Salon de thé FRANÇOIS was established in 1934 by Shoichi Tateno, an active leader of the Japanese labor movement in the 1930’s who also participated in anti-war activities. Tateno wanted to make this Western-style building, originally built as a machiya, into a café based on the spirit of enlightenment of socialism and art; “François” was taken from French painter Jean-François Millet. The interior was eventually renovated into a more Italian-style décor by an Italian friend of Tateno’s. Besides several years during wartime when Tateno had to shut it down, the café has been open for so long that the Japanese Agency for Current Affairs certified it as a Registered Tangible Cultural Property in 2002. It is now run by Tateno’s three children.
From checking out a map a couple of weeks before, I had an idea of where it would be (on Kiyamachi Street, where one would expect to find all the older shops) but knowing my luck I prepared myself to get lost a bit. However, I was able to find it without a problem when I went last week.
When I walked in in late August, I sat myself in what was the smoking area; when the waitress found out that I don’t smoke, she led me to the non-smoking room. The route inside was shaped like a U. I chose a small table in the middle of the room so that I could have a closer look at the whole place.
No change to the staff’s uniforms since the salon started according to a waitress (I eavesdropped on the conversation two tables down☺.)
my favorite view of the café which looks out onto the street
I thought that the French toast in an establishment like this must be quite an experience, so I took no time in ordering it with a ホットカフェオレーhotto kafe oore (hot café au lait), ￥650; I was not disappointed when it arrived.
フレンチトーストFurenchi toosuto (French toast), ￥650, which came with salad (so Japanese)
Look at the thickness!
Dining Kitchen éa café‘s French toast and SØHOLM·· CAFE + DINING‘s French toast was delicious and I would recommend them to anyone. However, this French toast just blew my mind in taste and volume. Although the egg didn’t penetrate into the bread (understood because the bread was so thick), there was enough egg on the outside of the toast and the bread was soft and chewy and even tasted kind of sweet on the inside, exactly my style of French toast! And the café au lait, the only regret that I have about it is that it didn’t come in the café’s original cup and saucer which are so cute!
I spent a couple of hours there and the entire time I felt like I had traveled back in time to 1930’s Japan. The customers who came in (except for a couple of young people) were as genteel a customer as one would expect of the surrounding and in the background classical music could be heard between conversations. There were a lot of elderly customers who looked around with soft looks that expressed natsukashii.
on my way to pay at the register: the smoking section of the café
the view from the front of the smoking section
magical outside the café
The homemade desserts are said to be wonderful, too; I’ll have to go back to try them. Hopefully, I can keep myself away from ordering the French toast again!
Update: A month later after a satisfying Thai meal, I wanted some dessert and coffee and after some consideration, I decided on FRANÇOIS because the café au lait had been quite good.
After entering and being asked if I smoke or not, I went straight to the non-smoking room where I was pointed and sat in the seat that I had before. After going through the cake section (it was sheer will power to not order the French toast again although I was quite full), I ordered the ハニーガトーフランソワhanii gatoo Furansowa (honey gâteau FRANÇOIS), which was a pound cake coated with honey glaze, because of the name and because I like honey.
Although the cake wasn’t as moist as I’d hoped it to be, the cake had a very natsukashii taste which reminded me of something that I had as a child. The glaze had a bit of sourness to it and I wondered for a moment if I had been given a sweet lemon-coated cake. I got some important reading done thanks to my café au lait.
Update: Over eight months after my last visit, I went back to FRANÇOIS with Kimura-san to catch up after I finished work; she had been interested in trying a certain café near Takashimaya and I thought I’d be clued into a new café…it turned out to be FRANÇOIS, so I was more than happy to get us there.
All the non-smoking seats were full when we arrived, so we sat down to wait, in the smoking part. It baffles me that the customers who prefer a non-smoking seat (because they don’t want to be exposed to smoke) have to walk all the way to the non-smoking section by ways of the smoking section through which they have to come back to pay at the register in the front (the layout of the café is like a U)…to me, it makes more sense to make the front part non-smoking and put the smoking section in “the back”.
Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long and we were seated at a table near “the back” which is actually at the front of the café (as seen from outside).
Did I say thankfully? This was my first time sitting here but I shall never sit here again because the air here was no less smoky than that in the smoking section! Although it seems that we’re as far from the smoking section as possible, there’s actually only a small (probably open) area that is the kitchen and register between the two sections.
Thankfully once we got our orders, I could forget the smoke for a bit…Kimura-san ordered the coffee and cake at the top of the picture below: コーヒーkoohii (coffee), ￥550, and ブランディーケーキbrandy cake, ￥450; I ordered the ピーチパイpeach pie, ￥500, and an アメリカンコーヒーAmerican coffee, ￥550.
As much as I would have loved to have the French toast again, my stomach wasn’t empty enough, so I went with dessert…the lemon pie that I wanted to try was sold out, so I got the peach pie instead; it was better than I’d hoped for (I’m not really into peach desserts) with a soft pie crust and a thin layer of white chocolate, topped with a thick layer of vanilla pudding-like substance, finally topped with the yummiest peach slices that I’ve had in a while. Although I didn’t try it, I could imagine Kimura-san’s brandy cake tasting similar to the honey gâteau FRANÇOIS that I had last time, minus the honey glaze, plus brandy. As for our coffees, when the waitress asked us if we wanted cream with our coffee, we thought we’d be getting cream on the side but when they arrived, they looked more like Vienna coffee with the cream added in…although we were disappointed at not being able to try the coffee black, it was still good, tasting like traditional coffee with influence from Europe back when the café was founded.
I’ll be back hungry on a weekday (hopefully fewer customers, meaning fewer smokers) for that French toast!