For a country known not to be big on dessert, Japan certainly does have a sweet tooth. In fact, Japanese tradition gives sweets and patisserie centre stage; truly savouring specialities alongside a harmonising cup of tea – not as a mere afterthought after a main meal.
Where to find Japanese sweets ‘Wagashi’ in London
‘Wagashi’, or traditional style Japanese sweets can be an acquired taste, often focusing on key ingredients such as red bean paste and rice. Their texture can also be quite different to typical western sweets, being sometimes described as ‘chewy’ or ‘slimy’. However, whether you are an established fan of ‘wagashi’ or not, there’s nothing quite like the experience of visiting a classic Japanese sweet shop.
Minamoto Kitchoan, based at 44 Piccadilly, belongs to a smart international chain of ‘wagashi’ Japanese sweets shops, with stores in 11 cities in 7 countries internationally (including New York, London, Singapore, Taipei and Hong Kong). Stunning seasonal displays in the window highlight the delectable delights of each time of year. Step into the shop to feel like you’ve been transported to their branch in Tokyo’s smart Ginza district.
Helpful staff will come to your assistance, especially if you are overwhelmed by the range of sweets. Fairly high end, prices for a single small sweet start at about £3, nonetheless most customers will gladly take a box of these hard-to-find treats. There is a small seating area if you are desperate to sample, sweets are served with a cup of steaming green tea.
Kitaya Wagashi kindly provides London with most of the famous Japanese sweet known as ‘dorayaki’ (mini, fluffy scotch-type pancakes filled with, traditionally, ‘anko’ red bean paste). If you are already a fan, you’ll know that divine whiff released when you open the packet. If you’re not into red bean paste, try the fusion variations such as Chocolate Ganache, Matcha Mascarpone, or even the mouth-watering Lemon Dorayaki (pictured above).
Kitaya products are available at Japanese food shops all over London, such as Atari-ya, or the Japan Centre. Also, the ubiqituous take-away sushi chain ‘Wasabi’ sells a selection of dorayaki.
Japanese Patisserie Specialists in London
A fortunate fusion we can appreciate here in London is: Japan-inspired French patisserie. The marriage of expertise and elegant flavours of the two countries seriously bring these creations to a new level.
Lanka, near Finchley Road tube station offers a delectable daily display of 20 or 25 types of cakes (from their rotating 60 plus varieties), to enjoy along with their Ceylon tea selection in their small café, or to take away. Favourites include delights such as green tea eclairs, yuzu mousse, or white chocolate gateaux with adzuki beans. You can also pre-order birthday cakes. If Finchley Road is too far, Lanka cakes are also available at the Monocle café (read Monocle review here).
WA Café Japanese Patisserie at 32 Haven Green, just near Ealing Broadway station, offers both a tempting selection of posh patisserie as well as popular baked goods. The best-known bakery items from Japan include kare pan (curry bread), melon pan (looks, not tastes, like a melon!), and anpan (with sweet adzuki bean paste inside). Which brings us to…
Japanese Bakeries in London
Japanese baked goods often come as a suprise to the uninitiated. Far from plain, savoury buns come complete with sandwich ingredients carefully baked into the bread buns, making them a mini meal in themselves. Sweet baked goods are often finished with the ever-popular red bean paste, but don’t worry if you don’t like it, there are plenty of other tasty options available.
Tetote Factory is a small, specialist Japanese bakery in Ealing, selling a range of fresh breads, both savoury and sweet. There is just a bench as seating, but don’t let that put you off visiting, it’s worth the bus ride! Particularly notable sweet treats are the melon pan, cream pan and anko-filled pan. Read our review of Tetote here.
Happy Sky Bakery, also in west London (W12 – closest tube station is Shepherd’s Bush) also bakes a lot of the tantalising goods available in Japanese grocery shops across the capital. They craft recognisably Japanese savoury breads – replete with unusual ingredients like sweetcorn, noodles and hot dogs. If you are in the area, the bakery happily is also open to the public – though it’s closed on Mondays & Sundays and you should check the hours first.
Other Japanese Speciality Shops
Tsujiri are ‘Matcha Ice Cream Experts’ based in central London, 47 Rupert Street (near Piccadilly station). Tsujiri in London serves matcha soft serve ice cream with a variety of toppings, such as mochi (pounded rice) balls or slices of matcha (green tea) cake, Visit their Facebook page or Instagram here. If you love matcha ice cream, read our round-up ‘Top 4 Matcha Green Tea Ice Creams in London’ here.
Katsute 100 is a ‘Japanese Boutique and Tea Rooms’ in Islington with a wonderfully oldy-worldy aesthetic. A charming combination of Japanese treats located in a historic London location, this shop is all about cosy-Zen. Why not try an alternative afternoon tea, inspired by the flavours of Japan, with a matcha scone and genmaicha tea? Desserts starring matcha and yuzu flavours are baked on-site. Interesting sandwiches are available, with fillings such as pumpkin korokke and gyudon.
Go on – treat a loved one to some Japanese sweets or patisserie for Valentine’s Day – after all, they’ll share it with you!