Front-row seat, first-class lunch at Tokyo’s Hotel Koe
By JOSEPH DITZLER | Stars and Stripes | Published: November 7, 2019
A hotel restaurant is a traveler’s gamble — the worst a penitentiary cafeteria, the best a gourmet’s destination.
The first-floor lobby restaurant and bakery at Hotel Koe in the Shibuya section of Tokyo falls on the higher end of that spectrum. Its setting, atmosphere and good food continue to lure this hotel aficionado for return visits.
Koe was created by Chef Satoshi Kakegawa, founder of the French restaurant Ata in Tokyo. The Shibuya restaurant, which opened to favorable reviews in February 2018, is open all day. Lunch is my habit there and the special is available from about 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
If people watching is your guilty pleasure, plant yourself on a counter stool, a few millimeters of glass separating you from the passersby at a busy Tokyo intersection. Enjoy a cup of coffee or glass of iced tea while the kitchen prepares a gourmet twist on an ordinary favorite.
Ready for a break after walking around Yoyogi Park one afternoon, I was drawn on my first visit to Koe by a simple street sign listing the lunch special. A month or so later, the same sign lured me with taco rice. This was no sampler-sized gourmet interpretation. It came with a side salad and an ample entree.
The third time around, the lunch board advertised a choice of egg sandwich or spaghetti Napolitana, with a dessert option of pudding a la mode Rochefort or Maria Theresia coffee.
The restaurant-bakery is a departure from the ordinary hotel lobby. You’ll pass the front desk without a second glance. The center of gravity is the pastry table just inside the door.
The decor is industrial austere, with exposed beams and ceiling ducts, wood trim and flat or corrugated zinc panels. The kitchen crew is on stage behind a counter at the far side of the room.
Contemporary music plays softly in the background; the lobby has a vibe shared with hip hotels from Liverpool to Seattle. I expected Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein and a film crew to stroll in.
At the center, a lounge area fronts the cash register/barista station. Its tables are ringed with cushioned chairs that are perfect for a tete-a-tete with a friend or first date.
Adjacent the comfy zone is a long communal table and beyond that a collection of simple tables and chairs for two that can come together for larger parties.
At the edge, the glass wall and accompanying counter comprise a sort of neutral zone where lunch patrons come and go relatively quickly.
Service is generally prompt and friendly, though I waited on my second visit for some server attention. Seating for lunch on a Saturday or Sunday, incidentally, has never been a problem.
On my third trip for lunch to Hotel Koe, I went for the egg sandwich (1,100 yen, about $10.25) followed by the Rochefort pudding (900 yen alone; 500 yen with the set).
I savored my coffee with a dose of regret as the pasta arrived in a warm skillet for the neighboring diner. Not to worry, I reminded myself, the future is pudding a la mode.
The egg sandwich was not my mom’s fried staple and no offense to mom, but I expected something special in Shibuya. The eggs (I’m guessing maybe three) arrived hot, folded omelet-style into a thick pillow of yellow and set between fresh slices of soft white bread. One side of the bread was spread with a thin layer of something reddish that I barely noticed.
The lunch set includes a drink (hot or cold tea or coffee) and a small, simple salad of mixed greens and red leaf lettuce with a soy-peanut dressing.
Dining out in Tokyo, especially in a hotel that attracts international guests, is an opportunity to exercise fledgling language skills. I politely corrected the young woman who took my order and confused “50” for “15,” which would have been a long wait for an egg sandwich.
On top of my awkward gesturing for “kohi ippai” — a lot of coffee — we both had a good laugh.
Those 15 minutes passed while I inventoried the street beyond the glass. Foot traffic ran the gamut from disoriented western tourists in town for the Rugby World Cup to the young Tokyo denizens: three young men in black leather jackets and the fourth in a kind of black, lacy shawl, all wearing fedoras; a young woman in a black hoodie over a vinyl black skirt and black platform shoes.
The salad and egg sandwich, a handful, were finally consumed and the dishes cleared away. Dessert arrived: a three-tiered conical structure on a custard base, with layers of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream, all resting in a berry sauce and topped with a single chunk of berry.
I slid a spoon into it, carved a slice top to bottom and carried away a perfect sample.
Location: 3-7 Udagawacho, Shibuya 150-0042, Tokyo prefecture
Directions: From Shibuya Station’s Hachiko Exit, cross the scrambler to the right of Starbucks and continue north on Koen Dori. Take the second left and continue past the Disney store. Hotel Koe is ahead about one block.
Hours: Open daily 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Last order at 10:30 p.m.)
Prices: Lunch sets start at 1,100 yen.
Information: email: email@example.com; phone: 03-6712-7257; Online: hotelkoe.com/food