If you are a chocolate lover, Tokyo might not seem like the most obvious place to visit. But it absolutely should be. Not only is Tokyo home to its own amazing home grown chocolatiers and chocolate makers, Tokyo is also where many of the French and Belgian chocolatiers are setting up their first shops abroad. Not London, or New York, Tokyo. Yes you can get KitKats in every flavour imaginable, but there is so much high quality chocolate that it will make your head spin (especially if you add in all of the other amazing food you need to experience while here…spinning).
So my list of hot chocolates to try was very long, too long for the time we had. I wanted to visit the Tokyo born brands first but I did make time for French royalty; Jean-Paul Hevin, a Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (Best Craftsmen in France badge for pastry chefs). Jean-Paul Hevin has been travelling to Tokyo for many years and fourteen years after opening his first shop in Paris, he opened this shop in 2002.
Anyone can enter Jean-Paul Hevin in Tokyo, but it isn’t exactly the most welcoming and warm of places. Even we hesitated to enter. In the far corner of the food hall at Department Store Isetan is a glass wall with bright white lights overhead. A woman stands at the door, like a bouncer, watching us as we approach with a neutral look on her face. When we arrive at the door we aren’t immediately sure she is going to open the door, but she does. Everyone inside is dressed to the max and surrounded by luxury brand shopping bags.
We sat at the bar and chose randomly from a list of hot chocolates all written in Japanese which the hostess wasn’t really able to translate for us. The choices are Parisian, African, Brazil, Equador, Ghana (we assume the origins of the chocolate) and you can add whip cream or even a brioche is you want. We watched as the woman behind the bar took the chocolate and put it into a pot, mixed in water and whisked it. Next to us was another glass wall and on the other side was the chocolate shop filled with truffles, chocolate cakes. We never quite figured out how we could order a piece of cake, we just drooled at them through the glass window. Do you get up and walk around to order, do you point? I’m guessing they are listed in the menu of course. I did learn some Japanese before arriving but not nearly enough to order from Jean-Paul Hevin’s menu unfortunately.
After our hot chocolate we spend a lot of time walking around the food court at Isetan. If you are visiting Japan you have to set aside as much time as you can to visit the food courts. They are filled with amazing stalls with local delicacies from around the country, intricate desserts, foods you have never seen before and most have samples for you to try. It isn’t just the food that is exquisite but the packaging as well. Always make a detour to the fruit section. Many are individually packaged and perfect and that perfection comes at a price. Isetan is spread out over ten floors so after you discover the basement floors there is plenty to visit!
Shinjuku is home to Shinjuku Station, the world’s busiest railway station. There are more than two million passengers going through the station alone every day. Outside the station there are so many things to do…if you can find them! Omoide Yokocho is a narrow lane lined with tiny little restaurants with only a few chairs each. In Golden Gai you can choose one of 200 bars to have a drink at. Visit the observatory at the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office.
Verdict: The prices are very high (1433 yen), understandable in some ways given the reputation that Jean-Paul Hevin has. The hot chocolate is served in a pretty generous pot, enough to share. Jean-Paul Hevin, Isetan Shinjuku, 3 Chrome-14-1, Tokyo, Japan