During one of my many visits to ひだまりHidamari, Michiyo-san and I would talk about various subjects between the machiya cafe’s busy moments as well as once the café closed for the day. In all my café visits, I’ve discovered that café/restaurant owners can be divided into two categories: those who like to café-hop as much as me and to be inspired in those discoveries and those who aren’t interested in dining out as if running a café or restaurant is more than enough…Michiyo-san happens to fall into the latter group. However, when she is compelled to eat out, she often goes to a 喫茶店kissaten on 千本通Senbon Street south of 中立売Nakadachiuri called 喫茶 憩Kissa Ikoi, on the second floor of a building, above the リカーマウンテンLiquor Mountain (I’m sure that you can guess what this store sells). Big red characters on the windows that represent the name of the establishment and which are strategically placed on the windows that make up its front remind me more of a Chinese restaurant than a Japanese-style coffee shop; the ambience is definitely 昭和Showa.
After closing up for the day and getting ready for the next day of business, Michiyo-san would normally make it to Kissa Ikoi after 7:00pm. She says that the place is pretty popular among men who like hearty meals and college students on a budget due to the substantial meals at very reasonable prices. However, because the owner, a reserved older man (Michiyo-san says that he’s in his 60’s) with an aura that is in my opinion a peculiar mix of “intimidating” and “adorable”, runs the place alone, the orders take a long time in coming depending on how busy the place is; Michiyo-san says that she’s even waited two hours for a meal before! The regular customers are used to such circumstances and settle in to wait with a book or some other form of entertainment and if they have little time, they leave without hard feelings to come back another time. Sometimes the owner runs out of ingredients and have to rush to the supermarket close; in those brief moments the regulars inform arriving customers of the situation and take payment from departing customers. During lulls the owner can be seen relaxing near the front parked at a table by the TV. Upon hearing such accounts of her visits, I became more and more intrigued and voiced wanting to experience it myself someday upon which she offered to go with me when we both had time.
That time came in early June 2015 when I was still in the middle of conversation with Michiyo-san after Hidamari had closed for the day; since we both wanted to talk more and needed dinner, I suggested that it was time for me to go to Kissa Ikoi. Knowing that I like cute and clean establishments, Michiyo-san was a bit surprised that I was still interested in going but agreed when she realized that I was serious.
I walked on ahead (at most a ten-minute walk) while she took care of a few things and caught up to me on bike. After getting her bike parked, we took the steps up to the kissaten.
After entering through the door which was propped open when we arrived, I took a quick look around while we decided on a table in the middle along the glossy brick-red wall lined with books, a lot of them comics. The interior is open and spacious, probably due to the high ceilings and one wall of windows which were open to let in warm (close to hot) June evening air. The lighting was bright but still dark enough to create a cozy, homey atmosphere. The tables are typical of traditional Japanese coffee shops and the comfy chairs are cushioned and upholstered in leather, worn down just right to entice one to sit for a good while. Smoking is allowed but luckily we were subjected to very little for the time there.
On my way to the restroom I looked at the kitchen from the corner of my eye: it was very used and probably a little suspicious as far as cleanliness was concerned but I tried not to think too much on it (I trust the Japanese, they’re generally serious about keeping with laws and rules). Immersed in his cooking, the owner looked pretty happy, as if he was in his element.
the view of the windowed side closest to the entrance from my seat
the other side with the kitchen and restroom behind the glass-paneled wall
the seats next to ours on the side of the kitchen and restroom
Although there were a couple of male customers as I’d expected (sitting on the same side of the kissaten as us), there were also a lone young female customer and a group of older Kyoto women who were having some pretty desserts while chatting. I feel bad for stereotyping people by looks but the owner seems like he would be better at whipping up some good old Chinese fare than sweet desserts over which women go crazy.😅
Michiyo-san often gets the 日替わり定食higawari teishoku (daily meal), which is only ￥650! This day, the main dish was とんかつtonkatsu (pork cutlet) with sides of ナポリタンNapolitan spaghetti, potato salad, salad, miso soup, rice, 漬け物tsukemono (Japanese pickles) and たくあんtakuan (pickled radish), in my opinion the epitome of a good old-fashioned Japanese meal.
If there is pilaf on the restaurant menu and it’s my first time at said restaurant, there’s a good chance that I’ll go with it; I’m pretty much always in the mood for pilaf because, not only is it likely to be delicious, it’s easy to eat and filling, too. And it doesn’t get any better than the エビピラフebi (shrimp) pilaf, ￥550, which comes with a bit of 福神漬けfukujinzuke (adding sweet-and-salty-flavor and crunchy-texture pleasure to each bite) and a side of salad at Kissa Ikoi.
(To my dismay, haha!) Our order was in front of us within a half-hour and my アイス紅茶, ￥150, (typical refreshing flavor) was brought to me right after ordering. After decades of business, I noticed that the owner had a good rhythm down in attending to all the customers solo; Michiyo-san has rarely seen him lose his cool, even with a full house, although according to her it’s kind of funny (I can’t help laughing at an image of him screaming in high-pitched panic😂). He rang us up on our way out at which point I made sure to mention that I had enjoyed the food to which he awarded me a very charming smile and a clear “thank you”. I have to come back to try some of his lovely desserts sometime.☺