10th May 2019: Tokyo to Matsumoto

This was the day I got to experience for the first time the wonderful world of the Shinkansen, as we travelled to Matsumoto, in Nagano.

We were staying in the station hotel only that night, so this was both our first and last breakfast here. The elevation, and the views of nearby skyscrapers were quite different to our normal views!

Fusion breakfast with skyscraper views
Fusion breakfast with skyscraper views

I had multiple coffee servings, I’ll admit…

Bullet trains in Tokyo station
Bullet trains in Tokyo station

I know this is a food blog, but you can’t avoid getting excited by the sights of these engineering wonders. So aerodynamic! So clean! So futuristic! I was fascinated by seeing these trains slide so smoothly along the tracks as they approached the platform.

But back to the fooding: it was amusing to learn about these train picnic boxes that are sold in the stations, the ekiben:

Shop selling train picnic boxes
Shop selling train picnic boxes

Apparently they’re really good quality, but we didn’t get any as I was going through my orthodontics treatment and I couldn’t just eat as you go.

I was also very amused to learn the origin of the word: eki (railway) + ben (from bento).

It was bullet train all the way to Nagano city, then we changed into a more regional type of train, and after watching some really pretty scenery pass by, we were in Matsumoto, and hungry.

珈琲 まるも

I had done some preparation ahead of time and bookmarked in Foursquare what looked like interesting places where we could grab a snack and have a coffee, so we walked to one of those, called 珈琲 まるも or Café Marumoto, not really knowing too well what to expect…

There, instead of the usual hipster café we found a quaint old-fashioned inn. It was dim inside, dark wood beams, traditional furniture, a few locals quietly having their drinks and chatting to the barista.

What had I got us into?

Japanese heater
Japanese heater – I think I had only seen one of these in the Neko Atsume game before!
Coffee menu at 珈琲 まるも
Coffee menu at 珈琲 まるも

I don’t remember what was going on with us when we ordered—I seem to recall that we wanted to order individual items but there was some sort of set menu and we had to choose some options from there, but we eventually managed to reach an agreement with the waiter.

Still, we somehow ended up with what we could describe, in retrospect, as an “unusual” lunch:

Iced coffee with a ball of ice-cream
Iced coffee with a ball of ice-cream
Walnuts on toast
Walnuts on toast
Honey on toast
Honey on toast

I personally was very pleased, as I loved everything about this: Iced coffee! Ice cream! Honey! Walnuts! All on toast! But Devvers was a bit more skeptical and muttered something about having dessert for lunch not being “entirely” right. Bah! 😂

Once we caffeinated ourselves and felt a bit more alive again, we slowly walked towards our very 80s-looking hotel:

I'm working on the lounge behind the left. Please voice your voice.
I’m working on the lounge behind the left. Please voice your voice.

Once we checked-in, we went to Matsumoto Castle, and the Museum of Modern Art, which happens to house a Yayoi Kusama exhibition because Yayoi Kusama was born in Matsumoto, and so we saw the permanent collection, the temporary collection, Yayoi’s collection, and a final collection that understandably knocked us out. Definitely excellent value for money, though!

As we left the museum and wandered down the road, with the heads full of art, and tired, but not willing to succumb to bed yet, the question emerged: what if we had another coffee?

I produced my list of potential coffee spots again, and there was one nearby: the Hop Frog Café.

Hop Frog Café

At first sight: industrial chic and full of coffee and beer paraphernalia. Looking very promising.

It was calm inside as a few clients quietly drank and appreciated their beer, talking in hushed voices to the barista. I was liking this place a lot already.

Hop Frog Café taps
Hop Frog Café taps
Hop Frog Café coffee beans
Hop Frog Café coffee beans

This coffee beans menu was very promising:

Coffee beans menu at Hop Frog Café
Coffee beans menu at Hop Frog Café
Coffee menu at Hop Frog Café
Coffee menu at Hop Frog Café

And I thought I just wanted the coffee (which the barista took lots of care to prepare—I really enjoyed her attention to detail), but I ended up tempted by the banana bread as well…

Banana bread and filter coffee at Hop Frog Café
Banana bread and filter coffee at Hop Frog Café

Whilst “someone else” was tempted by the idea of a nitro coffee brewed by a beer professional… with a shot of bourbon (the Bad Ass version) 😏

Nitro Coffee Bad Ass
Nitro Coffee Bad Ass — look at that layer of foam!

We joked it wasn’t clear if the nitro coffee would wake people up… or put them to sleep!

The truth is that it was such a nice place, we couldn’t just have a coffee and leave, so we naturally moved onto the beer sampling.

Of course. How could you not?

Beer flight at Hop Frog Café
Beer flight at Hop Frog Café

We had:

  • Pineapple Ale – Fruit beer (Sankt Gallen Brewery)
  • 4 (for) Smile Pale Ale – Pale Ale (Y. Market Brewing)
  • Nagomi – IPA (Kyoto Brewing Company)
  • Tarukuma Last Samurai – Saison / Farmhouse Ale (Bear Meet Beer)
  • Yirgacheffe No Asayake Coffee IPA – IPA (Ushitora Brewery)

There was a continuous, but subdued, trickle of regulars coming and talking to the owners, then going. Some patrons came with a strange piece of what seemed to be brewing hardware, and spent some time looking at it, discussing and talking about it with the owner of the café, and yet it was all quite quiet and peaceful.

There was also a board announcing something like discovery Saturdays, where you go and taste coffees to determine which one you prefer. I declared that if I lived in Matsumoto I would spend all my Saturdays here.

I had found my spiritual home.

Matsumoto Brewery Taproom

But Devvers wanted to move on. We had seen the sign for a taproom earlier in the day, when we walked towards the Marumoto café, but it was too early for alcohol.

And now was the right time. And so we went to the Matsumoto Brewery Taproom, nested in a quiet alley nearby.

Matsumoto Brewery Taproom
Matsumoto Brewery Taproom

It is not a big place, and with 8 people it was already packed, but we managed to squeeze in and find a little spot at the counter. The barista spoke perfect English and we ended up chatting to her lots while we sampled all the beers on tap, and discussed all sorts of regional beer varieties and how much I liked IPAs above everything else.

And so we tasted:

  • Session IPA
  • Awesome! Pale Ale
  • Crafts Month Brut
  • Traditional Bitter

And then we ended up talking to a local couple who had recently been on a trip to… Spain! and they were very excited about talking to us about Barcelona and also were very, very intrigued as to why were we visiting Matsumoto, as for them it was “just a town”, and they were sort of used to the sights, having been to the castle grounds for picnics many times.

A pint from Matsumoto Brewery
A pint from Matsumoto Brewery

It was quite strange to chat to strangers because you normally don’t talk to strangers in London, unless you’re visiting London yourself and thus don’t know that secret rule because you’re a stranger. So it took me a while to relax into the whole thing and trust that they didn’t have an accomplice nearby ready to steal my purse when I was distracted.

At the end I was trying to convince them to visit Spain again to see Valencia’s Fallas, through a combination of showing them pictures, gesturing, and using Google Translate to fill any remaining gaps in our communication.

Devvers reminded me of the fact that we had had dessert twice already (the honeyed toast, and the banana bread) and suggested we should find something to eat, which I agreed was a good idea after sampling all these fabulous beers.

松本てらす

We ended up in this restaurant called 松本てらす, in a sort of new shopping mall which looked really empty, and we ordered what we thought would just be a simple, no-nonsense set menu. We thought that way we would not need to decide, as our brains were quite non-functional at that point: we could just sit and enjoy as someone else decided for us.

And sit and enjoy we had to, as it turned out that we had accidentally ordered some sort of tasting menu with lots of courses. And everything was delicious! And it was NOT all desserts! 😂

It was finally time to call it a day…

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