Whenever I feel the chill in the crisp autumn breeze, I hear a calling from this little restaurant to come eat its food to warm up. Branch is a little French Country Bistro in a nostalgic Tokyo neighborhood, Yutenji. Branch and Yutenji’s relaxed atmosphere are a perfect match, and I almost always forget the time while I’m there. However, it is always packed with local moms, children, grandmas, and grandpas all savoring lunch made by Chef Naomi Saeki. Dressed in her overalls and knit hat, and often humming while cooking, she has the warmth of a mother that makes you feel at home right away. Herself a mother of two, she puts a lot of love in the food that she cooks, and whenever I feel unwell, her food really helps me to get back on my feet.
One of my favorite menus is the pumpkin soup. Naomi always wants to serve the best ingredients in season, so the pumpkin soup usually hits the menu in October. Naomi started as a young chef at a French restaurant in Ginza, but she always wanted to travel to Europe and see for herself what kind of food was there to explore. As soon as she made enough money, she went to England, and from there she traveled around all of Europe – Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Morocco- all in the search of delicious food. Once she made it to Morocco, she realized she couldn’t forget the taste of the French cuisine she tasted in the French countryside, especially Basque, Alsace, and Provence. For several years she worked as a chef at a famous hotel in Tokyo, but with two small children she felt she wanted to look for different opportunities where she could balance work and being a mother. That’s when a friend of hers who was also a chef was opening a branch of his restaurant in Yutenji. (That’s why the name of the restaurant is Branch, by the way) She knew this was her calling and immediately agreed to become the chef at this small French Country Bistro. The opening hours are from 10:00-17:00, during school hours so she can drop off and pick up her children. As mothers, we talk about our children, and she gives great tips on recipes children like.
The restaurant also has various creators’ products, like hats, aprons, and bags, so it’s also a hub for creators around the area. It’s always fun to talk to the creators about their work directly over lunch.
If you get a little tired from all the sightseeing and the hustle-and-bustle, this is a great recommendation to fill your stomach and your soul in a slow local neighborhood.