Kurokawa Onsen is, as the name states, a town for bathing. It is not a town known for its lunch options, and certainly not at the late hour of 3pm as my husband and I wandered around desperate for a bite to eat. Had I referenced an earlier Japan Travel overview of the onsen town, I would have made a beeline for Warokuya and its curries. Instead, it was pure chance that we stumbled across this restaurant, but it made such an impression that we ate here twice in two days!
Walking into Warokuya immediately gives one a warm feeling, not just from their cozily set thermostat but from the cheery walls and low-beamed wooden ceilings. Seating is varied, from a bar to a nook with couches to standard tables tucked into corners. It’s hard to be choosy, though, since most of the time Warokuya is packed. It seems the café attracts an incredibly mixed crowd, from teenagers to tourists to seniors decked out in robes and geta (wooden sandals) from an afternoon of bathing.
Due to its variety of patrons, Warokuya offers bilingual menus, which I used to joke was a sign of “tourist-quality food. Thankfully, my hypothesis was proven wrong. I began my meal with a black croquette, a fried potato pancake with pork and squid ink that resembled a lava rock from nearby volcanic Mt Aso. I would have ordered more of this melt-in-your-mouth starter, but my sizable salad soon arrived. While it was a fairly standard offering of lettuce and vegetables – though the sweet potato chips were a welcome addition – the best part of the salad was the choice of dressings. Warokuya offers a selection of three house-made vinaigrettes – a mild onion and mustard, a zesty oil-free tomato, and a fresh-tasting shiso with hints of sunflower seed oil. Separate bowls are offered so you can try all three.
Warokuya is also known for its curries, and my husband’s curry trio only affirmed that the reputation is well deserved. The chicken curry, with a ginger, garlic and tomato base, was hands-down my favorite of the three, but the squid-ink colored black pork curry and the local horsemeat curry – simmered slowly for at least three days – were delicious in their own right.
It’s hard to save room for dessert but it’d be a shame to walk out without at least tasting Warokuya’s parfaits, made with yogurt or pudding from local Aso-based dairies. A mix-up with our waiter (our fault, completely) meant that the chocolate and caramel pudding parfait we thought we ordered was replaced by a fruit and yogurt option instead. Rather than be disappointed, we considered the fresh berry sauce, moist cheesecake bites and creamy artisan vanilla ice cream the perfect end to a memorable lunch.
Warokuya sits at the southeastern corner of Kurokawa Onsen, just before the bridge to the Okyakuya Ryokan. Hours are from 10am to 6pm every day except Thursday, but come early for the popular (and finger-licking good) pork cutlet sandwiches. They’re often sold out by noon.