Menu and dish at Kigawa Restaurant

In Praise of Garlic

Food in Japan is tasty, fresh, and a sensual delight with beautifully balance flavours on the plate. Nonetheless, from time to time, I miss the staples of home.

Tonight, Google Maps wasn’t much help. It showed three restaurants close to Mikunigaoka^ Station and none sounded interesting.  I decided to scout around and surprisingly came back with the news that there were at least a dozen refreshment possibilities close by. Fast food, traditional food, freaky food, and a couple of bars. We thought we would try the bar, have a glass of wine, and then head home with provisions from the supermarket. But Café Carlo looked inviting in that lantern-decked way and the Chef bid us welcome as we peeked through the door so we took the last two seats at the bar.

Cafe Carlo in Osaka

A young crew in charge, young couples engrossed in their treats. No English speakers but the waitress was determined to try. First, she explained, we could have salmon carpaccio. Really! Probably we misheard or perhaps she had the wrong term, but we ordered it anyway. Next, there was beef. Real beef, grilled, rare, like the man next to us was enjoying – we’d have some of that too. A few other interesting dishes, Spanish wine, and we were all set. Who needs a common language?

The carpaccio was delicious. And the beef, cooked to perfection, came with glorious garlic that lifts the spirits and warms the soul. Since arriving in Japan, we’d only had it once before. At the Hiroshima Hotel Gravina’s $150+ a head, twenty-first floor Steak House Jinseki, Special Sirloin was nurtured on the teppan to melt in the mouth and presented with small strips of mushroom and a mound of scrumptious fried garlic on the side. Heaven!

Hotel Granvia, a JR-West* hotel on top of Hiroshima station, is a quirky place. The dress shop in the lobby sells $1,000 frocks while the Mayflower bar on first floor (ground to us) offers Happy Hour where all drinks are half price. We enjoyed Japanese cocktails at $7.00 a shot, accompanied by Camembert flambé and salty hot chips. Our snack here was the only time we went out of our way to eat Western food.

All in all, the meal we had at Café Carlo was among the best. We also had exceptional meals in Tonosho, a rural city half the size of Devonport (Tasmania), where we found three amazingly good restaurants. But overall the meal that was most special, and felt the most Japanese, was at Naniwa Kappo Kigawa in Osaka. If you are ever in the vicinity, make sure you drop in – or don’t, because you generally have to make a reservation first.

Entrance to Kigawa Restaurant in Osaka

^ According to Wikipedia, “Mikunigoaka itself is nondescript, not having many shops or other landmarks.” Apart from eating at Carlos and having a drink at the American themed bar, we didn’t spend any time there. Our hotel was comfortable, pleasant, had big semi-traditional rooms, good Wi-Fi, free breakfast, and offered a lift to the railway station each morning. Transport was easy as it was on the Kansai Airport line and our JR passes meant we didn’t have to buy tickets. None the less, I’d recommend staying a bit closer to the centre of town. Between Osaka and Tennōji might be good.

* JR-West is one of the fantastic Japanese Railway companies that evolved when the former state run railway system was privatised.  A little more sophisticated than state run transport in Australia, JR-West owns hotels, bus services, ferries, a travel agency, and a department store, as well as its railway business.


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