As someone who is regularly drawn to the Little Tokyo area of the East Village in New York – it’s home to both my favourite cocktail bar and noodle restaurant – I was surprised that Hi-Collar wasn’t on my radar long ago. For all the authenticity of the other epicurean establishments in the area, this is the one that really makes me feel like I’ve just walked in off the streets of Shibuya. From the menu typography to the dainty katsu sandwiches with their crusts cut off to the barman’s quiff, it is Japanese through and through.
This is a really special New York take on a traditional “kissaten” – a tiny tearoom or bar with a short menu of sandwiches and hot dishes. A row of stools runs along a gleaming copper bar, with shelves full of pretty glasses and other intriguingly ornate vessels to admire while you sip. In the evening, the focus switches to sake.
While rice wine really isn’t my thing, coffee absolutely is – and the menu and varieties of preparation here give my inner cold-brew fiend an instant caffeinated thrill. There are three main options: pour over ($4.50), aeropress ($5.50) and siphon ($6.50). If you want the full laboratory experience, with the glass hardware bubbling away in front of your eyes, opt for the siphon variety. I generally like the more aggressive hit of the aeropress, but on a warm day, I love having an iced version of the siphon ($8.80); if I’m making an afternoon of it, there’s a perfectly balanced sweet parfait to go with it ($9.50-$10.50).
Those who come here craving a taste of home turn up for the omurice ($11), a perfectly formed fluffy omelette over tomato sauce and rice with bacon, but you can also just grab a coffee to take away – a far more interesting and inherently East Village experience than the dreaded chains on nearby Avenue A.
But in truth, it’s much nicer to sit and linger. With all the pleasing visual details – including a collection of unusual Japanese matchboxes balanced along a beam on the wall – there’s plenty to stimulate the mind as well as the taste buds.