Café Cent Trente Neuf: Shibuya’s Cozy French Kitchen
Often when I'm in Shibuya, I find myself looking for somewhere to get away from all the crowds, so it's always a pleasure to discover a great new café or restaurant that's slightly removed from the busiest areas. Café Cent Trente Neuf is one such establishment—a small, cozy place in a location that you might not necessarily venture into if you're out and about in Shibuya's shopping districts.
Cent Trente Neuf, meaning thirty-nine in French, has been a favorite of local diners since it opened in 2007. According to its staff, the number refers to the location of Tokyo at 35 degrees 41 minutes north latitude and 139 degrees 46 minutes east longitude. I can only assume that the owner is quite a geography fan!
Tucked away next to the Mont Bell store and only a stone’s throw from Tokyu Hands, its menu, service and atmosphere are a reflection of a simple French dining experience. The building may seem a little old and run down, but that only adds to its character. An assortment of wooden furniture, ornaments, leather sofas, a cake cabinet, warm dim lighting, and photos on the wall give the space an authentically European feel. The waiters and waitresses, in black and white uniforms, are friendly and welcoming, while the menu comprises traditional ingredients in unique but uncomplicated combinations. It’s a place that’s easy to gloss over but offers a warm respite from the nearby shopping areas with delicious food and drink to boot. Accompanied by one of the café’s teas or coffees, it’s enchanting to sit back in the dark wooden chairs or leather sofas and relax for a while. The only downside is smoking—this is still quite mainstream in Japan and you may encounter it here.
The lunch menu, which changes weekly, is ¥1,000, and customers can choose one main dish from a choice of meat, pasta, quiche, salad, curry or soup. Depending on what you choose, the main dish includes two slices of French bread, a side salad and choice of tea, coffee, espresso, a glass of wine, orange juice, grapefruit juice, or apple juice. Desserts (affogato, profiterole or strawberry sherbet) are available for an extra ¥250 to ¥300 and soup for an extra ¥140. Given the reasonable ¥1,000 price, there are quite a lot of choices.
The list of lunch specials is written on a chalkboard outside the main entrance, and can be ordered from 11:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you’re after something healthy, you can’t go wrong with the Niçoise salad. With grated carrot, boiled eggs, anchovies, tuna, lettuce, potato and tomato, it’s a tasty combination of ingredients lightly drizzled with a vinegar dressing and sprinkled with black pepper. In fact, the dressing was so tasty that, after devouring the salad, I sponged the plate dry with the French bread.
That same week I also ordered the meat lunch of grilled pork with lentils and rocket leaves and a touch of Dijon mustard. This came with a basic side salad of lettuce and sweet corn topped with a vinaigrette dressing, and a rich creamy pumpkin soup with a hint of salt and a subtle taste. Warm and comforting, the soup would have been perfect on a cold, rainy day. The main course was artfully arranged and just as satisfying—the lentils had a strong distinctive flavor and had been mixed and blended with a range of herbs. The pork was fresh and lightly grilled, perfectly complementing the mild Dijon mustard and herb-infused lentils, while the small handful of rocket leaves added a slight sophisticated touch.
The portions of each dish left me satisfied but not overstuffed. Nevertheless I was unable to resist the offering of the café’s dessert à la maison (house dessert). Complemented with a black coffee for a total of ¥420, this simple custard pudding topped with sweet syrup was the perfect finale to a satisfying meal.
Address: 11-2 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Open: Daily, 11:45 a.m.–12 a.m. (last order for food is at 10:30 p.m., and for drinks at 11:30 p.m.)