Gastronomic nomad

Tokyo Dome Hotel
Courtesy of Tokyo Dome Hotel

Help yourself to a serving of the city' best dessert buffets with Matt Wilce.

Buffets, or "viking," have been perennial favorites ever since the Imperial Hotel first brought the concept of all-you-can-eat dining to Japan, and the latest trendy take is sweet. Popular with OLs and obatarians (ladies of a certain age), the dessert buffet has come into its own over the last couple of years. Primarily the preserve of hotels, sweet tabehodai (all you can eat) are one of the main attractions for local non-residents.

In the mid-'90s, tabehodai restaurants began to flourish, with 176 establishments in Tokyo alone offering the chance to gorge yourself silly by 1998. Partly a response to the Asian economic crisis, the buffet dining trend has slowly developed as customers continue to keep a close eye on their purse strings. The hotel catering sector, one of the hardest hit by the recession, embraced buffets and special packages as one way to boost covers and endure the economic slump.

Like any trend, competition is the mother of invention, and many hotels are now offering variation on the theme to draw in more customers. The Pan Pacific Yokohama launched Japan's first evening dessert buffet, "Sweet Journey," in April 2000. Expecting the emphasis to be on couples relaxing after dinner, the hotel found some patrons were slightly more senior-groups of middle-aged women loved the new twist and the chance to have an evening gossip over cake. A further innovation, the first buffet to offer individual servings of desserts, can be found at the Tokyo Bay Hilton's Italian restaurant Piazza Roma. Of course, ultimately the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so here are some of the city's sweetest picks.

Tokyo Dome Hotel, The Artist's CafE
Situated on the 43rd floor of this new hotel, The Artist's CafEis currently offering a special dessert buffet as part of its Summer Festival. Popular with families and baseball fans, the hotel overlooks Tokyo's "Big Egg" and offers panoramic views across most of the city. As part of the restaurant's first foray into buffet dining, 15 desserts will be on offer in the afternoons for JY1800.
1-3-61 Koraku, Bunkyo-ku (tel: 03-5805-21), buffet available 2:30-5pm daily until Aug 31. Nearest stn: Suidobashi

Pan Pacific Yokohama
Courtesy of Pan Pacific Yokohama

Century Hyatt, Boulogne
Three of the Century Hyatt's patisserie chefs, Hayashi, Ito and Suzuki, are working their magic to produce desserts on a tricolor theme. Hayashi-winner of two national dessert-making medals-will make yellow desserts such as orange yogurt mousse, Ito will go for reds with a sponge shortcake, while Suzuki produces orange desserts such as grapefruit and honey cheesecake. In total 20-25 dishes will be available each day for JY2000 (including coffee).
2-7-2 Nishi-Shinjuku (tel: 03-3349-0111), buffet available 2-7:30pm Mon-Fri until Sep 7. Nearest stn: Nishi-Shinjuku 

Pan Pacific Yokohama, Somerhouse
On Thursday and Friday evenings, Summerhouse is home to the "Sweet Journey" dessert buffet. Designed as an after-dinner option for couples, the JY2900 buffet offers sweet tooths their pick of the cakes, fruit and cheeses with a glass of wine and coffee or tea thrown in. Additional alcoholic drinks come at half price.
2-3-7 Minato Mirai, Nishi-ku, Yokohama (tel: 045-682-2222), buffet available 7:30-11pm Thur & Fri. Nearest stn: Sakuragicho homepage

For something different try Shinkine's wagashi tabehodai, or traditional Japanese sweets. With 16 different bean paste treats to choose from and 60 minutes to sample them all, this unusual twist on the dessert buffet is an ideal introduction into the world of wagashi. The downside is that the special tabehodai (JY1000) is only available on the last Friday of the month-the next being August 31.
Shinkine, 2-2-2 Uchisaiwaicho, Chiyoda-ku (tel: 03-3580-9745), buffet available 2-7pm. Nearest stn: Kasumigaseki

Century Hyatt Hotel
Courtesy of Century Hyatt Hotel

Metropolitan Hotel, Sky Lounge Apollo
With more than 40 desserts available, this buffet is a full-on honey trap for sweet freaks. Coming up for its first birthday, the all-you-can eat selection of desserts cheesecake and bavoir (JY1300) is served on the 25th floor of the hotel overlooking Ikebukuro.
1-6-1 Ikebukuro, Toshima (tel: 03-3980-1111), buffet available 2:30-5pm. Nearest stn: Ikebukuro

Tokyo Bay Hilton, Bay Lounge
The main dessert buffet in the Bay Lounge offers 40 different dishes during the afternoons - with savory adjuncts like pizza and yakitori to create a full meal. In addition to favorites like strawberry shortcake and chocolate almond tart, there is a special corner for monthly specials. In the evenings the dessert portion of Piazza Roma's menu is also available as an after-dinner tabehodai. A range of Italian desserts that includes tiramisu is freshly prepared and displayed in individual servings.
1-8 Maihama, Urayasu, Chiba (tel: 047-355-5000), Bay Lounge buffet available 2:30-5pm daily (JY1750 weekdays, JY1950 weekends), Piazza Roma desserts available 5:30-10:30pm. Nearest stn: Maihama

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