70-year-old downtown hotel is closing, possible permanently, but there’s still time for one last taste of its amazing purin platter.

Purin, Japanese custard pudding, occupies an interesting spot in the dessert pantheon. It’s remarkably consistent, with even the cheap stuff you can get from convenience stores being pretty good, but there’s also a premium purin subclass that promises to kick the decadent deliciousness up to a higher level.

One of the most exalted examples of premium purin is the pudding served in the cafe of the Hilltop Hotel in Tokyo’s Ochanomizu neighborhood. Also known as the Yamanoue Hotel, the building was constructed in 1938 and the hotel opened in 1954, becoming a popular place to stay for numerous writers and novelists.

▼ The Hilltop Hotel

Sadly for sweets fans, the Hilltop Hotel is scheduled to close indefinitely on February 13. Due to its age, the building is in need of numerous structural upgrades and renovations, and the management is unsure if the necessary construction work is financially feasible, so the closure may end up being permanent. In other words, the clock is ticking for anyone who wants to try the Hilltop Hotel purin, which is why we showed up at the hotel on a recent Monday morning.

We expected we weren’t the only ones with such dessert-based ambitions, so we showed up at the cafe, which is called Coffee Parlor Hilltop, at 10:30 a.m., one hour before the cafe opens. Despite being a weekday morning, though, when we arrived there were about 50 people already waiting in line to get in. Overhearing their conversations, we learned some people mention that they had come to Tokyo that morning on the Shinkansen bullet train specifically to eat at the cafe.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to spend our entire wait standing there. At around 11 o’clock, the hotel started distributing what are called seiriken, or “organizing tickets.” Basically, they’re sheets of paper that act as a sort of placeholder in line. The ones for the cafe even have a QR code so that you can get a sense of how much longer you’ll have to wait.

Freed from having to stand there, we killed time by exploring the lobby and other public areas of the hotel, which radiate and old-school sense of classy luxury.

Even though we weren’t in the first seating group, our wait turned out to be surprisingly short, as we were guided to our table in the cafe at around noon, just 30 minutes after the restaurant opened.

We were given a menu, but we didn’t really need it, since we already knew what we wanted to order…

…the purin à la mode!

At a price of 2,000 yen (US$13.90), this is several times more expensive than the pudding sold at convenience stores, which generally goes for a few hundred yen. As you can see from the photo, though, the Hilltop Hotel’s purin à la mode is accompanied by a entourage of sliced fruits, ice cream, and even a cream puff, so the sticker shock wasn’t going to dissuade us from ordering it. But would the real thing look as beautiful as the menu photo?

Yes, yes it would.

The platter is a work of art. The pudding itself takes center stage, naturally, with slices of apple fanned out behind it like a delicate, delectable wing. The cream puff has a swan motif, a classical aesthetic for dessert parlors in Japan, and even the smoothly scooped sphere of vanilla ice cream spoke to the chefs’ attention to detail.

Purin fans will tell you that what really sets the best custard pudding apart is how noticeable the flavor of the egg is, and the Hilltop Hotel’s does not disappoint. The sweetness is just right too, noticeable without saturating your taste buds, and setting up a nice contrast with the slightly bitter caramel sauce. The texture is on the firm side, which helps the purin maintain its structural integrity as you take bites of it, allowing you to leisurely savor it bit by bit.

The cream puff is also remarkably refined, with an outstanding balance between the ever-so-slightly crisp crust and rich but not-cloying cream

Our biggest surprise came with the vanilla ice cream. In addition to the expected sweetness, there’s an almost floral quality to its flavor profile, making it both enticing and refreshing. Finally, the sliced fruits and berries were, without exception, fresh and delicious.

Since we were living large with our premium purin, we decided to also order a pot of black tea, for 1,100 yen.

This was also excellent, but what really left an impression on us were the cup and saucer we were given to use. Being the fancy individuals we are, we recognized them as dishware from the Japanese brand Vienna no Bara, which we’d recently seen for sale in a department store priced at 27,500 yen (US$190)!

▼ We made very sure not to drop the cup.

So while there are cheaper, and quicker, ways to get your purin fix, if you’re a fan of this particular dessert, we highly recommend putting the Hilltop Hotel’s on your to-eat-list ASAP. Yes, you’ll probably need to show up well before the cafe opens in order to get a seiriken, but the wait is worth it, and if you’re lucky enough to get in the very first seating group, this is a great excuse to eat dessert before noon.

Cafe information
Coffee Parlor Hilltop / コーヒーパーラーヒルトップ
Address: Tokyo-to, Chiyoda-ku, Surugadai Kanda 1-1

Photos ©SoraNews24
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