Kama kama kama kama ka-ma ku-uuuuura…
You Kam and go…
You Kam and go-oo-oo-ooo…
Kamakura! Yeah!!! It’s Japan’s bastion of the samurai and a justly popular weekend outing for Tokyoites looking to escape the city. Especially during Golden Week, which is exactly when we went. Busy and bustling and beautiful and brilliant, it’s an absolute no-brainer of a destination for a day trip, a weekend trip, or retirement.
Kamakura draws the crowds for two main reasons: the temples (and, more broadly, sense of history) and the beach. The beauty and the beach, you could say. It’s a quaint, rural place that is bursting with charm. And if charm wasn’t enough, then Kamakura is also renowned for brewing its own beers and ales, both of which can be bought in some wonderfully iconographic bottles.
When it comes to lunch, there are a handful of vegetarian eateries dotted around (see here), but note that the distances between them can be quite far, given that we be in the countryside ‘n all. We settled on the Hemp Style Cafe (also known as “Magokoro”), which is located right on the doorstep of Yuigahama Beach. The focus is, perhaps unsurprisingly, on that most versatile and rugged of plants: hemp. As previously mentioned (here), hemp is commonly (and traditionally) used in Japan. It occupies a special and respected place in Japanese cuisine, clothing and textiles, and comprises the DNA of the Hemp Style Cafe, where you can eat it, wear it, and read about it. But not smoke it, unfortunately.
And yet despite such promising fundamentals, our visit got off to a bad start. One of our seats was – for some mysterious reason – soaking wet, and then the young girl sitting at the table next to us proceeded to vomit up her lunch. And then our food took forever to arrive, even though other tables (which arrived after us) were served. And then when we left, M was pushed and hit her knee against the corner of a table. Talk about a bad start, middle and end! But I should not let these hiccups influence me. For what matters most is the food. The glorious, hempy food.
First of all we went for the hemp curry plate (¥1270 inc. tax), which turned out to be a cross between Indian and Japanese style curries. It looked beautiful – rice, curry, a small salad, some pickled daikon and a few strips of fried burdock on top. And look at the plate! Exquisite. That geometric pattern doesn’t just look the bee’s knees, but is also the symbol for hemp in Japan. Such relevance!
Unfortunately the flavours were nothing to get too excited about. It was an Indian-Japanese mix which turned out to taste rather flat and dull, despite being made with homemade hemp garam masala and seven (yes, seven!) kinds of spice. The spices (all seven of them) must have been neutered at birth, for even though I somewhat daringly (I thought) asked for it to be “hot” (you are given the choice of mild, medium hot, hot), it wasn’t hot at all. More sweet (or fruity?) than anything! And flat; it lacked the layers of flavour that separate a good curry from a bad one. Oh well.
Next up came the hemp taco rice plate (¥1490 inc. tax) which looked, in a word, wild. Like the mad professor of the Hemp Style Cafe! Ingredients everywhere, big dollops of avocado dip and mayonnaise, a blizzard of sesame seeds and enough colours to make one be temporarily blinded. But alas, as with the curry, it turned out to satisfy the eyes more than it did the palate.
For those of you struggling to disaggregate the mess in the picture above, the centrepiece comprised rice (duh), taco (soy) meat, an avocado dip, and some soya mayonnaise. Surrounding the centrepiece were some fried potatoes (northeast), a hemp salad (east-south-west) and some herb macaroni (north). Despite such a riot of colours and ingredients, everything seemed to taste – strangely – a bit flat and watery. With every bite, I was expecting explosions of this, that and the other in my mouth, but there was not even a fizzle. The best part was the fried potatoes, which had at least been introduced to that friend of most foods: salt.
Overall, the Hemp Style Cafe looks and sounds great, but tastes a bit lifeless. The dishes we tried looked very, very pretty, but turned out to lack any sort of spark. They were both overpriced, too. But still, you can’t fault the location. Or the ethos.