In a southwest corner of residential Tokyo, a British bakery shimmers into view – seemingly a mirage in the urban desert. This is not a hallucination of a nostalgic expat, but the second branch of Mulberry Manor, a bakery hailing from Lyme Regis, a charming town on southern England’s Jurassic Coast, which, as the name suggests, is famed for its fossils.
It looks like 2019 is turning out to be quite a year for this bakery – this unlikely outpost in Tokyo will celebrate its first birthday while its mother store in Lyme turns ten. But it certainly wasn’t planned this way.
Founder Gary Barnes has been in the catering business since 2002, when he first opened a delicatessen in Lyme. After dabbling with a restaurant, he opened Mulberry Manor in 2009 with his nephew Carl Clarke on board as a silent partner, and began supplying the local population and numerous tourists with plenty of pies and pasties.
Opening another branch was an idea that came from Tomoko, Carl’s Japanese wife. The couple met in Tokyo in the early 2000s and spent the next few years hopping countries due to Carl’s work. Tomoko had quit her job in the movie industry to raise their children and, after a decade out of work, she was looking for a new direction and was considering starting a business of her own. Her in-laws half-jokingly suggested she set up a Mulberry Manor.
It was an idea that struck a chord. The couple, who were back in Tokyo, began searching for a suitable space. In October 2018, they opened the Japan branch with Tomoko as front-of-house and Gary moving to the city to work as head baker.
On a nondescript road that is lined with more apartments than shops, the deep blue storefront is striking. A passer-by glancing through the large windows in the morning will be greeted with the sight of rows of freshly baked goods: puff pastry pies, Dorset pasties, sausage rolls, scones and even sticky toffee puddings. The back of store has another large window, turning the kitchen into a stage on which the team can be seen preparing batch after batch of traditional British treats.
News of the bakery has spread fast. There have been fervent whispers within the expat community – “They even serve baked beans at lunch!” – and the bakery has attracted some rave reviews in English. But how has it been received among the local Japanese population?
“I think as with everything in Japan, when you first open, there’s a huge rush and descent on you to find out what you’re about, who you are, what you’re making – which is great. But then it starts to level off and you find your market – what sells, what doesn’t,” says Gary, reflecting on the past ten months. “That’s the difference between trying to keep the British happy, the people coming in for the regular pie and beans and mash, and what the Japanese want.”
Gary says the store is proving popular with Japanese customers. He estimates they make up between 60-70 percent of their clientele, with the rest a mix of Brits and Americans living in Tokyo and overseas visitors keen to know what a British bakery in suburban Tokyo could possibly be like.
Finding that balance, however, between authenticity and the local market was not an easy task. Originally, the store was a carbon copy of the Lyme store, but through trial and error and seeing what sells and what doesn’t, some items have been removed, some added and some tweaked.
Japanese customers are curious but understandably a little uncertain about approaching such an unfamiliar menu. Two cultures famed for their love of tea quickly discover their idea of a good “cuppa” varies vastly. “Builders tea” – written on the menu just like that – is served in giant mugs bearing the Union Jack, provoking queries of just how many people one mug is for. It couldn’t be a sharper contrast to the small, handle-less cups of light green tea that feature in a traditional Japanese meal.
As for pasties and Bakewell tarts, these are alien concepts for many of Britain’s closest neighbors, let alone somewhere as far away as Japan. “But the proof of the pudding is in the eating it, right?” Gary laughs. The sizeable chocolate brownie is a bestseller – the same as at the Lyme store.
Two cultures famed for their love of tea quickly discover their idea of a good “cuppa” varies vastly.
“What we’ve tried to do is to stay away from doing anything Japanese because, although we want to appeal to the Japanese public, we want them to see that it’s British. If we start going too much towards the Japanese way of serving things, then that’s what they get everywhere. So we’re trying to stay traditionally British.”
For Tomoko, the venture has given her a new perspective on the cuisine. “Now when I visit the UK, I enjoy British food much more than before. All the pub food, all the bakeries. I pay attention to all the slight variations from other countries. I try to copy all these little details and bring them to our bakery.”
Yet the first challenge was finding the appropriate ingredients. The flour is completely different, and self-raising flour is not available at all. It took much experimentation to get a proper puff pastry and a decent shortcrust.
One mouthful of one of their pies proves that the hard work was worth it. The right resistance to the bite, flaky but firm, and staying away from stodgy, it provides a delicious and texturally perfect base for the filling. Several traditional options are available, from steak and kidney to chicken and mushroom. We opt for a chicken and leek that properly presents the flavors of both ingredients and is gloriously satisfying in a way all good pies should be.
This is served on a wooden compartmentalized tray, echoing a traditional Japanese bento box and undoubtedly a nod to the local market. It comes with classic British mash, along with a choice of peas or beans, and gravy. Bold British fare meets Japanese cute and careful aesthetics.
Next up, we tuck into an apple and blueberry pie. Encased in excellent shortcrust, the apples retain a light crunch, and the slight sharpness of the blueberries is accented by the addition of ginger and lemon. We follow this with a salted caramel gazillionaire – a shortbread base topped with a layer of rich salted caramel and then a layer of firm milk chocolate. While typically a rather rich treat, this version is so well executed that the offer to take-away another is very tempting.
All baked treats are made by Gary and a couple of assistants, but he is on the lookout for his replacement as head baker so that he can return to the UK branch. He is specifically looking for Brits as he feels it is good to have a British presence to represent the authenticity of the offering to their customers. But he also recognizes the practicalities of hiring a Japanese baker who might stay for longer.
In the meantime, however, there are gingerbread men to be iced and pastry to be rolled and lunch sets to be served. Mulberry Manor shows that British grub might be Tokyo’s cup of tea – even if the cups are oversized.