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SIMOSE French Restaurant: Gourmet on Hiroshima’s Western Frontier

Hiroshima has become an increasingly popular tourist destination for travelers from overseas, but in terms of where in Hiroshima Prefecture they congregate, it’s mostly Hiroshima City and the island of Miyajima in neighboring Hatsukaichi City. They tend to take the Shinkansen from other cities or the Airport Limousine Bus from HIJ to Hiroshima Station, maybe check in to their accommodation facilities, and take the streetcar throughout town or the JR Red Sanyo Line as far as Miyajimaguchi before taking either ferry line to Miyajima. That’s fine and dandy, as I believe those destinations are must-see places to be knocked out first, but there are still so many underrated sites on Hiroshima Prefecture’s western cusp that I hope to see more tourists discover. Attractions such as the Kintai Bridge in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi, or the SIMOSE Art Museum in Otake, Hiroshima, are well-equipped to welcome foreign visitors, are chock full of beautiful nature along with engrossing exhibits for rainy days, and of course, are rife with good eats and noteworthy souvenirs to bring home.

Cross-Border Sightseeing

How good does the food get in this rural western frontier? Naturally, to find out, I would have to seek out one of the fanciest restaurants in the area, one of which is the French Restaurant on the complex of the newly-opened SIMOSE Art Museum. I had wanted to try that place ever since I toured the museum for the first time this past March, but considering the prices, I had to wait for a special occasion to justify the expense. When that occasion arose, I pounced and made my reservation by phone for a group dinner. However, I wasn’t content idling that day away by simply going right before it was time to eat, so we made a day trip out of it, touring Iwakuni in the midday before progressing up to Otake.

I took a boatload of pictures that day, but if I had to pick one to be especially proud of, it would be this view of the Kintai Bridge with no people in sight. It took what felt like forever and a day, sitting on the steps and biding my time for the right moment, but my patience paid off and I might have inspired passersby to take a similar photo after I snapped mine. Leisurely spending the day like that is a minor setback for me, since staring blankly down at the river or up at Iwakuni Castle and its cable car are relaxing pastimes in and of themselves. Once on the other side of the bridge, our group had a light lunch of Yamaguchi specialties like pufferfish tempura, took a quiet stroll around Kikko Park, and watched cormorants splash about in their cages and get us wet.

After some soft serve ice cream from Musashi and the return trip across Kintai Bridge, we made haste for Otake Station, from which we hailed a taxi bound for the SIMOSE Art Museum. Fortunately, the museum has rows upon rows of lockers, so in spite of our numerous bags of souvenirs from Iwakuni, we could lighten our load and browse the exhibits with ease. 

The items on display were mostly different from the ones I saw at their inaugural exhibit, but once in a while, I saw something familiar, which brought a smile to my face. For instance, the porcelain sculpture of a bird’s nest built on the underside of a buttress was new, and my hat is off to any artist who puts that much detail into pottery. The floating shipping containers that housed the second half of the museum were also put into a different arrangement this time, and the items inside were swapped out according to the season. Whereas in March, the exhibit was dominated by cherry blossoms, in the fall, red leaves are prevalent in the artwork.

Diner du Jour, First Half

I took my sweet time going through all the rooms of the museum until it closed at 5:00 p.m., after which point, I made my way back to my locker to retrieve my things and then headed out into the back courtyard, where the SIMOSE French Restaurant was located. Dinner was to start at 5:30 p.m., so we spent the extra time enjoying the outdoor area, gazing out at the sea, taking photos all over the place, and peeking into the restaurant to see if they were ready to host us. At last, we opened the door a few minutes prior to our reserved time, and they promptly showed us to our table. There were three courses available that night: a seafood course, a meat course, and a comprehensive course that included both surf and turf. The folks dining with me went with the seafood course, but I decided to go for the most expensive option in order to get to know the full menu as best as I could.

Outside of the main dishes, the items served were the exact same across all three courses, and consisted of a small appetizer, a soup, a choice of a cool hors d’oeuvre, a choice of a warm hors d’oeuvre, and several dessert plates with a hot beverage following the main event. Shortly after our waitress took our drink orders, we were presented with the amuse-bouche, a beef tongue croquette impaled on a toothpick, with a couple vegetables fritters to the side and three droplets of sauce for dipping. I flew through this starter in three bites, but the next item, a bread basket with slices of butter, was already awaiting us. We were thrilled to be informed that there were free refills on bread, and voraciously tore through the basket up until the main course, but we knew that it wasn’t in our best interest to wolf down more than one basket.

Given that there were three different kinds of bread, each hot and fresh, I was tempted to spread butter on at least one piece of each kind. In the midst of buttering up a piece, the next stage, a chilled pumpkin soup with drops of cream, tiny chunks of tomato, and fine herbs sprinkled on top, graced the dining table. This delectable, seasonal soup provided the picture-perfect justification for downing more bread, as the two went together like peanut butter and jelly. Aside from the gorgeous glass bowl in which the soup was served, the creamy texture of the pumpkin purée was so gripping, I had to resist the temptation to pick up the bowl and shovel the rest of the soup into my mouth.

As for the cool and warm hors d’oeuvres, we made sure that not everybody picked the same option so we could see what both dishes looked like. Someone besides myself got the lobster and turnip salad with lemon dressing, which also came topped with caviar, among other things. Had the alternative not been more enticing, I might have gone with this one too.

Instead, I opted for the squid salad on a bed of squid ink risotto, which I didn’t regret one bit. The pieces of squid were folded into the shape of flower petals and arranged neatly on the cylindrical pile of black risotto before being garnished with caviar, miscellaneous greens, and a fried disc of something I couldn’t identify. The sauce that came with the risotto enhanced the flavor of the squid salad, and I must admit, I felt a bit gloomy after realizing I had finished the last bite.

The next stage was the warm hors d’oeuvres, which, once again, went according to our plan of divide and conquer. My choice was the grilled scallops with a clam and stringy fried leeks, served in a verdant leek sauce. I was content to see more vegetables making an appearance as the salads that came prior were severely lacking in plant matter. 

The warm hors d’oeuvre I didn’t get was the grilled wagyu sirloin and mushroom risotto soaked in a consommé soup. As I had had the squid ink risotto just minutes before, having the steak risotto would have been redundant; this plate belonged to the person who got the lobster and turnip salad. Looking back, though, perhaps I could have devoured two plates of risotto in succession, as this dish looked yummy enough to rival the shellfish dish I feasted on.

Moment of Joy: Excelsior Dining Atmosphere

The food wasn’t the only beautiful sight that night, as we were seated right by the window that afforded a widespread vista of the Seto Inland Sea as we dined. A huge ship sluggishly cruised past as we dug into course after course, and because it was twilight, the sky also saw a phenomenal change in color. Eventually, the sky turned pitch black, and seeing the usual Otake seascape at night for the first time from the dinner table was also a magical moment. The dining atmosphere was further augmented by the stellar waiters and waitresses, who exceeded expectations and provided the best fine dining service I have ever had in all of Hiroshima Prefecture. It wasn’t just the menu, but our server also spoke proficient, polite English (not the lackluster “okay, okay” I often hear in Japanese restaurants) befitting the type of restaurant it was, which was a big help to those in my group who couldn’t understand Japanese and makes SIMOSE an excellent choice for the international crowd.

Diner du Jour, Second Half

After all those appetizers and hors d’oeuvres, the time finally came for the main plates. Every single one of us got the same seafood dish: deep-fried grouper and mushrooms in a cauliflower purée, dressed in a savory brown sauce. The other choice was a pan-seared abalone with fried matsutake mushrooms; it’s a shame none of my partners wanted to try it. The grouper was caught in Hagi, a city in neighboring Yamaguchi Prefecture right by the Sea of Japan. The texture of the fried mushroom was as expected, but the fish was a little on the firm side so I had to cut with more concentration. I liked how one piece of fish included the fin so we could pick it up with our hands and eat it like chicken or crab.

Following that was the meat course for me only, though in my case, it was poultry. I got a plate of roast duck in spices, paired with some steamed vegetables and cherry sauce. The alternative was a grilled Hiroshima wagyu beef filet with perigueux sauce, but it cost extra, and I already had wagyu filet for lunch a couple days prior. I always preferred duck over chicken, as duck meat tends to have a richer and smokier taste, which this duck definitely possessed. It was also the first time I’ve had any meat paired with a cherry sauce, and the tart flavor provided a contrast from the duck that went well for the same reasons people drink red wine with meat.

After the main courses were over and done with, the only items remaining were a trio of desserts and a choice of coffee, tea, or herbal tea to close out the meal. The first out of the desserts served was a crème brûlée topped with what seemed with a black truffle-flavored ice cream. The heat of the burnt cream underneath melted the truffle topping somewhat, and after cracking the hard top layer, the black truffle and vanilla cream flavors tasted heavenly when eaten together.

The second dessert was the figurative icing on the cake for the night, as the birthday guest in our group got a special plate with a lemon cake and a scoop of lemon sorbet, along with a “Happy Birthday” message written in chocolate pen. We spent as much time doing a photoshoot of this plate as that diner spent eating the food on it, which unsurprisingly didn’t take all that long. The white chocolate sauce and dark chocolate birthday message were ideal matches for the cake, and the refreshing lemon sorbet provided a welcome change in texture between bites of cake. Even the dried rosemary in the center was purportedly a tasty treat, and no trace of the birthday message was left by the time the plate was done with.


The final dessert was this tiny plate of custard tarts and chocolate-covered candied oranges, with one of each per customer. This server handed this over with the check for tonight, and unlike in normal Japanese restaurants, where guests pay at the register, at SIMOSE French, they took our credit card at our dining table and processed the payment elsewhere. Despite the size of this dessert, the taste of the tarts and oranges could rival the confections that came before, and served as a sweet high note to our multi-course dinner. Payment took a while due to a misunderstanding that arose from us ordering different courses, but after that was resolved, the restaurant staff graciously summoned a taxi from Otake Station to pick us up from the museum entrance. As we left the restaurant, the staff inside collectively thanked us for dining and saw us off, but one gentleman followed us outside, apologized for the blunder with the bill, and instructed us to wait in the museum’s back courtyard until the cab arrived. He phoned the taxi company repeatedly to check up on the situation, and all the while, we were surrounded by an otherworldly nightscape of the SIMOSE Art Museum after hours, with the floating shipping containers and museum lobby constantly lit.

After a few more minutes of being on standby, the gentlemen returned from the restaurant and escorted us to the front entrance of the museum, where the cab was just pulling up to the stop. We exchanged our farewells, and with that, it was a brief ride to Otake Station, and a calm train ride back to Hiroshima City. Indeed, some of the fanciest restaurants in Hiroshima Prefecture lie outside of Hiroshima City and may require a commute with transfers (if one isn’t driving oneself), but the destinations justify the journeys. Personally, I felt like my tour of Iwakuni and Otake followed by dinner at SIMOSE French exceeded my sightseeing and dining adventures at more typical tourist sites, so exploring past Miyajimaguchi is bound to yield better experiences for others who go the extra mile too. A world of worthy sights and tastes awaits on the prefecture’s western frontier, so go west, young traveler, and discover the gourmet treasures around the Hiroshima-Yamaguchi border. Bon voyage!

Written by the Joy in Hiroshima Team