There is a certain restaurant in the first basement level of a multi-tenant building in one corner of a shopping street near the office district. The historical restaurant, marked by a sign with a picture of a cat, is called “Western Cuisine Nekoya.” This restaurant looks completely normal through the week, but on Saturdays, it opens in secret exclusively to some very unique guests. During these hours, doors in various areas of a parallel world open to allow customers of many different races and cultures into the restaurant.
Every episode of Restaurant to Another World is split into two smaller stories, each having their own individual focus, which is what drew me to it in the first place. Instead of having an anime short with more than half the amount of time in which to tell a story, we get a more full-bodied portrayal of the restaurant, its employees and the scope of its fantastical clientele. So far we’ve seen the chef sate the hunger of a powerful dragon and feed and employ a homeless demon girl to help him serve his customers. From brutish-looking lizard and lionmen from finicky elves and lost bounty hunters, we are given a showcase of the wide variety of customers Nekoya has – and how they quickly become regulars after trying some of the chef’s tempting food.
Although I stopped for the concept, I stayed for the anime food. I’m always excited to watch an anime that has a focus on food, because anime food always looks incredible. I’ve seen some great shows recently such as Sweetness & Lightning, Piacevole and especially Shokugeki no Souma that have shown me dishes so good that I’ve wanted to reach into the screen and try it; bentos, glazes, parfaits – it blows my mind. And Restaurant to Another World continues this pattern. In typical Shokugeki no Souma style, this anime occasionally will buy into the whole food-porn aspect – there will be extreme close-ups of characters languidly slipping food into their mouths and some noises that, if you closed your eyes, you would wonder just what kind of anime you were really watching. We see less of this as the anime goes on, which is good to see because I didn’t want this story relying solely on those kind of cheap draws to maintain viewers.
The customers from these alternative worlds only have the opportunity to discover this disembodied door on one day of the week, and only if they particularly need it. With an adventurer running out of food in the middle of nowhere to a young upper-class lady of weak health struggling with the death of her grandfather. They go inside and find something magical – are able to eat their fill of delicious food (sometimes a meal harking back to their childhood) and feel restored. In some cases, the food served them at Nekoya is even life-saving – giving them the strength to tackle a situation that they had lacked beforehand.
Some people are saying that this is just a middle-of-the-road anime cashing in on the tail-end of the food anime genre that stories such as Shokugeki no Souma made popular a few seasons ago, but I wouldn’t say that this is the case. The short story segments in this anime, with a character being served food at Nekoya as the central point, are a great platform for enabling so many potentially different stories to converge at one point. The characters sometimes even overlap, with previous characters exiting the restaurant as new customers enter, or they are heard vociferously ordering seconds from another table.
Although there doesn’t seem to be a bigger storyline to this one other than the small stories that are pulled together when a new character enters Nekoya, I find this whole concept rather enjoyable. Every time the door to Nekoya opens up, it’s filled with warm light and the chef and waitress are very accommodating. This anime isn’t going to win any competitions for drama or action, but I do enjoy the occasional anime with a slower pace. The range of characters are beautifully drawn and colourful and each episode adds another depth and perspective to this fantastical animated world.