Monday, April 23, 2012

Field trip! - Levain Bakery, Yoyogi Koen

series of posts from visiting interesting little (and large) cafes, food-related establishments and other places of inspiration.

I heard about Levain bakery when I was looking into bread made with wild yeast starters online in Japanese. Levain appears to be one of the earliest bakeries in Tokyo devoted to making bread with natural leaven (the shop name 'Levain' being the French for 'leaven').

The bakery uses domestic flour, and has been going since 1984. The owner Mikio Koda studied traditional European style wild yeast breadmaking from a French craftsman after a career in teaching. He has published a nice looking Japanese book on baking with wild yeast, and there were a few books on baking and things for sale at the shop. I bought a cute one written by someone who used to work at Levain.

Huge 3-layer oven

It's less than a 10 minute walk from exit 1 of Yoyogi Koen station on the Chiyoda line (or Yoyogi Hachiman station) (map). Fight your way past the roadworks that have been going on since my friends lived in this area 7 years ago, you'll feel you're heading the wrong way and then you'll the the sign on the side of a regular block of flats.

Levain takes up two spaces on the ground floor of the apartment building, and has been made to look like a rustic bakery inside and out, with brickwork, lots of wood and a mishmash of plants, little wooden chairs and old doors. Judging from photos on their tabelog page, the large door of the café space is opened in the warmer months. Looking carefully at where the brickwork effect was attached to the apartment building I wondered if the café space 'Le Chalet' was in fact a rennovated garage. They did a nice job. :)

Cafe area 'le chalet'

Be warned that the café is tiny, room for 6 comfortably? While we were there so many people came and left again having seen that they'd have to 相席 (share a table). If you do get a seat though, it's rather lovely, if busy on a Saturday. The menu is simple and showcases the bread - goma miso paste vegetable sandwiches, cheese toast, french toast, bread and honey.. and there is a drink menu with Japanese wine and beers. I can imagine that this would be a wonderful place to be when it's quiet, but it was a little cramped and hurried when we went.

Cheese toast

Sesame miso paste veg sandwich

Tuna paste appetiser

Cute menus

The shop itself was also frequently packed. There was something heartening about all the people turning up to buy their hand made bread, cycling off with paper bags of it in their bike baskets to prepare dinner for friends maybe. As was the case in Rose Bakery from my previous field trip post, there were also many staff - maybe 9 people, which probably added to the impression I had of how bustling the place was.

When you walk into the shop space, there are a few (huge!) loaves, partially cut, resting on a wooden chest of drawers in the window. You order by the gram of bread, which necessitates some masterful wielding of calculators and weighing scales at the busy till. We got a sizable chunk of this walnut bread (1.8 yen/gram, I think it was) made with Californian walnuts. They also have wholewheat breads, rye, raisin breads, breads made with rice flour instead of wheat flour, and other baked goods such as cookies and a few traybakes.

There are a few non-baked items for sale in the shop too, teas, wild rice mixes, balsamic vinegar, interesting looking honeys and sesame pastes, and I was excited to find medjool dates, perfect for sticky toffee pudding!

Medjool dates!

I loved the hands-on-bread, frank and rustic qualities of the shop, and the bread itself was superb. I also liked how it felt like a community space. If I'm in the neighbourhood again I'll definitely drop by, and if that happened to be a quiet weekday afternoon when it might not be too busy to sit with a book at the table outside, well that would be lovely.


  1. oh, I've been dying for some good sourdough in Tokyo! I'll have to check it out. I just came across your blog, while looking for decent bread, and I'm really enjoying reading it! How are the cake shop plans going? Looking forward to visiting your bakery/cafe one day!

  2. Hi there Meibutsu, so glad you've enjoyed reading this little blog! Levain is a lovely bakery, though they didn't have sourdough bread as such.. the bakery attached to TY Harbor Restaurant in Tennouzu Isle, Shinagawa might be worth looking at.. I had dinner at their Omotesando restaurant (Beacon) and could swear their table bread was sourdough! The waiter said he didn't know for sure but that it was indeed "homemade" at their TY Harbor bakery. Nice if you're doing a trip out that way anyway.
    I'm on a short holiday at the moment in Europe (fantastic bread!), but looking forward to getting my teeth back into the shop prep on my return, and look forward to being able to welcome you in the shop one day!