I’m not quite sure how I stumbled upon Restaurant of love regained… The novel’s title made me think of those feel-good books that have overtaken book stores of late, where a young woman goes through a breakup with her boyfriend who she comes to realise was never « the one », moves to a new city or country or changes jobs, opens up a sweet shop or a restaurant or a bakery and then finds new love. These clichés I had in mind prevented me from reading Restaurant of love regained earlier, as I don’t really enjoy that kind of literature that doesn’t challenge me intellectually at all.
However, if I had followed my instincts and avoided the book entirely, I would have missed out on a refreshing and poetic piece of writing! The saying says that you mustn’t judge a book by its cover, but I think it would be useful to remember that you shouldn’t make a snap judgement based on a title either.
My opinion on Restaurant of love regained
The basic story arc follows the same pattern as the one I imagined: Rinco, a young Japanese woman, comes home after an argument with her Indian boyfriend to find her flat completely empty and all of their cash savings vanished. Rinco uses the loose change in her pocket to take a coach back to her childhood village and move back in with her mother who she hasn’t seen in 10 years. She settles in and opens up a restaurant in order to start a new life there.
In Restaurant of love regained, the reader discovers – happily but unsurprisingly – a lot of detailed descriptions of food being prepared and the restaurant being decorated. Rinco prefers to use fresh, seasonal and local produce in her cooking and always chooses top quality ingredients when cooking delicious meals for her customers. The (very) long processes required to cook the different dishes of her Japanese, French or Indian cuisine give the reader access to the quiet comfort that comes from a simmering pot of something or other, or the smell of slowly brewing tea. The main character puts her heart and soul into her work, and her passion for cooking is matched only by the fluidity of the author’s writing.
I’m glad I read Restaurant of love regained, as it helped me think about the ethical issues of eating meat. Rinco includes meat in her dishes, but she has an almost spiritual respect for the animals that are sacrificed for the meals she prepares. She watches over and even takes part in the killing of the animals to prevent any suffering, and makes sure to cook every part of each animal so as to avoid waste. This makes up a surprising part of the story and is sometimes difficult to read.
Emotions and cooking smells mingle beautifully in this novel, and the different steps of the story come one after the other like the courses in the luxury meals Rinco prepares. The “love regained” in the title is not necessarily romantic, the ending is not necessarily happy, and food doesn’t fix everyone’s problems despite all of Rinco’s best efforts.
Still, in my opinion, Restaurant of love regained also has a few faults. I was quite put out by Rinco’s initial reaction to her breakup that I couldn’t help finding a little over the top, especially since that theme was almost completely forgotten in the rest of the novel. I thought that it would be a major part of the storyline, but I get the impression that it was just a pretext in order to send the main character back to her hometown. Also, although I enjoyed reading Rinco’s customers’ joyful reactions when eating her food, I couldn’t really believe in all of the positive effects that her dishes supposedly had on their future lives and decisions.
Those two downsides permitting, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book! I highly recommend it to people who like good cooking and realistic, bittersweet stories.