Japan Eats

Review: Bar Vita, Fukuoka

Our man in Fukuoka, Kupa Hokianga, visits Bar Vita in Nakasu.

In Nakasu, just ten minutes’ walk toward the canal from the Tenjin Business Center, is the chic Italian restaurant Bar Vita, presented by ORTO cafe. My good friend Mat suggested we have lunch there, as Bar Vita is one of only a few non-smoking restaurants in Tenjin.

We arrived just after 12 p.m., greeted by the clatter of plates and the hum of conversation from a relaxed lunchtime crowd. You could tell most were regulars and the staff gestured to the free seating with one hand while holding a stack of white plates and utensils in the other.

An exposed ceiling and dark wood veneer tables dominate the decor. Even on a overcast winter’s day, loads of natural light comes in through the floor to ceiling windows at the front entrance and along one side. A generously proportioned bar with seating runs the length of the exterior window with more tables located in the center floor space. The design really appealed to me and, in fact, Bar Vita would not be out of place on Sydney’s Circular Quay waterfront.

The blackboard lunch menu changes regularly. On the day of our visit we could choose from a choice of spaghetti, pasta, curry, or spaghetti bolognese  for 900 yen. Included in that price was an unlimited selection of fresh breads, salad, soup, and beverages at the service bar in the center of the floor.

I ordered the spaghetti and we found a seat at the bar looking out onto the street. Reading from some printed information, it explained that the bread and sauces are prepared daily at their off site kitchen and bakery in Kego – using only premium ingredients – and delivered to the restaurant each morning. The pasta, along with any additional requests, is cooked to order in the restaurant kitchen. I counted ten different breads available at the salad bar, warmed and replenished by an attentive staff. There were at least six dressings and vinaigrettes to go with the two garden salads. There were several other foods to choose from, including a consomme soup with croutons. This was certainly a step above your average salad bar.

The spaghetti order arrived. My main criticism being that, with the attention to detail everywhere else, I would have liked to have seen a greater attempt to serve the spaghetti al dente and a little hotter. It was not a taste stand-out. My personal preference is for a rustic earthiness in Italian food, but for a city clientele at lunch, loads of garlic at this time of the day may not be wise.

Mat and I spent two hours catching up on gossip with regular trips back to the salad bar for fresh bread, mini pizza slices, and freshly brewed Illy coffee.

I will certainly be going back to Bar Vita and can recommend it to anyone visiting Fukuoka. Overall a 7.5/10: service was wonderful, food presentation faultless, I could taste the freshness of the ingredients, and it was, at 900 yen, fantastic value. The selection of breads and the coffee were my highlights. If they just got a bit more adventurous with the sauce it would have sealed the deal for me.

The serving counter has baskets containing loaves of fresh bread for purchase.

Bar Vita is located on 1F 5.6.25 Hakata-ku, Nakasu. Its open for lunch and dinner, and is non-smoking at lunch time only. Bar Vita is licensed. www.bar-vita.com

Cafe Review: Artisan Coffee, Fukuoka

Kupa Hokianga reviews Artisan Coffee in Fukuoka

Recently, a friend of mine took one of his colleagues to a cafe I recommended for its excellent macchiato.
The coffee arrived at their table, the ham-handed colleague managed to spill his before tasting it. My friend offered to order another, but the guest responded, “Ah, doesn’t matter; I’m more a Starbucks kind of guy.”

My heart sunk when told. I’m not sure what the moral is here, something about a horse and water.

Artisan's Rocket espresso machine in action (Photo: Neil Witkin)

My wife’s friend recommended I try Artisan Coffee, a 12-seat, slightly bohemian cafe in Hirao (Fukuoka). It’s off my normal route, but the sample of their beans I received suggested it was worth a visit.

Takamiya-dori is a busy road in a prosperous residential part of town. When we arrived, the small cafe, which could be described in a 1980 Vogue magazine as “shabby chic”, was empty of customers. I ordered an espresso and my wife selected a caramel latte.

While making polite conversation with friends, I watched the barista out of the corner of my eye as he calibrated the grinder setting one notch to the right before a quick test into the palm of his hand, then fresh ground a dose of dark roasted beans before effortlessly swiping the port-a-filler level; a gentle tamp and tap and a few seconds later the extraction had started. My demitasse arrived with a perfectly proportioned warmed spoon on the side.

The espresso was near faultless – the crema maintained structure, the temperature was perfect, and the caramel sweetness from the bean came through with just a hint of bitterness. The macchiato I ordered next was excellent and is now my coffee of choice.

I cannot comment on my wife’s afternoon caramel latte as that drink at that time of day goes against everything I believe in. I took her word for it when she said it tasted fantastic and the rabbit face latte art was kawaii.

Artisan Coffee is a must-do, mainly because they consistently get the coffee basics right and to a high standard and the starchy Japanese cafe culture is tossed out the window.

The barista critique and my coffee snobbery aside, if you just want nice coffee and don’t mind mismatched decor, grab your favorite magazine, turn off your phone and enjoy this small indulgence. You will not be disappointed. The cappuccinos are creamy, the macchiato is full-bodied and the barista is working on his flat white.

Food selection is limited, so don’t arrive hungry, but there’s a relaxed, informal ambiance and outdoor smoking tables. Coffee prices start at 380 yen, which is exceptional value. Surprisingly seating always seems to be available. Their primary bean is Fidalgo Bay (organic shade grown), the espresso machine is a single-head Rocket.

This article has been edited. The original version misspelled Fidalgo. This has now been corrected.

Artisan Coffee is located on Takamiya dori. If accessing from Hirao station, it’s about 5 minutes’ walk on the right as you head towards Yakuin station. Open 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., six days a week. No website.