Where can I find it? Villa Aida is a secluded retreat in the heart of rural Wakayama, about one hour south of Osaka. Opened in 1998, it is run by chef Kanji Kobayashi and his wife Yumi as a rustic restaurant serving innovative Italian-inspired cuisine.
Trading Japan for Italy: At age 21, Kobayashi left his hometown on a one-way ticket to Italy. For four years, he learned his trade at restaurants across the country, from the mountains in the north to the Gulf of Naples. After returning to Japan, he opened Villa Aida on a corner of his father’s farm to pay homage to his time in Europe.
Produce-forward dining: Vegetables are the stars at Villa Aida. Having grown up in a farming family, Kobayashi now grows much of the organic produce used in the restaurant – or sources from his surrounding neighbours. He says there are more than 100 different vegetables growing in the surrounding fields, each pivotal to the creation of dishes across the 10-course tasting menu.
What’s the food like? Kobayashi likes to match seafood with his produce, such as squid with local fennel. Another signature dish is deep-fried mizu-nasu eggplant with green onions and a purée of fresh almonds from his own trees with local sesame.
On the way up: Villa Aida received the Highest New Entry Award in 2022, when it debuted on the list at No.14 – a spot it retained in 2023 too.