I love breakfasts at hotels in Japan. There’s nothing better to start the day than a bowl of perfectly-cooked rice, hot miso soup, pickled vegetables, natto, and grilled salt-marinated fish. It was actually one of the things I looked forward to before my family’s trip to Osaka.
Breakfast at the St. Regis in Osaka is served at its high-end Italian restaurant. Not only is it served in the Italian restaurant, it is cooked by the same chefs who work at the kitchen for both lunch and dinner. What was even more surprising was that I observed the head chef walking around monitoring his underlings on more than one occasion while I was having breakfast at the restaurant. The head chef’s bio in the hotel newsletter in our room indicated that he was among the best Italian chefs in Osaka. He has trained in Michelin-starred restaurants in both France and Italy before returning to Japan. He has also spent a lifetime observing and training in his father’s traditional Japanese kitchen, which has garnered two (or three? I forgot) Michelin stars in the Osaka edition of the Michelin guide.
That is quite the culinary pedigree; I was expecting a very, very well executed breakfast, even though it was a buffet rather than made-to-order. Actually, the eggs were made-to-order and they did not disappoint.
A fried egg is a fried egg is a fried egg. It is good if done right, and it is an item that can be easily done right if attention is paid to temperature and timing. In this case, both were nailed. The temperature was probably controlled to the tenth of a degree with the timing to the microsecond. The egg whites were smooth, fluffy, and snappy while the yolk was in the perfect state between free-flowing and gelatinization. Once breached, the orangish-yellow yolk flowed like thick lava in a seemingly controlled push that formed a tributary rather than spreading out into the sea.
The eggs came with a few cubes of squash adorned with what was probably tomato sauce. The few pieces of squash did not look like much, but they added a whole other world of sweet, tangy mushiness to the already-great-by-itself fried egg.
The eggs were the only items that were prepared a la minute, and they were the best-tasting cooked item among the other western style breakfast buffet items. Other than the eggs, I mostly stuck with the variety of pastries that were available.
The tall cube-like pastry was my wife’s favorite. It had a texture that was halfway between French toast and bread pudding while bursting with a custard filling. The filling wasn’t too sweet that it made the pastry feel like dessert, but it also was sweet enough that it didn’t allow the cube to become devoid of flavours.
I personally liked the croissants and danishes more than the bread pudding french toast custard cube. The danishes and croissants were light, airy, flaky, crispy, and full of beautifully greasy buttery flavours.
The long-ish piece of danish that resided next to the cube and the half-croissant was the chestnut danish. It was a new experience for me, and the experience was very pleasurable. The syrup-glazed chestnuts were moist, powdery, and flavourful enough that they became a great counterpoint to the flaky, crispy, and airy pastry that surrounded them.
The last pasty on the plate was the almond croissant. It did not have an almond paste filling like most almond croissants but that didn’t matter to me. It only meant that I could more easily enjoy the great textures of the plain croissant under the powdered sugar and almond flakes. I also liked the croissant’s crispy bottom. It was so crispy it almost felt like there was a thin cookie/cracker attached to the bottom.
The pear pastry and apple pastry were also no slouches. The firm and juicy cooked pears and baked apples provided just as much contrast to the pasty surrounding them as the chestnuts in the chestnut danish.
The berry (blueberry?blackberry?strawberry?raspberry?) danish was yet another well-executed study in textural contrasts. The berry in the middle was of the preserved/jam variety. Its limp-watery-slimy texture was yet another great match with the textures of the pastry.
The fried egg and pastries being as enjoyable as they were, they were not the traditional Japanese breakfast items that I so looked forward to having in Japan. Fortunately, a traditional Japanese breakfast set was offered as an alternative to the buffet.
The Japanese breakfast came with miso soup, rice, assorted pickled items, tamago, grilled fish, shrimp, grilled fish cakes, and a purple ball that I had no recollection of until I saw the photo. The various pickled items (fish, seaweed, and vegetables) were very ordinary-tasting. They were generic enough that I felt that they were sourced from ready-made food service vendors rather than being made in-house. The tamago looked nice but was another letdown after I bit into it. It was, again, as generic as it got. The cooked shrimp tasted bland while the grilled tempura tasted like cast-iron and charcoal (or stainless steel and natural gas). The grilled fish was then only thing in the box that I liked. It was salty and tender with a crispy skin. The fish went well with the well-cooked rice. The rice had grains that were individually brilliant and discernible. They were teeth-bouncingly firm but not hard-as-rocks. The texture of the rice and the controlled blandness of its flavours paired extremely well with the salty grilled fish. The pipping hot miso soup then added a heart-warming coziness to each mouthful of rice-and-fish. The soup, rice, and fish were the only three elements that were needed. The other items in the breakfast set only exposed flaws form the kitchen that did not need to be exposed.
After having the traditional Japanese breakfast at the St. Regis once, I reverted to the western buffet. The western buffet had western items that I felt were on-par with some of the best I’ve had in North America or Europe. The Japanese breakfast items, however, were not even close to being the best Japanese breakfast items that I have enjoyed during my trips to Japan. They were not even close to being the best that I’ve had at a hotel I was staying in in Japan. That distinction goes to the Four Seasons in Tokyo…the Japanese breakfast there was so good both in flavours and in looks that I used a crop of a picture of the grilled fish I had there as the main photograph of this site.