Bio Cafe!! What a name! So simple, so obvious and yet so confusing as well! What could the “Bio” part possibly mean? A BIOlogical Cafe perhaps? Maybe a BIOgraphical Cafe? Or it could be a MacroBIOtic Cafe? Or – more scarily – a MicroBIOtic Cafe?! Or maybe just BIOtic Cafe? Or perhaps even a BIOnic Cafe? No, that would be silly.
My guess – and this really is quite a sensible guess – would be a cross between biological and (macro)biotic, given this place’s emphasis on fresh and healthy food. Actually, I would say that the emphasis is more on good, French-style food rather than “fresh and healthy”. It does, after all, have a bakery attached, a great big tricolor flying out front, and none of the usual “healthier than thou” propaganda inside. So yes, good, French-style food. It’s up an alleyway (literally “up” – there are steps), directly opposite the Crocs shop, which is probably your best landmark to head for (mainly because it’s on Google Maps!).
As I have already mentioned, this place is a bakery that also does meals (there are separate menus for lunch and tea – I chose from the lunch menu). It’s not 100% vegetarian, but it does have a good range of vegetarian options on both menus. It also has a separate section for vegetarian cakes at ¥620 each (horrifically expensive). I went for the gratin with gluten, tempeh and spring vegetables (¥1,400 including a salad, bread and a beverage). To my rather pleasant surprise they actually brought out the salad and main separately, i.e. not just on separate plates (in Singapore one gets used to them being lumped onto the same plate…), but in sequence. How very civilised. But then again, this is Japan.
For me, the salad was actually the best part of the meal. It was simple and zingy and luxurious. The leaves and slices of apple were unfussily dressed with wonderfully light and onion-flavoured vinaigrette. The bread was freshly baked, and was rough and hearty – the purplish piece in the picture was actually infused with konjac (I think). Accompanying it was some light, houmous-like spread and a prune. Yes, a prune! First time i’ve eaten one of these things in many, many years, and I can honestly say that I adored every last bit(e) of it. A very classy plate of food.
The gratin was nicely presented in its own sort of miniature (very miniature!) crock-pot. That said, you can imagine my disappointment when the lid was whipped off and I was left staring – slightly dumbfoundedly – at a self-styled gratin without the, err, gratin. Think lumpy porridge instead. No crust, no chipping away with a spoon, no cheese, just gelatinous gloop. Gruel would have been a more fitting descriptor, but gratin? No, not gratin.
Don’t get me wrong, it tasted good even if it looked a little mealy. It had a subtle sweetness to it which, admittedly, wasn’t quite what I was expecting. But the sweetness was more herby than sugary, and such earthy subtleties delivered their own sort of authentic charm. The spring vegetables consisted of broad beans, asparagus, burdock and konjac. The gluten and tempeh were almost unrecognisable, although there were one or two big chunks that had the look, taste and texture of chick’n. Overall I found the flavours plentiful and subtle, but a little too narrow in range for my liking. Next time, i’ll stick to the salad.
P.S. I think I just got to the bottom of the meaning of BIO. Look at the plates! The plates! Bi-O! Not BIO! Now look at the signboard outside the Cafe (first photo). Using the powers of deduction, I would imagine the “Bi” part stands for “Bistro” and the “O” part a placeholder for “Boulangerie”. Bung the two together and what do you get? Bi-O, or Bio! Jay-nee-usss.
16-14 Udagawa-cho, 1F Patio, Shibuya-ku
Open 11:00-23:00 daily