There are lots of good reasons for visiting Kamakura. It has temples, shrines and walks in the hills. You can windsurf, laze on the beach or just enjoy that rare sensation of having escaped the megalopolis. But dining out rarely comes high on the list.
This historic city has never been a gourmet destination. And that’s surprising, given the resources right on its doorstep. It has excellent seafood, landed daily from Sagami Bay, and a vegetable market of such quality that chefs drive down from Tokyo each morning to snap up the local produce.
Kamakura is a tourist town and falls silent once the day trippers have headed home. It has never developed its own cuisine or delicacies. There are numerous noodle counters and more than a few fancy French restaurants, but little in the way of sushi or traditional cuisine.
What you will find in good supply is third-wave coffee shops, artisanal bakeries and craft beer bars. There are also some surprisingly good pizzerias — none more worth searching out than Latteria Bebe.
It’s a friendly place run by two brothers. Kentaro Yamazaki apprenticed as a pizzaiolo in Naples. His younger sibling, Daishiro, also worked in Italy as a chef, but changed tack and studied cheese-making. Inspired by the mozzarella and burrata he tasted in Puglia, his aim was to open a place in Japan where people can drop in to buy fresh cheese straight out of the bowl, just like they do in Italy.
Pooling their talents, they took over an old wood-frame house close behind Kamakura Station, built a wood-fired pizza oven right inside the entrance, converted a side room into a cheese workshop and turned the living space into a dining area. They also added a covered patio with a large communal table in the front yard, which is always in demand whatever the weather.
So why is Bebe so popular? The most obvious answer is that Yamazaki makes a very good pizza. His Bismarck, topped with Italian guanciale (cured pork jowl) and soft-cooked egg, is great. So, too, is his pizza bianca with salsiccia (homemade sausage) and rapini greens. And as a local accent, he also does one scattered with the Shonan area specialty, tiny shirasu whitebait — just ask for the bianchetti. To have home-made mozzarella cheese on top makes it even better.
Secondly, there’s a lot more on the menu besides pizza. Of the antipasti, the standout is the rich, oozing home-made burrata served with a simple tomato salad. The pasta are inventive, with seasonal variations such as the linguine with hotaru-ika (firefly squid) and fukinoto (wild butterbur buds) that was being served early this spring, or the summer orecchiette with octopus ragu.
At midday there are good-value set menus, which are always a big draw with local residents who lunch. And this is really what sets Bebe apart: It feels like a place for people in the know, and not geared to the tourist trade. Be sure to book your place or expect waits of an hour or more.
Pasta from ¥900, pizza from ¥850, set lunch from ¥1,300; Italian menu; some English spoken. Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com.