Award-winning baguettes, French ambiance enhance Shibuya’s Viron
By HANA KUSUMOTO | Stars and Stripes | Published: July 12, 2018
With the smell of baking bread emanating from a brick-colored building decorated with a black French-lace iron balcony, Viron brings the ambiance of a traditional French brasserie to an otherwise chaotic and busy part of Tokyo.
Viron is located about 10 minutes from Shibuya station in a quiet neighborhood, tucked away from the famous scramble crossing and shopping districts frequented by high school and college students.
Upon walking into Viron, customers can browse the selection of items on the first-floor bakery, which also offers a glimpse of workers baking the restaurant’s famous baguettes and croissants. The second floor features a sit-down restaurant, with decor reminiscent of a French cafe from the 1950s. Black and white photos lining the walls, tables adorned with white tablecloths and accordion music playing in the background can easily fool customers into thinking they have left Tokyo and arrived in Paris.
Viron serves a wide variety of standard French brasserie dishes, such as terrine and choucroute garnie, a type of sausage and sauerkraut plate — but also offers a selection of delicious bread, sandwiches and pastries made in the bakery downstairs.
A popular item during Viron’s breakfast hours is the set menu (1,500 yen, or about $13), which includes a basket of freshly baked bread, six types of jam and honey, and the choice of coffee or tea. During lunch hours, the set menu (1,800 to 2,000 yen) comes with a salad, a choice of a main dish, and all-you-can-eat baguettes. On weekdays when the restaurant is less busy, customers who buy items from the bakery can enjoy their purchases in the upstairs seating area.
At dinner, Viron transforms into a full-fledged French restaurant, serving up an extensive rotating a la carte menu of French classics from duck confit (2,650 yen) to escargot (1,800 yen).
Despite its wide selection of French fare, Viron is most famous for its baguette — which Takahiro Nishikawa, the restaurant’s owner, was inspired to replicate while vacationing in France. After a bit of investigation, Nishikawa discovered that the baguettes he ate on his trip used a special type of wheat flour called Retrodor. According to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Nishikawa negotiated with Viron, the company that produces the flour, and eventually became the sole importer of Retrodor flour in Japan. The result is a baguette that is crispy and crunchy on the outside, but soft in the inside. Viron’s baguettes are so authentic that they’ve even won several baguette competitions in France — a difficult feat for any foreign baker.
I visited during lunch, and both my dining companion and I ordered the set meal. This offered us a choice of main dishes that included a gruyere cheese and ham salad, grilled steak or grilled salmon.
The steak featured a rich red wine sauce, which paired well with the accompanying Retrodor baguette. The salmon, with perfectly crisp skin, was served with a tasty cream sauce, asparagus and fried onion — all of which complemented the dish nicely. Both my companion and I got the impression that, no matter what dish we ordered, Viron would serve us a delicious and authentic French meal.
Though pricier compared to other lunch options in Shibuya, the quality of the food we received in our set lunches was well worth the price — making Viron a satisfying option for an occasional fancy lunch. It was a nice departure from the Tokyo neighborhood’s standard fare, and will make you feel like you are miles away, too.
Location: 33-8 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Directions: Viron is accessible via several train lines, including the JR Yamanote Line and Keio Inokashira Line, via Shibuya Station’s Hachiko exit. The restaurant is immediately across the street from the Tokyu department store.
Hours: Open daily. Breakfast is from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (last order at 11 a.m.); lunch is from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; cafe time is from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. (last order at 4:30 p.m.); and dinner is from 18:30 to 23:30 p.m. (last order at 10 p.m.).
Prices: Prices for bakery items vary, with most pastries under 500 yen and most sandwiches under 1,000 yen. A breakfast set featuring a selection of baked goods is 1,500 yen (about $13). Lunch sets range in price from 1,800 to 2,000 yen; a la carte lunch items include a soup of the day (600 yen) and rotating main dishes such as mussels (2,200 yen) and terrine (1,000 yen). Dinner is served a la carte, with most dishes costing 2,000 yen and up.