The small ivy covered building that houses Pain au Levain sits just far enough off the main roads of eastern Kumamoto that you would think the crowds might overlook it. Yet the sizable parking lot is constantly full and, after months of passing by without ever stopping, I decided to see what the fuss was about.
Pain au Levain technically translates from the French for "sourdough bread", although that isn't the only thing on the menu here. The wheat-based selection is fairly extensive and covers three sides of the large airy building. All of the usual suspects can be found - like the popular anpan and melonpan - as well as croissants and flakier pastries that you might discover in a typical European bakery. On the shelf closest to the door, the staff lays out the top selling pastries of the current month. Being April, one of them featured a sakura (cherry blossom) filling.
Both sweet and savory tastes are catered to and my choice actually ended up being a tasty-looking onion bread. Though I selected it to go, the staff offered to slice it up for me before repackaging it. I later discovered that the center also boasted thin slices of ham and some delicate melted cheese.
Should you be so inclined, there is a back area to the bakery that allows you to sit down and eat your chosen pastries on the spot. Pain au Levain also offers small lunch sets, mostly featuring a main plate and sides of vegetables, accompanied by the obligatory - but delicious - basket of bread. They are also available for catering services and their food trays include sandwiches (on fresh baked bread), wraps and a small selection of fruit. You can even order a tray in advance for a small group, such as a gang of friends going on a picnic. A typical "sandwich set" for 5 people costs ¥3300. Forms are available in the store for catering orders.
Pain au Levain can be found just a short hop from the Mashiki Kumamoto Kuko (Kumamoto Airport) exit of the Kyushu Expressway. Once you exit the expressway, turn north on Rt 232 (at the intersection with HalloDay) and continue on this road for about 5 minutes. Pain au Levain will be on a curve on your left, before the intersection with Rt 228.
Weekdays: 8:00 - 19:00
Weekends: 7:30 - 19:00