The grand masters of French pastry arts seem have to shifted their attention to the East and this comes as no surprise. With an already intensely saturated populace of macaron lovers back home and the vast potential of an ever-growing market from China, it makes perfect sense for these big names in French cuisine to stretch their tents and earn the Asian dollar. Ladurée, Alain Ducasse, Joël Robuchon are already here and it is timely that they are now joined by one one of the most esteemed colleague, Pierre Hermé.
Pierre Hermé has been in Japan for quite a number of years now, with boutiques in several of her cities, most notably a flagship store in Aoyama, Tokyo. But interestingly when I’d visited his boutiques in Tokyo, I chanced up not local Japanese but tourists from China and Taiwan who have specially come to sample his creations. A sort of culinary pilgrimage I’m sure it was for them as it is for me. Surely Monsieur Hermé would have noticed that too. And a store in Hong Kong was nothing short of being strategic, with visitors from all over Mainland China flocking here at all times of the year. The potential would have been too great to miss and so presents the temptation and desire to venture into the Mainland China market. Hong Kong would be the ideal gateway.
Joël Robuchon is a name within the culinary scene which does not require much introduction. His line of restaurants, many of which of michelin-starred calibre is often regarded as the epitome of French haute cuisine. It it seems almost befitting to find him anchored in Bellavita, a shopping arcade right in the heart of the Xin Yi District, the prime shopping belt in Taipei. Despite having only 6 floors and obviously dwarfed by the neighbouring Taipei 101, Bellavita stood out prominently amidst the surrounding skyscrapers with its Edwardian architectural style. Dotted with exquisitely designed cafes and fine dining restaurants, its a common sight to find madame moseilles aka “tai tais” all dolled up in haute couture enjoying afternoon tea amidst alikened company. No wonder this place is known as 貴婦百貨 in Taiwanese. And indeed JR has found himself two establishments in Bellavita – Salon de Thé de Joël Robuchon and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Donned in only bermudas and polos, we are obviously too shabbily dressed for the main restaurant. So it was to the tea salon to pick up some of their pastry creations.
I remember our first walk down Shinsaibashisuji after we’d touched down at Osaka on our first day. It was exciting as we’d read so much about this shopping street, packed with all sorts of shops selling all kinds of stuff from facial masks to fugu. There was a cake shop that specialises in castellas, and a tea house with all grades of Kyoto Uji matcha. The wide corridor is also flanked with many eateries for all sorts of cuisines and desserts. And the one which made us stop and stare hard into their window the most has to be Dalloyau.
In major Japanese cities like Kyoto, one usually doesn’t have to travel far to find patisseries with pastries and cakes of fairly decent quality. We’d managed to visit Pâtisserie Kanae and Pâtisserie Gion Sakai on this time round. But when we are on trips with packed itineraries and timetables to stick to, it is often not an easy thing to travel around tracking down small dessert shops or cafes which one has never been to, navigating tour maps of unfamiliar places in unfamiliar languages.
Three days of walking around Kyoto left us totally exhausted. While we love this beautiful city in all its grandeur and history, we loathed the idea of the need to walk long and far to get to the places we wanted. As such, despite having one or two more patisseries on our “to go and try” list, we had to abandon the idea as our legs were aching badly in protest! Kinkakuji, Kitano Tenmangu and later on Fushimi Inari Daisha most certainly took a toll on us. But that did not deter us for sampling more cakes and desserts on our last day here. No desserts?! That would be a cardinal sin yeah? LOL
When all fails, there’re always depachikas to fall back on. Walking down the aisles of the desserts and sweets section, we chanced upon a name which we found very familiar…