By Rod Walters
Editor's Update (January 4, 2012): We just heard that this restaurant closed down and the building is going to become a wedding venue. If you have any further information about this, please add your comments below.
Just a short distance from Dogo on the hill going up towards Hakusuidai is a peculiar sight. There’s a tropical-looking building with a hairy fringe of rushes hanging from its roof, a number of strange floppy banners posted here and there, and a good deal of slightly foreign looking greenery. This is the Asian Café Lotus, and it looks foreign because it is. It’s one of Matsuyama’s two Balinese restaurants.
The owner, Ryota Nagao, boasts that he didn’t want to create something “Bali-style”, he wanted it to be “100% Balinese”. Certainly the building and furniture come very close because these things can be imported. The building itself is apparently reconstructed from a 150-year old Balinese farmhouse. Nevertheless, achieving 100% Balinese food and service in Japan would seem to be impossible. Not that it’s a bad thing – the food is still very nicely prepared and is served on beautiful dishes that aren’t typical of a restaurants in Bali. Unfortunately the climate of Japan is not Balinese either, and in gray mid-winter, a tropical building and garden has a slightly pinched, hangdog air about it. However in brighter, warmer weather, the tropical look is very cheerful.
To enter Asian Café Lotus, you pass through an exotic gateway and up some rustic steps. To the right and left are water features and statuary which also form the view from the picture windows inside. The interior of the café has high ceilings with dark wooden beams, while the furniture is a mixture of hardwood, cane and bamboo. There are smoking and non-smoking sections which are separate enough to satisfy non-smokers. The toilets are a joy to visit, with beautiful dark gray pumice tiles, white porcelain basins, and dark wood.
The food menu features some Balinese favorites like nasi goreng, gado gado, fresh spring rolls and curry. People who have actually spent time in Bali might look for satay and brem, but in vain. Nevertheless, the available offerings do give the people of Matsuyama an authentic taste of Bali. The owner is a member of Hime Vegi (http://hime-vegi.com/), an organization which promotes connections between the local producers of vegetables and their consumers. So you can take joy in knowing that by eating at the Asian Café, you’re keeping a local farmer in business.
When you’ve finished your meal, you can amble across a rather nice water feature and under a stairway to reach the two-story shop selling a very comprehensive selection of Balinese clothing, utensils, decorations and furniture. These are offered at reasonable prices, especially considering their rarity in Matsuyama. There’s ample free parking right in front.
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I was born in Bristol, England, and I came to Japan in 1991 … which means I’ve lived half my life in this island nation on the other side of the world. The theme of my career in Japan has been communication. I started as an English teacher, and moved into translation as I learned Japanese. I worked at a well-known electronics manufacturer, facilitating their multinational communications before I became a freelance translator. As such, I translated a lot of tourism-related information. It was obvious to me that most of this isn’t sufficient to convey the excitement and wonder of Japan. In 2011, I established Knowledge Travel Partners, an inbound tourism consultancy. After living in several regions of Japan, I settled in Ehime where my wife is from. It’s on the southern island of Shikoku facing the beautiful Seto Inland Sea, Japan’s Mediterranean. The pace of life here is slow and peaceful, but we do like to throw a raucous festival now and again.