It was my first time to the city of lights, the city of love – the one and only Paris. It was the middle of winter, and it was so cold the city’s fountains were full of icicles and no matter how many layers I put on I was still freezing. I’d made plans with some new friends from the hostel I was staying at to have lunch at a nice restaurant. I’d heard about Benoit from my brother, a chef and lover of fine dining. This Michelin-star bistro run by Alain Ducasse opened its doors back in 1912 and is known for its nostalgic charm. Unfortunately, my friends bailed last minute but I was still keen to go – after all, how often do you have the chance to dine in a classic Parisian bistro?
Considering how busy it was, I was lucky to get a table. The waiter did a double take when he saw me on my own but immediately gave me the biggest smile. The food was excellent as expected, the interior was cosy, the plate designs were beautiful, but to this day what left the greatest impression was the service. The waiter was so good at making sure I was happy – constantly chatting with me and making jokes in between serving other customers. The cold outside was long forgotten, replaced by this bubble of warmth.
Fast forward two years, my brother is visiting Japan with a friend and discovers Ducasse has opened another Benoit right here in Tokyo. Naturally, we have to go. Tokyo’s Benoit branch is located in Aoyama, between Shibuya and Omotesando. The La Porte Aoyama building also houses the Elle cafe and a Pierre Hermé shop – macaron heaven! Benoit is up on the 10th floor, with huge glass windows offering beautiful views of the city.
We are seated at a window table and are greeted by one very charismatic waiter. His English is amazing as he has spent time overseas, and his demeanor is so different from the other waiters serving Japanese customers. As we make our way through the courses, he comes and chats to us often and all of my fond memories of the Parisian waiter flood back. It’s amazing that these two guys, on opposite sides of the world but working for the same establishment, are so alike!
My image of classic bistro cooking is none of those experimental dishes with dry ice steam or foam sauces, but something simple and hearty. Stews, sautés, soups. Seasonal ingredients. Decent servings. The Tokyo Benoit was exactly this. Between the three of us, we had braised pork, seared scallops and bouillabaisse, as well as entrées and desserts. The food was impeccable in both presentation and taste. And we were so full by the end we almost couldn’t finish dessert!
Being bright and spacious, the interior of the restaurant didn’t look exactly like the original but it did resemble a polished Parisian brasserie. All of the furniture and decor were sourced from France which gave an authentic feel to the space. Apparently Ducasse himself picked up a lot of the display items from flea markets in France. It’s all in the details! The main dining space had antique chandeliers and wall lamps, while an alcove to the side was covered in beautiful wallpaper and a stunning ceiling fresco fit for Versailles. I also loved the floor to ceiling windows in the bathroom along with the floral wallpaper, brick flooring and marble sink. I always think a bathroom says a lot about a restaurant!
If you’re interested in visiting this restaurant, check out their website > www.benoit-tokyo.com/en/
What has been a memorable dining experience you’ve had? Have you ever been to the same restaurant in different cities or countries?