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June 20, 2022

Villa del Nido

Italian restaurant blossoms in lush, rugged setting

  • Destination Restaurants 2022

Mount Unzen is an active volcanic complex in the center of the Shimabara Peninsula in Nagasaki Prefecture long known for both beauty and danger. In 1934, Unzen National Park became one of Japan’s first three national parks, alongside Setonaikai National Park and Kirishima National Park. The eruption from 1990 through 1995 is seared into the memory of many Japanese — the volcano caused 38 mudflows and seven massive pyroclastic flows, leaving 44 people dead or missing, including members of the international media. In 2009, the Unzen volcanic area was designated a UNESCO Global Geopark. 

Villa del Nido is an Italian restaurant in Unzen, a city in the northwest of the peninsula. About an hour and a half by car from Nagasaki Airport, Unzen is a small city of fewer than 10,000 people. With a mild climate and temperatures that vary little throughout the year, the area boasts the highest potato production in Kyushu and is known for its many agricultural products. Villa del Nido is surrounded by farms that grow strawberries in winter and melons and moroheiya greens in summer, reflecting the natural bounty of the region.

Takafumi Yoshida, the owner-chef of Villa del Nido, was born and raised on the peninsula. A job at a restaurant in the city of Fukuoka set him on the path toward cooking, and at 26, he traveled to Italy. After training in the Piedmont region for a year, he returned to Fukuoka and took a job at a seaside cafe. It was there that he found his direction as a chef.

“Everyone who worked at the cafe surfed, and they would pick up garbage at the beach,” he said. “They were very committed to conservation. Seeing them was a wake-up call. I decided that instead of opening a restaurant in downtown Fukuoka like I’d originally planned, I wanted to engage with the natural environment of my hometown.”

In 2015, he opened a six-table restaurant on the grounds of his childhood home. Yoshida cooks and his wife, Haruna, serves; they are the only employees.

At both lunch and dinner, there is one prix fixe menu, made up of eight to 10 dishes including dessert, for ¥18,150 ($130). Yoshida uses a wide range of techniques to draw out the full potential of his ingredients, as a dish of locally grown mustard greens simmered in a fermented lamb extract illustrates. There are delicacies from the ocean, like nori and fugu from the Ariake Sea and harpooned ishidai (striped beakfish) from the Goto Islands, killed swiftly at sea to preserve its freshness. There is produce from local farms, like potatoes, strawberries and pink-and-white hinona turnips shaped like carrots. Shimabara somen, called “the thinnest noodles in the world,” sometimes makes an appearance on the menu. The food, much of which incorporates garden ingredients like mugwort, okra and carrots, has a pure, delicious flavor. Ninety percent of the ingredients come from Shimabara. Yoshida says that as he worked to create a restaurant rooted in place, he connected with local producers. Valuing those relationships led naturally to an emphasis on locally produced food.

■Sustainable Japan Magazine (Sustainable Japan by The Japan Times)

■satoyama~Authentic Japan (Sustainable Japan by The Japan Times)


Villa del Nido

  • 10


313-2 Tairako, Kunimicho, Unzen-shi, Nagasaki

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