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Friday, Oct. 26, 2007

Upmarket bakery makes ambience its bread and butter


Special to The Japan Times

It's easy to be cynical about Point et Ligne, a boutique bakery that sells staple food at gastronomic prices. Loaves for ¥2,500 under the moody lighting of a jazz club? Clutch your purse and approach with skepticism.

But there's good reason the Marunouchi, Tokyo store is drawing up to 1,000 customers per day. Designer Shinji Saito has created a layout to lure you in and lull your senses. His colossal mock-iron door exploits its location in a corner of the Shin Marunouchi Building's basement. Cracked wide enough to welcome you but not enough to reveal the merchandise, the entrance demands closer inspection, and there's no hint of a bakery about it.

Even inside, it's not immediately apparent that you're in a bread shop. The spacious 181-sq.-meter store is spot-lit with LEDs for a warm ambience, and the minimalist, natural decor of wood and tufa stone would make for an elegant restaurant.

With a reverence rarely shown to flour and yeast, the freshly baked loaves, baguettes and sandwiches form understated displays on grids crafted by Nanbu ironware artist Hisao Iwashimizu.

It's no coincidence that the only break from the natural ambience is the centerpiece steel oven with its striking flues twirling into the ceiling. This is the heart of the store, both in location and function, and turns the place into the baking equivalent of an open kitchen.

All of which could be designer whimsy were it not for the quality of the bread. Owner Masami Asano trained as a chef in Paris (of course) and Grenoble (pourquoi pas?), and insists on ingredients of high-end-restaurant caliber for his bakery. Slim torpedo sandwiches come filled with organic ratatouille or Atlantic salmon (smoked in-house), the bread crafted from domestically sourced organic flour.

Customers still needing to be convinced can head to the rear of the store, where the 30-seater "Bar a Pain" serves light set meals (¥1,500) of the specialty bread alongside dishes such as duck confit or mushroom and shallot marinade. Asano sees his bar as a place to linger rather than snack, and emphasized his ambitions by hosting New York flutist Lew Tabackin for what he promises was the first of many jazz events.

As guests leave the bar, the layout's smart line of flow leads them past racks of bread ready for the elegant staff to package in the store's stylish, branded bags — pink for girls, gray for guys. After all, if you've just paid Point et Ligne prices, you might very well want people to know.



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