By Brian Sealey
If there's one thing that Sendai (or Japan, come to think of it) isn't short of, it's cafes. Go for a walk along any road and I guarantee you'll find at least one. If you don't, you might need to look up a bit more. Businesses located in multi-story buildings can't rely on people wandering in out of curiosity, so they have to make creative use of what space they have. If you look up to the third floor of a building that all but faces the Clis Road shopping arcade near Sendai station, you might see the outline of a duck in the window, near a sign that says “cafe”. This will be your first glimpse of Cafe Pamplemousse.
The name of the cafe means “grapefruit” in French, but its origins are much sweeter. It's run by a company based in Akita that makes acacia honey. There's another Cafe Pamplemousse in Akita, and both offer the honey with many of the items on the menu.
The cafe's location is obvious when you reach the third floor. There are several signs, and more ducks, which also proclaim Pamplemousse's specialty – pancakes. You may wonder why the entranceway smells like a dentist office, until you turn and realise that the cafe in fact shares said entranceway with an actual dentist's office. Shrug off the irony and step inside the cafe proper, but keep your fingers crossed, because getting a table often involves a wait, more so with larger groups. The best time to go is a weekday evening. It opened late 2013 and it's still very popular.
The cuteness certainly helps to explain why so many couples and girl friends come here – there are pictures of cute animals on mobiles above tables, cute children's books and dozens upon dozens of tiny rubber ducks covering every available surface. If you have a moment, why don't you try hunting for the only white one? He's moved to a new location regularly and he apparently likes to be stroked.
The other reason why Pamplemousse is so popular is the food. The menu (which is also available in English) has a variety of options, more in the evenings (“adult time”) when they turn down the lights and start serving cocktails. The pride over their pancakes isn't misplaced, both savory and sweet. The price is similar to many other cafes and restaurants, but the pancakes are bigger and more substantial. There's no holding back on the toppings either, so you can order in the happy knowledge that “fruit” won't just consist of half a banana and a strawberry. There are also some great vegetarian options, such as the konnyaku 'meatballs' in a gorgonzola sauce.
Cafe Pamplemousse does take reservations, but in person only between 11 am and 12 am of the same day. They also only reserve up to half of the available tables. If you have access to the Internet and some Japanese ability, you can try reserving a table online. Reservations can be made up to 3 days in advance.
If you don't mind the possibility of waiting, Cafe Pamplemousse is a great cafe to visit. There's something to interest, and tickle the taste buds of, almost anyone. If you want cute that isn't sickly, and food that tastes even more delicious than it looks, really good pancakes or Japanese honey, this is the place for you.
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