mano a mano is a restaurant and café with a stylish black exterior with a vivid red flag announcing its name a street west of 烏丸通Karasuma Street in a roji off of 高辻通Takatsuji Street, one of those places for which one has to go searching or just happen upon like a pleasant surprise. There are homes all around making the area a fairly quiet environment.
There are two dining spaces; upon entering in late April of this year, I was shown to the back of the restaurant (by going through the front dining area) which used to be a 蔵kura (storehouse). I chose the seat in the back next to the window to the small garden.
The all-female staff serve original dishes that are always changing, so that the customer is tempted to come back to try something new. Also, the portions are substantial so that everyone goes away with a full stomach. The 高菜とちりめんじゃこのチャーハンtakana to chirimenjako no chaahan (mustard greens and dried young sardines fried rice), ￥850, appealed to me the most that day.
I’ve liked food with takana in it since coming to Japan, so I knew that I would love what I ordered. It was a very filling and healthy meal with miso soup, salad and a side of ひじきhijiki (black seaweed).
For ￥500 I got a petit プリンオーショコラpurin oo shokora (pudding au chocolat) with アイスコーヒーaisu koohii (iced coffee), perfect for finishing off a pretty big meal. The cake was moist and rich and the coffee was refreshing; I couldn’t have been happier.
I was the only one there for some time before employees of companies along Karasuma dropped in for lunch; until then I was able to relax and read a magazine and cool off from the surprisingly hot spring day before going into work which is close by.
Update: Almost two years later before going into work, I went to mano a mano when I found HACOBU KITCHEN to be closed due to renovation. The space in the back was closed probably due to there being few customers, so I chose the two-seater table furthest back. There was only one female staff member, probably the owner; a small boy, probably her son on spring vacation, was at the counter seating keeping himself busy while helping his mom when he was allowed.
I guess my mind was already made up from reading the menu outside, so after briefly looking over the menus that I was brought, I ordered the 焼肉定食yakiniku teishoku (grilled beef meal), ￥1100, which came with miso soup, rice, salad and a stewed fried-tofu dish.
The meal was filling and tasty enough but to tell you the truth I was a little disappointed because for the price the quality didn’t seem to be much different from what I could get at a general chain restaurant like すき家Sukiya or 吉野家Yoshinoya. Also, the normally relaxing atmosphere was broken up by the constant coughing of the staff (halfway through my meal, a male staff member, maybe the owner’s husband, joined and took charge of preparing coffee), even their son, and half the customers (several hitori-samas ventured in after I arrived) and I started getting a little wary about being cooped up in this closed environment, so I left as soon as I finished my meal.
Since I had a good impression of mano a mano when I first came, I’m not ready to write the place off yet. Maybe it was because I was hot and irritated from having to walk around more than expected from not checking if HACOBU KITCHEN was open or not and definitely everyone at that café, especially the staff, was not faring well in health so they weren’t on top maintaining the café (I wiped my table myself when my hand touched a sticky spot)…let’s just say it was just a bad day for us all. I’ll be back to try something else (good thing it’s close to work).