KYOTO - Breakfast at Lorimer is the best Japanese-style breakfast in Kyoto. In fact, it’s the best breakfast I’ve had in Kyoto.
But here’s the thing — this classic Japanese breakfast, premised on the elemental and long-standing formula of one soup and three side dishes (ichijū sansai), is prepared by two New Yorkers, Paul Kim and Jeremy Velardi, and Kyotoite Tomomi Horii, who trained in New York.
The New York connection comes via the owner of Lorimer, Yuji Haraguchi — originally from Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture — who has been a transplant to the U.S. for the past 10 years.
In that time, Haraguchi has opened a small but influential string of Japanese restaurants on both sides of the Pacific, beginning with Yuji Ramen in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and following it up with Okonomi, which serves breakfast all day. Close by he added Osakana, a fishmonger, that also doubles as space offering cooking classes.
Lorimer, Haraguchi’s Kyoto outpost, which opened in early 2018, rolls these two elements together: Breakfast is served from 7:30 a.m. till 2 p.m., and you can drop in without a reservation.
Then, in the afternoon after Lorimer empties out, the spaces doubles as a cooking school. There’s a small range of lessons, the standout of which is learning to take a fish and turn it into sashimi. You’ll need to book classes in advance through the restaurant’s website.
It was nearly lunchtime on a weekday when I finally visited Lorimer last month. It was after the madness of cherry blossom season and before the long sojourn of Golden Week. Chef Paul Kim, 38, one half of the pair of New Yorkers, coincidentally both from Queens, predicted that it might be a quiet morning and he could talk me though Lorimer’s maiden year, how it’s tweaked the Japanese breakfast and how, when he was offered the opportunity to take up position at Lorimer last fall, he jumped at it.
Kim did all that, but he was wrong about it being a quiet morning. Japanese breakfast enthusiasts kept coming well into lunch time. And it’s easy to see why.
Take the glorious bite-size cubes of tofu that come via Namikawa Shoten, a 100-year-old family-run producer literally down the road from Lorimer. Well before the Lorimer team cut it into dainty cubes, it is pressed for 48 hours and then marinated in Saikyo miso, a famous Kyoto brand, for up to two weeks. The result is a tofu that is delicate, delicious and strikingly similar to cream cheese in taste.
For the tamagoyaki, another Japanese breakfast staple, the crew at Lorimer have taken a different route. Instead of pan-frying it quickly over intense heat, the folded egg goes into the oven where it’s cooked low and slow for nearly 90 minutes. The result looks and tastes more like a flan. It’s a novel and pleasing variation on a classic.
As you would expect, seasonal inflections abound: the spring roasted potatoes were topped with yuzu– (citrus) infused shira-ae (mashed tofu salad) and a sprig of fennel. It’s a breakfast with nuggets of taste everywhere, such as the thin strips of konbu (kelp), laden with umami, that adorn your bowl of rice.
Kim’s route to Lorimer in Kyoto goes back to his days in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, when he would drop by Okonomi for breakfast when he had the chance.
“Every time I finished a meal there I felt nourished, energized and ready to start my day. I also loved that you could interact with the chefs.”
The first time Kim saw a job posting for Okonomi in Brooklyn he let it pass, but two years ago, when it came up again he decided to go for it. While cooking and serving washoku (Japanese food) was new for him, Kim had plenty of kitchen experience under his belt, having served his time making Neapolitan-style pizza at Paulie Gee’s in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Fast forward to 2018 and, when Haraguchi mentioned that there was a possibility of adding another chef to his Kyoto operation, Kim was all in. “We had 14 days to get ready, I gave up my apartment and (me and my girlfriend) moved out here together,” he says.
“I love it here,” Kim says, speaking of Kyoto, but it’s also true of Lorimer. All the staff pitch in — from prepping and serving to dishwashing. Indeed it’s the all-in aspect of working for Haraguchi that appealed to Kim when he first signed on.
Unsurprisingly, Lorimer has gained a following with foreign visitors to Kyoto. But Japanese customers come in droves too. And why wouldn’t they? This is an authentic and innovative Japanese breakfast you’ll certainly remember.
Hashizumecho 143, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto 600-8187; 075-741-6439; lorimerkyoto.com; open 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (L.O. 2 p.m.); closed Wed.; breakfast from ¥1,500; nearest station Gojo; nonsmoking; major cards accepted; English menu; English spoken