Since its opening this past May, I probably first noticed eskapi south of 仏光寺Bukkoji this past summer while walking to work from the 河原町四条Kawaramachi Shijo area (it’s very close to NU-VO) by ways of 柳馬場通Yanaginobanba Street; if it weren’t for the signs along the road, I would have totally missed it being nestled in close to the entrance of an apartment…the signs indicate that the café serves an ethnic array of fusion cuisine as well as coffee and sweets. I made a mental note to go there sometime but as is my habit, I always forget and am reminded when I pass it again. Finally yesterday after getting off work and wracking my brain for the perfect place to grab dinner and kill time before meeting Mason to go home together., I remembered eskapi. I was afraid of it being closed because cafes tend to close early but it was still open to my relief (first collage, top left picture).
There are two entrances to the café and the front one indicated for customers to use the other door. I walked into an empty but warm and charming atmosphere, simple with a few eye-catching decorative items and a mostly gray color scheme with the occasional splash of bright pastel color. There was only one worker, the young female owner, who greeted me upon entering.
I chose the two-seater out of the three furthest away from the kitchen so that I could have a good view of the place which included the front and kitchen (first collage, middle left picture)…beyond the kitchen is another purple-walled area for one party of two accessible by the front entrance(first collage, middle right picture), the length of the longest wall (first collage, top right picture) and the cute wall display next to me (first collage, bottom left picture).
After poring through the menu with the assistance of the owner, I chose the Cコースcourse, ￥2100, with カオマンガイ・ドードkhao man gai tod (chicken with rice)…ordering a drink is required with the meal, so I ordered ジャスミンティーjasmine tea, ￥500 (first collage, bottom right picture). The course also comes with dessert; I chose the ショコラ・ド・ショコラchocolat de chocolat, a very rich and creamy chocolate cake that was more like ganache than cake (first collage, bottom center picture).
The whole meal was fantastic, just what I had hoped for! The fried chicken was made to my liking (as well as that of the owner), crispy and flavorful with very light breading and just heavenly with the sweet chili sauce; having been boiled in chicken broth, the jasmine rice was the perfect accompaniment, even great alone. If I hadn’t been in a hurry, I would have had a cup of the drip-brew coffee that the café offers with my cake.
While I ate, I chatted with the owner, Eriko-san, who is originally from 兵庫県Hyogo Prefecture but has lived in Kyoto since university…she was going through hard times at her previous job when she had a dream one night of receiving healing in the most ideal café; she quit her job and started eskapi (which means “escape” in Esperanto), the café that she saw in her dreams and wanted to make into reality…premonition? It all sounded so fantastical to me. She likes to travel and the food that she comes across in her travels, such as to Morocco, Thailand, etc. are often included in the menu as well as anecdotes of her travels; her next destination is Vietnam. Due to her travels, she can probably speak a bit of English although we conversed in Japanese. ☺
We also talked about cafes and restaurants in Kyoto; we knew of the same ones (like kátte and ELEPHANT FACTORY COFFEE) as well as suggesting ones that the other didn’t know about. She hasn’t advertised the opening of the café much in hopes that more customers will come by word of mouth…I’m going to be one of those mouths although I have the urge to keep such a precious hiding place a secret just for myself. ☺
With the weather having cooled down and winter not too far away, I think I’ve found the perfect place (especially with it being about five minutes by foot from work) to hole up in when I’m in the mood for some café time or some exotic food. I think that anyone will feel as calm as Eriko-san did in her dream here.
Update: Over three months after my last visit, during which I made it to eskapi a couple of times only to find it unexpectedly closed, I made it over to eskapi after work to grab dinner before heading home, and catch up with Eriko-san, too, if she wasn’t too busy; she was alone when I entered and greeted me in her sweet, gentle way. I chose the same seat that I did last time and after going through the menu with Eriko-san (there had been some changes made since the last time that I went), she let me have a main dish and dessert for the C-course which is ￥200 more and now consists of two 前菜zensai, or appetizers, and dessert, plus a drink…the drink that I wanted was coffee which is not one of the options for the course drink but I was okay with paying separately for it since I’d been meaning to try it since my first visit to the café. Ryo, (we were both regulars at 969★ Café when it was in business) and the owner of huku cafe, both to whom I recommended eskapi, had raved about the more intense-flavored coffee of the two types that Eriko-san offers, so it made me even more determined to have it.
I chose 鶏肉と野菜のクスクスtori-niku to yasai no kusukusu (chicken & vegetable couscous) for my main dish (first collage, center top picture)…Eriko-san advised me to pour the flavorful vegetable-filled broth little by little over the couscous as I ate. It was delicious with the flavor gentle but firm. I was sad when it came to an end, until I had my first bite of ムスンメンmsemmen, a flaky Moroccan crêpe that was served with fig jam and honey, which was just heaven with its crispy outside and chewy inside and the all-over buttery taste that was accented well with the jam and honey. And my どっしりタイプ珈琲dosshiri taipu kohhii (“dense” type coffee), ￥500, made from GARUDA COFFEE’s original blend, クロガルーダkuro (black) GARUDA, which is described as 男前otoko-mae (manly), was aromatically flavorful; although I drank it before it cooled down too much, I bet it would have been good even cold (first collage, center bottom picture).
The number of regulars for eskapi is slowly but surely growing; it’s just as popular with the male customers as with female ones despite the interior which seems more likely to attract women. eskapi has been found recently under the ethnic section (the café serves Moroccan, Thai, French and Chinese dishes at the moment) for new eating establishments in the March 2014 Leaf as well as in the March 2014 SAVVY, magazines that often cover places in Kyoto.
Eriko-san did end up going to Vietnam over the holidays to get ideas for a Vietnamese addition to the menu; at the moment she’s working on a good bánh mì sandwich…I can’t wait to try it! Before I left, she gave me some artichoke tea (ooh, can’t wait to see how that tastes) and jasmine tea that she got in Vietnam; I was so touched that she thought of me as a regular although it had only been my second time there! Well, now I’m just going to have to go more often.☺
Update: After going to 東山花灯路Higashiyama Hanatouro, I took a tired Rika (we had walked for two hours straight) to eskapi to have dessert and drinks, a month and a half after I went there last. Although I knew that there was no café time at this time of night, I decided to ask Eriko-san anyway…to my delight, she said it was okay, if we sat in the small area at the front. It was my first time to sit in this area; the view of the kitchen is very different from the other side (second collage, top middle picture). It’s the perfect size for two people but if everyone cooperated, probably four people could sit (although quite closely) in this area. The whole time we were there, Rika kept raving about how cute the interior is.
The menu had changed a bit, for one the chocolat de chocolat that I was thinking of having was no longer available. Rika finally chose the ガトーバスクgâteau Basque, ￥600, and ゆず茶yuzu cha (yuzu tea), ￥500, while I got the 遊園(タンユエン)tan yuan (boiled rice-flour dumplings with sweet black-sesame filling), ￥500, and いちごソーダichigo sohda (strawberry soda), ￥600…I like how the homemade soda came in a bottle for me to pour myself (second collage, bottom middle picture).
French and Japanese, Chinese and Western, so many different combinations of food and drinks to be had at eskapi.☺
Rika let me have a piece of her cake and I gave her one of my dumplings; we both agreed that we made good choices. It was first time having gâteau Basque which tasted like pound cake and cheesecake in one; I usually don’t like cakes that taste of alcohol but this cake was very easy to eat and deliciously rich. I had hoped to have some Japanese sweets before going home but we couldn’t find a good place, so I was a bit disappointed; however, the combination of a soft yet chewy outside and grainy yet sweetly rich filling made me forget my craving for Japanese sweets…I’m definitely going to have this again.
While going to the restroom, I noticed ハニーバターケーキhoney-butter cake, ￥210 (second collage, bottom left picture), available on the counter in the other dining area to be purchased to take home (Eriko-san makes them when she has time); of course I had to buy one.☺
I had later at night; it was similar to a financier in texture but softer than the type of financiers I like…perfectly sweet and rich, it was gone in no time.
I got to talk a bit to Eriko-san between her work although there were customers besides Rika and me. It appears that eskapi will be going through some changes starting from April: there will be no lunch service on the weekdays but along with dinner service from 6:00-10:00pm in the larger dining area, there will also be a 夜のカフェyoru no kafe (night café) which will go by the name “Luno” (Esperanto for “moon”) in the very room that Rika and I sat (the purple and darker coloring fits the purpose so well)…on the weekends, lunch service will be available from 12:00-2:00pm and dinner and night café will start at 6:00 until 10:00…of course the café’s website and Facebook and Twitter pages will go through changes, too. I’m looking forward to how these changes will affect the café.☺
Update: A month later I finally went to Luno…I got there five minutes before they opened but Eriko-san who was outside watering plants allowed me in. The door to Luno is really charming with a gold hand that holds the simply cute sign and a door handle in the shape of a gecko (second collage, top left picture). Upon entering I checked the place out, the seat by the door (second collage, middle left picture) before sitting at the left side of the counter (second collage, center picture).
I came with the intention of getting bàhn mì and ended up ordering シウマイバインミーsiu mai bàhn mì, or tomato-stewed pork-meatball sandwich, ￥900, which came with fries. The homemade bread was crusty yet soft and a bit chewy, the kind of bread I love; the ingredients (vinegared shredded-carrot and -radish, coriander and meatballs), each with its own unique taste, went harmoniously together with the bread…I can see myself craving this again. The fries were crispy and perfectly seasoned.
After my meal I had the gâteau Basque and ホットカフェオレhot café au lait, ￥600. The gâteau Basque was as delightful as I remembered it and the café au lait was gentle in flavor and just the drink to unwind after a day at work…of course the intimate atmosphere of Luno helped in that, too.☺
I recently found out that eskapi + Luno is the sister establishment for jajouka, a Moroccan/French restaurant not too far on the same street…how did I miss this?
Update: About two months after my last visit, I decided to have dinner at eskapi after work before heading home. I got there five minutes before it opened, so I didn’t have to wait long to be served.
Recently I’ve been seeing eskapi’s enticing Moroccan dish, 鶏肉とフライドポテトのタジンtori-niku to Furai-poteto no tajin (chicken & French-fry tajine) often on Facebook, so I decided it was high time to try it with the ￥2200 コースcourse which includes a main dish and dessert.
My スイカソーダsuika sohda (watermelon soda), ￥700, arrived before my meal…cute (a different presentation compared to that of my strawberry soda before) and refreshingly tasty.
It took some time for my tajine to come but it was well worth the wonderfully flavored dish of yumminess that I experienced. The chicken leg was a substantial size and generously topped with perfectly prepared French fries, how could that not be good?
For dessert, I chose the Vietnamese バインフランbáhn flan. Rich (made with condensed milk and doused in coffee-based caramel) and delicious, I ate slowly to make it last as long as possible…it was Eriko-san’s recommendation after the tajine.
I also got to meet Riri, Eriko-san’s new white pet sparrow and eskapi-luno’s new mascot…very well-behaved and another reason to stop by eskapi-luno more often. After paying, Eriko-san gave me a sweet from Taiwan, her most recent trip…I’m always touched by her little gifts.☺
Update: Over a month later, Maki’s belated birthday lunch was held at eskapi according to Maki’s request…although eskapi isn’t open for lunch on weekdays, Eriko-san especially opened for us. Maki had already checked out the lunch menu and was waiting when I arrived hot and sweaty.
We both had the A lunch course, ￥1500, which included タブレtaboulé (second collage, top right picture), ピカルディ風グラタンPikarudi-fuu guratan (Picardie-style gratin), 自家製パンjikasei pan (homemade bread) (second collage, middle right picture) and dessert (gâteau Basque)…we each got a beautifully handwritten message.☺ (bottom right picture)
The bird was made of the same dough for snowball cookies (maybe Riri-chan was the model☺). Apart from the course, we also had a soda each (Maki strawberry, me あんずanzu (apricot)). We were both impressed with Eriko-san’s thoughtfulness as well as the wonderful presentation of all the food that we had…needless to say, we were very satisfied with the quality of eskapi’s menu. Another hooked customer.☺
Update: Over three months later when I found out I didn’t have to work the next day, I decided to have dinner at eskapi since it had been a while. When I arrived, there was a party of three; I took the only two-seater left.
Since I hadn’t had the khao man gai tod in a while, I had that for the main dish of my C コースcourse, ￥2100, for hitori-samas. For dessert I had クリームチーズのブランマンジェcream-cheese blanc manger topped with berry sauce as well as the dense-type coffee. The chicken and rice were as scrumptious as I remembered them and to be able to end my meal with such a delectable dessert was such a treat. With a rich cream-cheese flavor, the blanc mangé was smooth and subtly sweet, complemented perfectly by the sweet & sour berry sauce…I can’t believe I didn’t order this sooner!
Although Eriko-san was busy most of the time I was there, I got to chat a bit with her while she cleared my table before dessert. As always, it was a great hitori-sama experience at eskapi.
Update: I’m sad to announce that eskapi + Luno closed their doors as of May 26, 2015; although I wasn’t able to make a dinner reservation that day, I was fortunate enough to have my last Luno experience when I dropped by to thank Eriko-san for the last two years. Eriko-san has plans to open another café in another part of town, maybe as early as next year if she can find the perfect place soon, with a different name and dining concept, so although it was goodbye for eskapi + Luno, I look forward to the day when Eriko-san will work her culinary magic to make people happy just as she did so with eskapi + Luno☺…for updates on that, please stay tuned to the Facebook pages below.
Update: As of mid-March 2016, Eriko-san’s new café started…for more information, please go to my blog post on ひのとhinoto.☺
Address: 京都府京都市下京区柳馬場通仏光寺下ル万里小路町163 エトワール四条1F Kyoto-fu. Kyoto-shi. Shimokyo-ku. Yanaginobanba-dori. Bukkoji-sagaru. Manrikoji-cho. Etoile Shijo 1F
Telephone number: 075-344-3387
Access: 地下鉄烏丸線四条駅から445m from Subway Karasuma Line Shijo Station or 地下鉄烏丸線五条駅の1番出口から徒歩約15分15 minutes by foot from Subway Karasuma Line Gojo Station…no parking available
Business hours: dinner course & night café- 6:00-10:00pm, lunch & café time- 12:00-2:00 (only Saturday & Sunday)
Café Holiday: irregular
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/eskapi/157907774369592