On a Golden Week visit to Matsumoto one time, I went to the castle in the morning then, rather than deal with the crowds, I decided to head away from the station instead of towards it, hoping to find a quiet place for lunch. This doesn't always work, but in this instance I was well rewarded, as within just a few minutes I happened upon an absolute gem in Bistro Kotsuna Seta.
It's a very cosy place, with just four tables and a short counter, done out in a gently rustic style with some touches of class. There are charming countryside colours on the tablecloths and chairs, wooden furniture and fittings, tiled eaves over the serving-hatch, then a wooden box for toothpicks, and a proper nice glass decanter for water.
The friendly, welcoming staff speak a little English, and some French; chef Kaneyuki Seta trained and worked in France at the restaurant run by legendary chef Georges Blanc, then was chef at both the Japanese embassy in Spain and at the official residence of the Japanese ambassador to the EU in Belgium (not at the same time, I presume).
The menu was all only in Japanese, however, so I went ahead and ordered without really knowing what I was going to get, which added a little excitement as each course was brought out. I went with the ¥1500 set meal, but had a lunch of such quality that I'd have happily paid much more, as the chef's expertise was evident in every bite.
Just reciting the dishes here makes my mouth water. To start, octopus and baby squid sauteed with caramelized onion; next, creamy leek potage; the main dish, seabass topped with mustard and parsley sauce, served in a tangy red pepper sauce, with fresh vegetables and a smooth pumpkin gratin; and dessert, a generous helping of yoghurt mousse and strawberry sorbet, with a garnish of fresh strawberries.
It was even better than it sounds, a wonderful experience of delicate, complementary textures and flavours, kept light by the use of olive oil and walnut oil rather than butter. This was all accompanied by a basket of home-baked bread, and I was allowed to change my drink to an orange juice instead of the coffee or tea proscribed by the menu.
There are two other set meals, priced at ¥2500 and ¥5000, as well as an a la carte menu, and the chef also runs a cooking school, Cooking Salon Kotsuna. The restaurant is open daily except Wednesday and Sunday for lunch (last order at 1:30pm) and dinner (last order at 8:30pm); it's a little far from the station but, for high quality food at a bargain price, it's definitely worth making the effort to get there.