By Cathy Cawood
The central focus of Kusatsu is Yubatake, 'Hot water field', an open space where volcanic water gushes out of the ground, steaming generously and reeking of sulphur. It's encircled by souvenir shops and restaurants, and one that I went to was Tsukinoi, a patissier and restaurant offering tasty food and sweet-looking cakes.
The restaurant is on the second floor, with an interior that's light and airy. There are tasteful prints on the white walls, a display case of decorative glassware, and stained glass in one of the back windows, though the refined atmosphere is slightly marred by the big chunky sauce bottles on the tables. Window tables have a good view of Yubatake, thankfully without the smell, and the tableware is colorful and stylish.
For my lunch I chose a set meal, with a simple salad, a main dish of penne with bacon in basil sauce, a drink and a dessert. The quantity of the main dish was a touch less than I'd have liked, but the pasta was well cooked al dente, the sauce slightly greasy but full of flavour, the bacon tender and succulent. Dessert was small but satisfying, a single scoop of smooth ice cream, and an equally smooth caramel pudding, served in a cute little bottle, with a long narrow spoon to get to the bottom.
The menu is only in Japanese, with few pictures, and features a range of pasta dishes (mostly spaghetti) for around ¥1100: arrabiata, bolognese, mozzarella and eggplant in tomato sauce, mushroom and bacon in soy sauce, bacon and potato in basil sauce. Meat dishes for ¥1280 include lasagne, pork cutlet, or hamburg steak, with or without cheese. Lunch sets are ¥1550 with pasta as the main course, ¥1750 with a meat dish. A sign outside says there are cake sets for ¥850, though I couldn't decipher whether that was for eating in the restaurant or taking home from the patissier. (Possibly it's both.)
The first floor is the patissier part, open to both shoppers and diners. There's a display case with fresh, delectable-looking tarts, puddings and slices of cheesecake and chocolate cake, priced between ¥300 and ¥450. They also sell a range of jams, cookies and of course some small, cute souvenirs. The restaurant is open only for lunch, from 11:30am to 3:00pm, but the shop stays open until 9:00pm.
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I came to Japan from Manchester, England in summer 2003, and have travelled a lot since then, around Japan and in Asia. When I`m not working I write satire at www.iothern.blogspot.com and perform stand-up comedy in and around Tokyo. Check my youtube channel `CunningPunster` for a taste.