Greenhouse CoLLabo: A peaceful retreat in Umekoji Park

by J.J. O'Donoghue

Umekoji Park, near Kyoto Station, has in recent years been through more makeovers than a beauty queen. The park is already home to the Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum and Kyoto Aquarium, and now the builders are working on an enormous playground. Occupying a quiet corner of the park, Greenhouse CoLLabo offers an escape from the crowds and creative disruption.

The cafe is designed to let in as much light as possible, hence the name Greenhouse. The best seats are by the windows, which stretch up to the vaulted ceiling and offer expansive views of a modern Japanese garden with a fabricated waterfall. The focus is on nature: The tables are great chunks of planed trees; water whispers its way below, visible through spy holes in the floor.

The menu doesn’t stray from the standard Japanese cafe menu: Along with the daily special (higawari) there is the tried and tested curry and rice, karaage (deep-fried chicken balls), chicken nanban (deep-fried chicken with tartare sauce) and katsu (breaded pork cutlets), all of which come with soup and a choice of bread or rice. With dessert you get a sense of CoLLabo’s more adventurous side; they are petit, colorful and often decorated with edible sea creatures. Try the slice of chocolate gateau topped with a dolphin-shaped biscuit. CoLLabo fits eloquently into its surroundings and the fare is made with quality Kyoto ingredients; it’s just a pity the chefs don’t push the boat out a little more and see where it might take them.

Umekoji Park, 56-3 Kankiji-cho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto; 075-371-0680; www.gh-collabo.com; nearest station Kyoto; open 11 a.m.- 7 p.m. (6 p.m. in Dec., Jan. and Feb.): lunch around ¥1,000 (plus drinks); no smoking; English menu; no English spoken.