Joeblade

Breakfast at Koya Bar

The English Breakfast at Koya Bar is a trap. This is a Japanese restaurant serving Japanese breakfasts, so it’s mostly all rice and miso and pickles and fear of the unknown, but there’s an English Breakfast option that lured me in. It’s going to be ok, the menu said, there are eggs, bacon and mushrooms here. You’re going to be fine.

This was an attempt to broaden my breakfast horizon, to visit somewhere that wasn’t just serving the traditional London breakfast of avocado on toast with a flat white. Koya Bar is Japanese, so its breakfasts are traditional Japanese breakfasts: rice porridge, pickles, seaweed, soybeans, noodles and smoky green tea. I’ve been feeling adventurous lately — I’d been to two different countries recently so fuck it, I thought, I could eat a pickle for breakfast.

The English Breakfast came with a bowl of thin rice porridge, some miso soup and a plate with bacon, a soft fried egg, and some mushroom. Left alone with a pair of chopsticks and a small soup spoon, breakfast suddenly became a GCSE physics puzzle: how do you eat bacon and a runny fried egg with chopsticks? Make sure to show your working.

I managed to eat the bacon by holding it down with one chopstick and tearing at it with the soup spoon, but the fried egg was more of a challenge. Eventually I decided I’d move it on top of the rice porridge so that when the yolk burst it would mix in with that, but trying to move a whole runny fried egg with two sticks without it flopping helplessly into my lap, Jesus, it was like one of those horrific team building exercises you get made to do during corporate induction weeks, except there was no team or anybody from HR, there was just me and six Japanese chefs doing their best not to look at the stupid fucking Westerner trying to fashion a crude pontoon bridge.

I managed it — proving to myself that the only thing that holds me back during team-building exercises is the rest of the team — but the resulting egg-yolk-infused rice porridge was still an issue; I scooped up enough of it to feel like I’d had breakfast but I don’t ever think I was doing it right. The porridge itself was a mystery to me, as if someone once saw a bowl of perfectly-cooked rice and thought you know what? This could be wetter. Just leave the cooking water in.

I did better next time when I avoided the comforting English food and went for Okayu: a bowl of rice porridge again but this time served with a soft-boiled egg — halved and easier to manoeuvre — and assorted pickles, marinated seaweed, mushrooms and miso soup. I was more confident with it and the meal was more enjoyable though I made another tactical error by blindly ordering some nattō: fermented soybeans. Cultural insensitivity be damned, these are fucking grotesque, almost Gigeresque, cold and covered in a tacky mucus that left thin tendrils everywhere. I drowned them in soy sauce as best I could but mostly they got left.

Is any of this any good? Probably yes. I had some issues with it, and I think the English Breakfast option is ill-advised, but the pickled, marinated and boiled bits were all good and the tea was lovely. I can’t say if any of this is a bad example of the form; this could be the Japanese equivalent of an all-day breakfast in a can, or it could have Japanese nationals weeping with Proustian joy at breakfasts-past, it’s so perfect an example.

I don’t know. I went out to try a Japanese breakfast and that’s what happened. It’s a nice place. I have no complaints.

By Paul Haine, in