by Philip Kendall

As the lid was lifted off a small ceramic pot in the middle of their table, the diners to our right let out a collective ‘Ooh!’ and gave a tiny round of applause.

Naonobu Takashima, owner of newly-opened Bistro Hutch, beamed with pride for a split second before jogging into the kitchen to call in another order, rounded off with a surprisingly authentic “s’il vous plait!”

The interior walls are rough stone painted a soft yellow and decorated with old-fashioned French prints, while the air is filled with sultry female vocals and tantalising aromas that tease guests the moment they step through the doorway. The atmosphere is at once fresh, lively and familiar, yet somehow provokes the sensation of being treated to something a little special.

Bistro Hutch literally threw its entire facade open just one day prior to our visit, embracing the Parisian restaurant style and countering the sweltering Tokyo summer heat by exchanging rich aromas from their kitchen with cool breezes from the quiet side-street.

Juicy steak and chips

Juicy steak and chips

Diners are invited to sit either at dark wooden tables with mismatched chairs or on rustic stools at a small counter, allowing them to peek into the busy kitchen while feeling the gentle breeze from the street behind them. The menu focuses on classic savoury dishes such as soup, pâté, seafood and steak, but also finds room for the staple Japanese street-food dishes of yakitori and tsukune, which are cooked fresh over charcoal grills.

The drinks menu, meanwhile, is comparatively sophisticated, offering both draft and bottled beers, spirits and a genuinely impressive array of wines to choose from, with patrons often given a taste of two similarly-bodied wines to compare before making their final decision.

While browsing his chalkboard specials, I spoke with owner Mr Takashima (he formerly ran a similar restaurant in fashionable Nishi-Azabu) about what he hopes to achieve with his newest venture in Kichijōji. Gesticulating as he spoke and visibly excited about what’s to come for Bistro Hutch, he outlined his vision.

“Our menu is a blend of bistro and Japanese sumibiyaki; we’re providing simple, home-made French-style cooking and Japanese charcoal-grilled food that shares the same spirit. The charcoal brings out great aromas and continues in the tradition of that same fast, vibrant bistro style,” he said before adding with a smile, “And at the end of the day, it’s fun!”

A quick glance at the menu sees Mr Takashima’s sentiments reiterated clearly; a mixture of French words and Japanese characters, escargot and mussel au vin blanc are just a page-turn away from fried tofu and yakitori. At first glance, these foods may seem worlds apart, but, brought together under the same heading and enjoyed in a setting of this kind, the combination works.

Crunchy vegetable fritters

Crunchy vegetable fritters

Dishes are reasonably priced and prepared quickly by experienced chefs who are clearly passionate about their food, and, with portions on the smaller side, the temptation to sample everything on the menu is incredible, making Bistro Hutch an ideal location to while away a few hours with friends.

During our visit, we started off light with baked shrimp in garlic and olive oil and a couple of sticks of homemade tsukune before quickly calling out for a side of French bread to soak up the left-over sauce and settling in with a couple of dark Coedo beers, which are from Saitama prefecture.

Our furnaces well and truly stoked, we ventured on to tempura-style vegetable fritters with a delicate sprinkle of cheese and pink wine-salt, followed by deliciously tender strips of beef steak with French-fried potatoes and homemade spiced butter, and would have quite happily continued ordering had it not been a ‘school night’ and clearly time to go home.

On the restaurant’s front deck, I fired off my last couple of questions to Mr Takashima. Half hoping to catch him off guard, I asked him to sum up his restaurant for potential customers in as few words as possible. As if he’d been asked this a hundred times, he answered in a flash, counting off on his fingers: “Bistro and charcoal grill fusion; fun; Hutch.”

“Why did you go with Hutch, anyway?” I added. He shrugged, smiled and nodded at the shop. “First word that popped into my head when I saw this little place – it just kind of fit.”

Now that I think about it, he might be right.

Bistro Hutch is open every day from 5 p.m. until 3 a.m.

Beer from ¥350, wine from ¥300, entrées from ¥250 and main dishes ¥950-1500

Address: 2-17-3 Kichijōji Honchō, Musashino-shi, Tokyo 180-0004

Tel: 0422-27-1163

Photos by Philip Kendall