathered in a spring onion sauce penned in by a ring of vegetables. As with the parsnip soup, Shimada doesn’t overdo any dish.

Until he does.

And it came in the form of chocolate and lemon cake studded through with walnuts and layers of cassis liqueur cream. If there was restraint in it, as there was with his other dishes, it was only in its size — a slender finger of cake, but it was a little slice of bliss. When it was cleared away, a neat arrangement of coffee and tiny biscuits was served.

Between lunch and dinner Louis Blanc is open as a cafe. My recommendation: Start with dessert, or desserts, and stay for dinner. And more dessert.

Lunch from ¥3,000, dinner ¥10,000; some English and French spoken.