Celebrating Food! Celebrating Life!

Japan Mar 2011 Day 8 – Esprit de Fouquet’s, Kobe

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Back to Osaka after a couple of days out in Kyoto and Nara, we’re down to our second last day in Kansai. The original plan was to explore Umeda in northern Osaka but we’d decided against that after passing through the area on the train to Kyoto. Towering skyscrapers and looming office buildings seem to characterise this part of town. Well, it is afterall  a commercial hub in Osaka, that reminded us of the western end of Shinjuku. A quick change of plans brought us to Kobe, another coastal city barely an hour from Osaka by train. Kobe, well known for its beef and the great Hanshin earthquake in 1995. Kobe was highly recommended by Chef Lynn Chen, the macaron instructor at Palate Sensations who supposed that the quality of some patisseries and confectioneries in Kobe are on par, if not better than those in Tokyo! Since we were already in Kansai, it seemed wrong not to pop by Kobe for a visit!

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After a quick shuffling of train services from our hotel in Shinsaibashi to the main station in Namba, we’re on our way to Kobe! We’d passed Umeda on our way out of town again! No regrets for not visiting! Just some 30 km away from Osaka, we arrived in Kobe in no time. Barely less than an hour to be exact, despite taking a “section rapid” train which made more stops along the way than the express services. We got off at Sannomiya 三宮 where a couple of patisseries are located. Out of the train station, we didnt have to venture far to locate our first pitstop, Esprit de Fouqets.
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I’d read about Esprit de Fouquet’s on several occasions when browsing through Japanese magazines and recipe books, most notably the “Super Chef” or “Super Patissier” series where Esprit de Fouquet’s’ pastry chefs frequently contribute to. They occupy a 2-storey corner unit along the main shopping street in Sannomiya which leads up to Ikuta Jinja, reputably the oldest Shinto shrine in all Japan.
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First floor display counters! Fresh cakes, macarons and chocolates in the chiller display while petite four secs, baumkuchen and cookies flank the sides…
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Another perspective from the right…
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Spread for the day… spoilt for choices!
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Assortment of macarons for the day! They rotate about 6-8 flavours on a daily basis with more over the weekends.
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Stairwell that led up to the 2nd storey dine-in area…
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Decor of rose petals and cherubs
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At one glance, the seating area could house up to 30 diners and dessert lovers at one go, one of the more generously spaced than most other patisseries we’d visited so far.
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When we asked for recommendations for their popular cakes, we were prompted to look at the tags pasted on each label which would change periodically, based on customer popularity. In my mind, I was thinking “Isn’t this gonna be become Markovnikov’s ‘the richer gets richer’ rule?” since customers have a tendency to sample those which are already “ナンバーワン 人気” making them even more popular? hmm…. literally food for thought.

That aside, their ストロベリーショートケーキ Strawberry Shortcake looked so inviting! Truth be told, strawberry shortcakes ain’t usually the top on my “to try” list in most patisseries, whose renditions are more often than not, rather run-in-the-mill. Usual versions layer the sponge with a thick slab of whipping cream almost equivalent in thickness to the cake body itself, making the piece almost too cloying to be properly enjoyed. Prima facie, Esprit de Fouquet’s version seemed more “proportionate” in terms of cream:cake ratio. What intrigued me more is the uniformity in size and quality of the strawberries used. I was told that they are from a farm in between Osaka and Kobe on a higher terrain and the strawberries are meticulously picked to the required size as designated by the pastry chefs at Esprit de Fouqets. Also, they are “harvested upon order” to ensure freshness of the fruit and minimise wastage and detrition. Only those which are “just about riped” are chosen, with the aroma coming to full bloom while the fruit remains firm and most importantly, retaining that ever so slight hint of tartness to round off all that sweetness from the whipping cream.
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And we weren’t disappointed. The cake was indeed very very delicious. The sponge layers were very soft and moist and because the whipping cream layers was “less than usual” for a strawberry shortcake, it was much more enjoyable than other versions I’d tried before.  Texture of the cream was spot on, luscious but not cloying. A thin layer of strawberry confiture between the lower two sponge layers helped to balance the sweetness of the piece. And as a good strawberry shortcake should be, the freshness of the strawberries really shone through. From a land of dessert lovers which had developed an uncanny popularity for strawberry shortcakes (and incidentally mont blancs as well), Esprit de Fouquets’ version is most worthy of its ナンバーワン 人気 status in this famed pastry joint.
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We had to try a piece with Japanese-inspired elements and this one with a rather funky name caught our eye. “NA.GO.MI ~和~” is a sliced entremet individuel which marries matcha with chocolate. Layered between two thin layers of biscuit joconde aux chocolat are two thick slabs of mousse, the lower being a rich and dark chocolat noir while the top uses 抹茶 matcha from 宇治 Uji Kyoto embedded with kuromame (candied black beans) from 丹波 Tanba. And I must say that the combination worked very well together!
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What I particularly enjoyed is a deliberate avoidance to make the mousse layers overtly sweet. In fact, the amount of sugar used seemed almost purposefully kept to the very minimal for one to enjoy the true flavours of dark chocolate and matcha green tea, two seemingly very contrasting flavours but yet, sharing common ground in terms of acridity and bitterness。 The sweetness for this piece is brought out by 栗 kuri candied Japanese chestnuts as well as an assortment of other candied beans, collectively known as 甘纳豆 in Japanese wagashi making. The piece is also embellished with a mini macaron whose flavour changes with season and mood of the pastry chef! The one we had was filled with 桜あん sakura’an infused ganache. The slight hint of savoury from the pickled cherry blossom leaves was very noticeable! Overall, very Japanese flavours indeed. Very enjoyable!
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The last piece we tried was a Sakura White Chocolate Tart, a “seasonal item” to usher in Spring. Clearly a spin off from “Mont Blanc” and sakura themed, it was a piece which I could not resist trying.
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The pastry base was interestingly a pate sucree aux chocolat filled with chocolat blanc ganache. Layers of sponge and creme chantilly then began working their way up, separated by more white choc ganache, the exterior was enrobed with spaghetti-like strands of 桜あん sakura’an, and finally dusted with dried powdered sakura blossom. The flavours are novel to say the least. I’d always enjoyed the salty flavours from pickled sakura leaves and thus this piece rather refreshing. The only possible weak point was probably the sakura’an paste being a tad too stiff, being taken out from the chiller just seconds before serving. Perhaps it should have been allowed some time to soften and return back to room temperature before sampling. Other than that, I felt that the piece was reasonably well executed.

Overall, a rather wonderful sampling experience at Esprit de Fouqets, due to our limited time in Kobe, we had to restrict our sampling to just 3 of their works. Most certainly looking forward to revisiting them again when we are back in Kobe, and hopefully in a not too distant future!

Address :Kobe Chuo-ku Shimoyamate-dori 2-1-1 KE Building (5 min walk from Sannomiya Station)
Telephone: 078-392-0103
Business hours: Monday – Saturday: 11:00 – 23:00 (last order at 22:30), Sundays and Holidays: 11:00 – 22:00 (last order at 21:30)
Website: http://www.yogashiclub.com/

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2 responses

  1. hehe… the lower price could encourage one to try the others… just like how some will be willing to buy discounted items even if they are slightly not so good

    September 24, 2012 at 3:07 pm

  2. Pingback: Pâtisserie & Salon de Thé Coichi, Osaka | travellingfoodies

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