|

Escape the heat island to the great outdoors

by Robbie Swinnerton

Al fresco tables are at a premium at this time of year, especially if the view you want is one of leafy nature rather than city traffic or nearby buildings. Add quality food into that equation and the choices narrow even further. However, one place that fits the bill perfectly is Park Side Cafe, down in the Yokohama suburb of Nakamachidai.

We first discovered it some seven years ago, when it was still very new, but it has changed little since then. The elegant building — designed by architect Ken Yokogawa, whose offices are on the second floor — nestles among trees and bamboo. From the terrace tables, all you see is the narrow strip of unspoiled parkland known as Seseragi Koen. And thankfully, the cooking — predominantly Italian in inspiration — is as good as ever.

In the evening, the mosquitoes and other bugs make the outdoor tables less enjoyable. But for lunch or a leisurely afternoon tea (as we extolled in this column), it would be hard to find a finer or more stylish spot than this.

Park Side Cafe, 1-33-31 Nakamachidai, Tsuzuki-ku, Yokohama-shi; (045) 949-3050; www.parkside-cafe.com; open for lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (last order; Sat. and Sun. till 3 p.m.); tea till 5 p.m.; dinner 5-9:30 p.m. (last order); closed Mon. Nearest station: Nakamachidai (Yokohama Subway)

For anyone living on the west side of the city, Inokashira Park in Kichijoji needs no introduction. Nor should the mellow little hideaway known as Pepacafe Forest. Sitting right at the center of the park, surrounded by the trees and overlooking the pond, this casual, easy-going all-day cafe-diner boasts a spacious terrace with as many as 40 seats.

The menu focuses on the spicy specialties of Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia. But you don’t have to have a full meal; you can just install yourself for an hour or two nursing a Singha beer or a Vietnamese coffee. The park is always busy, so don’t expect tranquility and solitude. Even so, it’s cool, green and leafy — and the extra oxygen comes entirely free of charge.

Pepacafe Forest, 4-1-5 Inokashira, Mitaka-shi; (0422) 42-7081; www.peppermintcafe.com; open daily noon-10 p.m. (last order 9 p.m.). Nearest station: Kichijoji (JR, Inokashira lines)

One of our favorite places to spend a cultured hour or two is the wonderful Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, a 15-minute walk from Shinagawa Station. No matter what the exhibition is — and they’re invariably worth catching — the Bauhaus-style building itself is always a pleasure to visit. An extra bonus is the chance to sit and relax afterward in the museum’s excellent little cafe.

Housed in a glass-fronted terrace that always catches the sun nicely, the Cafe d’Art also boasts several outdoor tables with secluded garden views. The set-lunch menu (from ¥1,050) is always attractive and tasty. But the most enjoyable option is to time your visit for a Wednesday evening, when the museum opens late and the cafe offers candlelit dinners featuring cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a half bottle of champagne at ¥7,980 (from 6 p.m.) Just one more reason why we like the Hara so much.

Cafe d’Art, Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, 4-7-25 Kita-Shinagawa, Shinagawa-ku; (03) 5423-1609; www.haramuseum.or.jp; open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Wed. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat., Sun. and holidays 11 a.m.-6 p.m.); closed Mon. Nearest station: Shinagawa (JR)