Food & Drink | KYOTO RESTAURANTS

Cafe Antique: A modern take on the best of classic kissaten

by J.J. O'Donoghue

If you’re heading on foot from Kyoto Station to Toji Temple with its iconic five-story pagoda, the most direct route is to head west on Hachijo-dori until you come to the north gate. At this point I suggest delaying your temple visit and venturing another 20 meters down the road to Cafe Antique, a bijou cafe bathed in white decor and minimally decorated.

Like most independent cafes and kissaten (Japanese coffee shops) it’s a labor of love — and sometimes solitude — for owner and chef Tatsuya Iwasaki. That wee bit of extra distance from the north gate pushes Antique just off the beaten track so that it’s rarely very busy. But there are a few reasons to continue your journey west.

First, Iwasaki prefers to give customers a glass of warm water that’s between tepid and hot. For some reason, possibly because nowhere else I know does this, it’s refreshing (and warming). Also, the breakfast set, while it acknowledges its kissaten antecedent — usually buttered toast, a hardboiled egg and a beverage — it’s not bound by dogma. Instead Iwasaki serves thin slices of lightly buttered toast, minus the egg, but with an uplifting seasonal salad: burdock root, kumquats, cherry tomatoes, Chinese radish and spinach leaves dressed in a zingy vinaigrette.

The lunchtime menu is a nod to kissaten classics: hamburger, curry rice and hayashi rice, but Iwasaki’s take is to make them less stodgy.

However, he hasn’t completely broken ranks with the kissaten: At all times there’s jazz on in the background, and you get the feeling that Iwasaki thought about that selection, too.

Coffee and tea from ¥380; Japanese menu