“I also highly recommend the strawberries-and-white-chocolate mousse. The strawberry compote filling will melt in your mouth as the genoise soaked in lime syrup sings in perfect harmony with the milky flavour of the white chocolate mousse.”
What a joy! What a delight! What a treat! Like the cakes and pastries it depicts, Antique Bakery is so exquisite that it’s tempting to swallow it all in one go, but with enough layers that it’s worth lingering over, to savour the interplay of different elements and the way minor details later prove to be essential. It’s clear that it’s been crafted with care and loving attention, and the skill of an artist at the peak of her career.
Set in and around a pâtisserie-café that opens late and features antique silver cutlery as well as an immensely skilled pastry chef, Antique Bakery comes across at first as an episodic, slice-of-life series; as with the bookshop in Kingyo Used Books, the bakery seems to be less the setting for an ongoing tale and more a focal point where a diverse cast of minor characters can have epiphanies and bond over delicious cakes. But there’s more going on than is immediately obvious; some of the minor characters turn out to be not so minor after all, and the bakery’s owner, Tachibana, proves to have a darkness in his past that he’s still struggling with. The other major characters, head pastry chef Ono, the “gay of demonic charm” who seduces every man he’s attracted to whether he wants to or not, and his assistant Kanda, the former boxer and juvenile delinquent, are likewise more complex than they appear to be at first, and when Tachibana’s childhood friend Chikage joins the cast in volume 2, he adds an extra vital ingredient to the mix.
Antique Bakery is a comedy with enough dark notes that it often seems on the verge of becoming tragic, though it never crosses that line; and it’s a mouthwatering drama about sweet foods which should make anyone with a sweet tooth very, very hungry; but above all, it’s a study of character. Yoshinaga’s characters are solid, three-dimensional people, with the capacity to reveal hidden depths and move in unexpected directions. They are none of them saints, which makes the warmth and affection exuding from every page all the more satisfying; their concern for each other is sincere and deeply-felt, even if they’re not all very good at expressing it.
Yoshinaga’s exceptional facility with facial expressions and her open, leisurely layouts serve her well here, marrying with her gorgeous writing to make page after page of people talking about cakes into a gripping and un-put-downable story. It’s been much praised, and it deserves the hype: Antique Bakery is a genuine treasure.