Tucked away in the northwest corner of Mie Prefecture in Japan, nestled against the backdrop of the Suzuka mountain range, is an unassuming little vegetable farm and adjacent restaurant, “Restaurant Fleur.” Every day (except Wednesday) between the hours of 11 am and 2 pm,* locals and a few adventurous out-of-towners gather for lunch. But this isn’t just any lunch.
If you’ve heard of the “50 Kilometer Diet” or perhaps the “50 Mile Diet” – wherein participants attempt to only eat food produced within 50 kilometers – well, consider this the 50 Meter Diet. Each day Restaurant Fleur’s Chef Kitamura cooks up a buffet-style feast for his patrons, using the vegetables picked that morning from the surrounding fields. The restaurant is popular and typically packed, and Chef Kitamura himself is somewhat famous, as his restaurant and cooking classes have even been featured on Japanese television.
Last Saturday, in the company of a Japanese friend of ours who recommended the restaurant, my husband and I got to experience it for ourselves. As snow fell steadily, we drove up towards the mountains, winding our way along the single-lane roads until we crested a hill to see the buildings and adjacent putting course where the restaurant is located.
Though the roads were clear of snow, we likely had the weather to thank, as the restaurant was far less busy than reportedly usual. We paid our 800 yen each (an unbelievable bargain considering you could drop that amount on just a small handful of vegetables at the supermarket) and got to the business of eating. The spread was amazing, from salad fixings to vegetable curry, gratin and soup, a wide variety of side dishes and stir-fries, tempura and vegetable pastas, the list goes on. All of this is primarily made with fresh vegetables from the chef’s gardens. This would undoubtedly be a vegetarian’s paradise, although myself a carnivore I was still happily satisfied (and there were a few dishes that included meat).
About halfway through our meal the chef came out and gave a short talk about the particular ingredients used in the day’s meal. He himself seemed like a pretty down-to-earth guy, friendly and smiling, announcing each new dish he’d prepared as he brought it to the buffet table. As we ate, he made sure to ask us if the food was suitable to our tastes, and as we left he implored us to come again and bring our friends. Yes, sir, expect me often!
After stuffing ourselves to capacity we relocated to a nearby café to relax. This was, again, no ordinary café, but a café in a log cabin, with an art gallery upstairs, a sport fishing pond out back, a treehouse out front, and “Country Roads” playing in the background. The place was called “Fishing Sanctuary,” and the café itself “Thousand Winds,” named after a beautiful poem that was posted in several places in both English and Japanese:
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
Like the poem, the café had a nostalgic feeling to it, the kind of place where you could forget you are in Japan at all, and feel as though you’d been transported to a sleepy fishing cabin somewhere out in the forest on Vancouver Island. At least, that is where I felt I was, and I half expected my fisherman uncle to burst through the door at any moment and ask for a beer. Definitely another place I will be returning to soon and regularly.
Restaurant Fleur is open every day except Wednesday from 11 am – 2 pm. Note: it is closed every year for the duration of the Ume Matsuri (Plum Blossom Festival), which in 2013 is March 9th – April 7th.
Restaurant Fleur is located between Inabe and Sekigahara in Northwestern Mie. It can be accessed by car from highway 365, click here for the official area map.
The Fishing Sanctuary and the Thousand Winds café are just a short jaunt away; it’s not on the above map but is directly off of highway 306/365, a bit below where the 306 splits off to the left and winds towards Hikone.
– Restaurant Fleur website (Japanese only)
– Chef Kitamura’s website (Japanese only)
*The restaurant also closes every year for a month (early March – early April), for the adjacent Nogyo Park’s Plum Blossom Festival, during which time Restaurant Fleur runs a soba booth in the festival building.
**Though the poem posted in the café read “author unknown,” a quick wikipedia search taught me the author was in fact verified in 1998 to be Mary Elizabeth Frye, who passed away in 2004.