A review of a Meiji-Era Japanese Western Dessert shop that also serves canteen-style coffee. This amateur coffee enthusiast and shoestring digital nomad has included this shop from an atmospheric perspective. Photos are taken with a second-hand Fujifilm X100.
Perhaps it’s the proximity to Todai (the University of Tokyo) with its famous Red Gate down the block. Perhaps it’s the polished stone entrance with the dated (classic?) font. Perhaps it’s the imposingly open glass wall atypical of Japanese independent shops. Perhaps it’s the perfectly preserved classic Showa wooden panels inside. Perhaps, it’s actually about the cakes.
Anyhow, a friend I used to stay with brought me to Omiya a few years ago and I was charmed. The ambience and cakes alone are worth coming for. Digital nomad friends, think of this as a place to take a break. Perhaps bring reading materials so the people watching is not so obvious, but the steady flow of patrons, usually silver-haired and well-heeled, is quite intruiging.
I just like how spacious and refined the place feels in a bygone-era way. Even though there has been no effort to upgrade to modern tastes, the counters, walls, and lighting look as if they had been installed yesterday.
This attention to detail sits in stark contrast to another feature: that there isn’t much service. Walk in, order at the counter, pay, and find your seat.
Note that coffee is only available as part of a cake set, which comes to about ¥900. You will be presented with an oddity: an unceremonious plastic cup to fill yourself at a machine. I believe refills are now ¥50.
The sour cherry tart, on the other hand, is lovely. Each cherry is well preserved, and not really sour (it’s Japan). It’s more like it’s been soaked with a slightly zesty juice to go ontop of a semi-flakey crust.
For my coffee readers – come only to reminisce on diner coffee while enjoying a great cake.
The cold juice drinks and water are complimentary and you help yourself by getting a clear plastic cup on the self-serve counter. Options include cold tea, grapefruit juice, melon juice. and strawberry juice.
After getting everything, the best spot for people watching is at the back. Use the hidden shelf under the table for your bag. Settle in, and read the paper.
Their Story / What I like About Them:
I have a soft spot for academic areas. Just the thought of used books and and university libraries down the street already make the place seem more appealing.
Founded in 1884 in the Meiji Era, Omiya began (so official stories have it) with a family ambition to open up a shop. At the time, they had settled on bread and became known for their various types, including advertised American bread. In 1895 (Meiji 28), 18-year old Kikutaro (the founder’s son) set sail to San Francisco. Amongst various things, he worked as a dish washer, moved to Seattle and worked at a “milk bar” (ミルクホール), where he learned about integrating butter into a cake mix to make sponge cakes. He stayed there for 3 years before returning to Japan and introducing the ideas he’d learned in the US.
The Kanda shop dates from Showa 41 and is still where the family lives. The shop history is on its Japanese site.
One of its most famous items is its strawberry shortcake, which is reasonably priced for take-away. The company website shares where they source all their fruits for both staples and seasonal items.
Dessert options include cheese cake, sponge cake, creme puffs, jellies, puddings and tarts. In the Fall, I suggest trying their chestnut desserts, which are packed with flavour.
- Coffee: Canteen (burner) style
- Food: Cakes
- Cafe Space: Preserved nostalgic Showa-Era space with bar tables at the back.
- Friends: Hangouts, catching up, reading
- Workspace: Not really, but no harm in trying.
- Remote Work: Bring your own pocket WiFi. No plugs.
4-1-7 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033
|Hours (Closed Sundays)
|Mon – Sat: 9:00-19:00 月〜土
If you liked this post, check out my list of Off-Centre Tokyo Cafes.