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Marumo Kitchen: Bowls with soul

In the DNA of almost every Japanese building there is a gene for “renewal.” And so it was inevitable that Porta, the underground mall at Kyoto Station, would close earlier this year for a revamp. When it reopened it was out with the old and in with the new — and yet another Starbucks. Among the new tenants is Marumo Kitchen, a Tokyo blow-in; after Shinjuku and Toshima, Kyoto Station is Marumo’s third outpost.

Marumo styles itself as a Japanese “bowl cafe” serving Japanese “soul food.” It’s definitely a bowl cafe: The teishoku (lunch sets) include bibimbap, doria, donburi, om-rice — standard and simple. The bowls are big enough to wash a newborn baby in. Marumo also has a thing for cups and filling them with desserts.

On a recent lunchtime visit, Marumo was packed with the usual mix of commuters, shoppers, tourists and ladies who lunch. It’s loud, full of the chattering classes, and it makes a change from so many quite and studious establishments. The waiting time was a bit of stretch: more than 15 minutes. I waited leisurely, but a table of middle-aged women were not so patient. I had a bibimbap-like lunch set: runny egg, beansprouts, aubergine and pork, along with a side salad (lettuce only) and miso soup. This was a pleasant and satisfying lunch, and Marumo is a welcome addition to Porta 2.0.

Porta, Kyoto Station, 902 Higashi Shiokoji-cho, Shiokoji-sagaru, Karasuma-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto; 075-746-5696; www.marumo-kitchen.com; open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (lunch till 3 p.m.); nearest station Kyoto; no smoking; lunch around ¥1,000; no English menu; no English spoken.