The Spanish ‘Olé’ meets the Japanese ‘Arigato’

This weekend, we went out to eat with my husband’s colleagues at a nearby Spanish restaurant. It’s called Tio Pepe, and is as cozy and homey as the name suggests. It’s even located on the tiniest street in one of the quietest residential neighborhoods in Kyoto.

So around 7:15, we sit down at our table and start chatting. Out of a sudden, here comes the most gracious and obliging waiter ever (even for Japanese standards). He looks like he’s dancing on water as he moves between the tables, with the widest possible smile on his lips all the time! He just seems so above all earthly things, emphatic yet impenetrable. He doesn’t even flinch when another waitress spilled an entire mug of beer on one of the guests right in front of him… he just casually picks up a handful of paper towels and graciously cleans up the mess.

We order drinks and in a couple of minutes we get our first starter, octopus salad. It vanishes quickly from our plates, to show how hungry we all were. The waiting time until next appetizer arrived seemed like eternity, but it was worth it: jámon and toast dipped in fresh tomato sauce. Very tasty, but quickly gone! So we start chatting again, and a while later here comes the waiter with another round of dancing. He quickly collects the used plates and hands out the next appetizer: delicious grilled shrimp in olive oil and garlic, and loads of bread to dip.

It’s about 8:45 now, and I was already feeling kind of full and ready to call it a night, when our waiter announces the main dish: chicken or monk fish. That’s a surprise, I thought the meal was over. After a little back-and-forth everyone is all set with the main dish sitting comfortably in front of them. We wolf it down, and feel really satisfied with the meal. I’m getting ready for the coffee and check, but the waiter is in no rush to get rid of us. Another half hour passes, and he keeps coming to our table more obliging than ever: offering us warm towels, asking if he can remove the used towels, and before removing them ceremoniously announces that he will be removing them :) and it goes on and on… It’s already 9:30, and we’ve been here for more than two hours.

But lo and behold, the waiter comes back bearing two huge platters of paella for the whole table. I thought the meal was over after the third course, but now there’s five of them! The paella is very good and brimming with seafood, but I feel my stomach overflowing and can barely feel my legs and butt after having sat for almost three hours. Just as I thought the meal was over and could finally go home, here comes the inevitable: the waiter lures us with coffee or tea, and it turns out that everybody at the table wants that! I was already getting restless before that, but it’s a good half hour until we get our coffee, and our dinner reaches the three and a half hour mark. I know that Spanish dinners are supposed to last for ages, but I guess when you team that up with the overdeveloped Japanese sense of customer service, that means you’ll be trapped at the table until the next day :) But the food was one of the best we’ve had in Japan. Period. And the pictures prove it, olé! :)

paella, spanish food, kyoto, japan

Jamon 2


Images credit: Tio Pepe