On a journey out west to Shizuoka one time, I found myself in the pleasant castle town of Odawara around lunchtime, and set about finding somewhere to eat. An information booklet at the station told me about Daruma, a traditional Japanese restaurant not far from the station, so I decided to give it a try.
Before you go in, take a few moments to admire the building: the restaurant opened in 1893, still looks great, and is registered as a tangible cultural property. It's in the style of the era, with heavy wooden timbers, attractive carvings over the door, and two cute-cum-grotesque statues lurking in the greenery by the entrance.
Inside it's just one big room, bustling rather than quiet, with a steady flow of lunchtime diners; couples, families, groups of office staff and gossiping shoppers. There are carved wooden screens by the entrance, a little decor on the walls - an old photograph of fishing boats, an older calligraphy scroll - wood panels on the ceiling which reminded me of Buddhist temples, and one separate raised area, with tatami flooring and traditional decorations.
(Pro tip: if, like me, you find the symbols on the toilet doors indecipherable, then be aware that the ladies is on the left, gents on the right.)
For lunch I chose the 'take' (tah-keh) set for ¥2100 plus tax: sashimi, tempura, rice, pickles and a clear soup, plus an unidentified substance which was offputtingly gloopy but actually quite tasty. The sashimi was excellent, thick slices of tender flesh, full of flavour and with enough give in the texture to make them satisfying to chew on. I also enjoyed the tempura a lot, the flavours of the fish and shrimp enhanced by the light, delicate batter, slightly moistened by the dip.
The menu is visitor-friendly, with pictures and English descriptions to help you decide. Set meals range from ¥1800 to ¥3500, with main dishes including sashimi, tempura or tendon (tempura on rice), while a special 'kisetsu' set made with seasonal ingredients will cost ¥3800. (These prices don't include consumption tax: at the time of writing it's 8%.)
The a la carte menu is priced from ¥500 to ¥2900, and features a good selection of dishes, such as tempura, omelette, various sushi rolls, and different grades of sashimi, up to 'super deluxe' (my lunch set included the 'deluxe' version). Soft drinks and tea cost ¥230, alcohol from ¥380 to ¥830, beer, sake and umeshu (plum liqueur) among them.
If you want to take the taste home with you, there's also a gift shop by the entrance, selling small trinkets and food items, including fish cakes and kamaboko (fish paste).
It's about eight or ten minutes' walk from Odawara station, along the main road leading south away from the station. It's open daily from 11:00am to 9:00pm, closing only on 1st, 2nd and 3rd of January each year.
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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.