TOKYO, Feb 26 — Sometimes taking the path less taken — and taking it slow — can lead one on the most unexpected and welcome adventures. Very delicious ones, at that.
We are on our way to Tokyo’s famous Yoyogi Park when we decide to take the Odakyu Line rather than the more straightforward Chiyoda Line. After getting off at the Yoyogi Hachiman Station, we stroll towards Yoyogi Park via tiny lanes, taking our time to enjoy the view — folks out early in the morning; the shops selling their wares, be it traditional fans or factory-produced soft toys; the 24-hour pachinko arcades.
Along the way, we stumble upon a nondescript shop front with only a couple of upturned crates and small stools for patrons who smoke. What draws us in is the aroma — there is nothing like the smell of hot pastries mere moments after they’ve left the oven.
This bakery-bistro, it turns out, is simply named PATH (each of its four letters dramatically capitalised). Founded by chef Taichi Hara and pâtissier Yuichi Goto, PATH focuses on good food made from scratch.
That means a good wait for the good food, but no one seems to mind. PATH appears to embody the spirit of the Slow Food movement — founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986, in protest of a McDonald’s opening near the Spanish Steps in Rome — without taking itself too seriously.
Yes, sourcing ingredients that are locally, organically and sustainably grown is important but first: enjoy your meal. Food should be a pleasure.
Early birds will love PATH’s opening hours. There are few places in Tokyo outside of franchise bakeries in underground train stations that offer baked goods at eight in the morning. Whether it’s a crumble-in-your mouth croissant or pain au chocolat, you can find it here, freshly baked.
During teatime, pastries crafted by Goto — canelés, madeleines and whipped meringue with fruit jelly — will delight and launch a hundred Instagram posts. In the evenings, night owls can enjoy a variety of natural wines and artisanal beer (crafted in Kyoto) on tap with the Italian-inspired dinner menu. But there’s something about PATH that says “brunch” to us (possibly our growling bellies, unused to a Tokyo-style stroll).
Begin with brewed-to-order coffee: both espresso-based and filter coffees are available; the beans courtesy of Norwegian roaster Fuglen just around the corner.
Freshly squeezed juices and homemade kombucha for the health-conscious — and who isn’t, these days? What a way to lift your spirits and wake you up good and proper, especially if you’ve flown into Narita Airport on a red-eye as we did the night before.
While waiting for our brunch orders, we take in our surroundings. Pasta rollers share space with vinyl records. The wood and concrete bar that fronts the open kitchen is artfully cluttered with dishes of ripe tomatoes, bowls of freshly laid eggs and even sprawling, leafy branches. There is much to observe; we’re encouraged to let our eyes wander and take our time with these happy distractions.
Instead of a menu, the blackboard features a rotating series of meaningful quotes written in chalk. Nelson Mandela offers “It always seems impossible until it’s done” while the great Caesar’s famous cry before battle — “The die is cast” — urges diners to think twice before an irrevocable decision is made.
No such regret with our orders. The Kale, Quinoa & Pomegranate Salad is the very definition of a superfood — from antioxidant-rich kale and pomegranate to gluten-free and protein-dense quinoa.
Topped with slices of fresh tomato, cubes of feta cheese and a bold, tangy dressing, this salad thrills our senses. (We feel some Yuletide cheer even though it isn’t Christmas thanks to all that green, red and white!)
The highlight — and oh, what a highlight it is, well worth the half-an-hour wait — is the made-to-order Dutch Baby. The pancake is crisp and fluffy on the outside, eggy and soft on the inside.
A sweet popover hailing from Germany (similar to the Pfannkuchen), it was first popularised in Seattle, where it was baked in a cast-iron pan and brought piping hot to the table. (It has nothing to with the Dutch though; “Dutch” here is likely a corruption of “Deutsch” referring to the German immigrants to America.)
Here at PATH, our Dutch Baby is served with generous strands of uncured ham and oodles of burrata cheese. So rich yet light at the same time. We’ve had a sweet Dutch Baby or two in the past, simply eaten with a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of sugar, but this is our first savoury Dutch Baby. So good.
Those with smaller appetites can try their homemade granola or their signature Ham & Camembert Sandwich where thick slices of buttered toast provide a scrumptious pocket for homemade ham and oozing Camembert cheese.
Everything is made with simple ingredients that are always fresh, high-quality and subsequently full of flavour. PATH’s philosophy seems to be simple is not only good; it’s the best.
In a rush? Try some of PATH’s chewy saucisson des fruit secs with a cup of coffee to go. Saucisson is originally a French-style dry-cured sausage made from pork, but here’s a fruity, meat-free version everyone can enjoy.
But why hurry? Everything about PATH exhorts you to linger and take it slow. The Slow Movement isn’t simply about slow food but also a less taxing pace of life. Every bite is savoured, every sentence pondered over, every smile deeply felt and returned in kind. Now, that’s life.
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Open Tue-Sun 8am-2pm & 6pm-12am (Mon closed)