It’s 8:30 p.m. on a Tuesday in Japan’s food-obsessed third city and I’m standing outside an empty Louis Vuitton store, gesturing at a security guard inside to let me in. First, he shakes his head and crosses his arms. Then his face softens into a revelatory ah! He whispers into his earpiece, slips out the door to guide me around the corner, and taps his white-gloved hand on a plain metallic entrance. “Fourth floor, please,” are his only words before vanishing.
It’s a fittingly discreet introduction to the French fashion house’s latest and most exclusive venture: Louis Vuitton’s first restaurant and café, located within the just-opened Maison Osaka Midosuji, the brand’s billowing, sail-shaped Osaka flagship. I enter the now empty Le Café V (daytime shoppers put their name down and wait for a call for the chance to try the already-lauded lunchtime Wagyu hamburgers) but am immediately whisked through the space to a wall installation of Vuitton luggage piled high, which slides open to reveal restaurant Sugalabo V. Stepping inside is a bit like climbing into a Vuitton suitcase: The intimate space is lined in dark wood, with brick-patterned trompe l’oeil floors; colorful bursts of yellow, blue, red, and orange chairs; and artwork by titans like James Turrell and Tracey Emin.
Though Osaka gets less attention than its glam big sister Tokyo, it has been having a moment, thanks to a culinary scene where the street food is as remarkable as the plentiful Michelin-starred fine dining. The city is also a major commercial gateway to Asia and a mecca for high-spending shoppers—many of whom make an instant beeline for the wide flagship-lined boulevard Midosuji, where the store opened in late January—making it an ideal location for this surprising opening.
Chef Yosuke Suga, a former Joël Robuchon protégé whose Tokyo restaurant Sugalabo is impossibly hard to get into (and find), is in charge of the menu and setup. He’s known for plates that bring a Japanese twist to European flavors, delivered out of an open-plan kitchen by staff sharply dressed in custom Louis Vuitton. I am seated at the counter, next to a couple from Macau who appear to be as into each other as they are the food. Silver LV chopstick rests and nap-kin holders depicting the house’s flower-faced mascot Vivienne keep the branding front and center. Highlights include slivers of Parma ham laid over sushi-like mounds of rice, which diners are directed to eat with their hands. At one point a chef ceremoniously opens a monogrammed flower trunk, revealing black truffles, which he shaves over miniature croque-monsieur. Lobster is served as a sweet curry with slow-roasted Osaka cauliflower and lemongrass.
A baking tray of tiny madeleines and herb tea arrives, and the restaurant experience switches into a sort of private party as guests stand and mingle. The crowd includes some of Suga’s fans from Tokyo (he refers to them as members) and the most esteemed of Louis Vuitton’s global customers (there are whispers that one early visitor was Champagne guru Olivier Krug). It’s this access, on the other side of a secret door on a street flanked with fashion flagships, that makes this restaurant one of the world’s most coveted tickets—if you can persuade security to let you in.
Before and after dinner
The ornate Namba Shrine is a rare spot of quiet on busy Midosuji, with its elegant torii gates and gnarled centuries-old camphor tree.
Make your own woodblock print at the tiny Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum, which feels more like a house and contains historic artworks, plus workshops on the top floor.
Take a night stroll along atmospheric Hozenji Yokocho, a lane lit by stone lanterns and lined with small bars and restaurants, with a rare time warp atmosphere. Stop at the petite temple and make a wish while splashing water over the moss-covered statue.
This article appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.
Sources from: Condé Nast Traveler