So I’ve kinda just realised that my last post about my Japan trip in November was a month ago…oopsies!
If you’ve forgotten what happened so far, I spent one evening in Osaka eating delicious yakitori and wandering the colourful Dotonbori street, before meeting my friends the next day for an absolutely mystical stay in Koya-san.
After our night in Koya-san (you really don’t need to spend more than one night), we made our way to the train to our next destination, Kyoto!
First thing’s first, Omen for some of Kyoto’s best udon! Located just down the hill from Ginkaku-ji temple, Omen was lovely and quite traditional, with low tables on top of tatami mats.
Each set of udon comes with a huge plate of condiments to add, as well as optional salad and tempura (depending on which set you get). However, the noodles are so smooth, springy and soaked with flavour, that I found I didn’t need to add much at all!
But one thing I did discover at Kyoto that I instantly fell in love with, was the Kyoto style mackerel/saba sushi. Look at the size of the thing! Rather than just putting the fish on top, as is typical of most sushi, a bit meaty piece of mackerel is rolled in tightly with the rice, and it certainly makes a generous mouthful. I’m absolutely obsessed with mackerel sushi as is, so this was just perfect for me.
Following our late lunch, we had a quick walk down philosopher’s walk, which wasn’t looking as pretty as it might in Spring, where I found a chestnut filled steamed bun, which was hot and perfect.
Not feeling particularly enlightened (maybe the noodles had put us all in a carbohydrate coma), we hopped into cabs, to make our way to Kiyomizu, which is probably my favourite temple in Kyoto.
Sure, it doesn’t have the bling the gold and silver temples do, but there’s a stunning presence, beautiful view, lush greenery, and a slightly psychotically packed pathway that winds up to the temple with lots of delicious things to try and souvenirs to buy…which is half the fun for me.
My favourite thing we ate on the trip up, along with soft serve ice-cream that is, were these cream puffs with all sorts of flavours. We naturally got a chestnut flavour and a green tea flavour to try. The cream is light but flavoursome, the pastry airy and fluffy and so short. Swooning.
For dinner that night, we ventured into the world of Michelin starred restaurants, with our first adventure to Nakamura, a three starred Michelin traditional kaiseki restaurant, in the gorgeous and quite romantic Gion district, where the geisha are still traditionally trained.
I think this might’ve been my first three star Michelin restaurant, and I had no idea of the caliber of food and service I was too expect. I guess somewhat not surprisingly, I was simply blown away.
Nakamura is quite discreet from the street, blending into the beautiful wooden Edo-period style houses; once you step through the curtains, there’s an elegant and beautiful older lady, who I can only assume is the mistress of the restaurant, bowing and welcoming you into the restaurant. Shoes are slipped off, and you step into the corridor, where other yukata-clad women are bowing you in, and before you can even look up to see where you’re going, you’ve been effortlessly fielded into your private dining room.
This is without them asking you for your booking name, or you seeing a single other guest, and no questioning of which direction you need to go in. Fascinating and amazing at the same time.
The green tea we’re served to start our meal is most unusual, and quite palate stimulating, with a savoury and nutty flavour over a bitter or a sweet one.
Service is formal, but also friendly, as we’re attended to by no less than 5 girls, who laugh along with us and speak surprisingly good English, except for the mama-san, who just smiles, speaks in Japanese (with little to no concern that we probably don't understand her) and pours us sake from the most exquisite glass teapot I’ve ever seen.
Our first course is a visual treat, sesame tofu, crab and uni, served up in a crab shell. The table goes silent as we eat. Sweet, smooth, essence of the ocean. This is sublime.
The miso soup following has a sticky mochi inside, but more interestingly, includes a Japanese mustard, giving the miso a bit more body, with a thicker and creamier texture. It was quite rich, with the mustard present, but not overpowering. Yes to more miso soups like this please!
Our sashimi consisted of barracuda sea bream and squid. The latter was creamy, with an al dente finish, and the barracuda was surprisingly meaty!
A bowl of onabe with soft rice, and vegetables and a small bowl with boiled yuba (tofu skin) and mushrooms are both warming and comforting. Simple, but executed with elegance and a whole lot of balance.
I am positively smitten with the saba sushi dish, which just looks like autumn on a plate. Along with the mackerel, we also had lightly charred gingko nuts (which I just adore) and salmon roe with a little bit of crab meat on top.
Our next dish is just pure genius. We are each served various parts of a guji, or sea bream, which I think was just lightly barbecued, with crispy skin (which we’re actually asked not to eat!) and delicately sweet flesh.
Once finished, they ask us to keep the bones and skin in the bowl…which they then pour a dashi seasoned with kombu over…creating one of the most delicious fish soups ever. We mix up the bones and skin into the soup, lift up the cheerfully yellow plates and slurp it all down. Which we certainly did with fervour! Super savoury and umami packed, I couldn’t believe that there weren’t more ingredients to this stock, and that something so delicious, could really be so simple.
To finish this unforgettable meal, a generous serve of persimmon with earl grey ice-cream. Honestly, a marriage made in heaven that I would not have imagined on my own. The persimmon was so juicy and sweet…whilst some people love Japan in spring for the cherry blossoms, I have to say that I love autumn for all the produce that’s in season. Perfect!
Kaiseki is well known for working with seasonal flavours and produce through it’s many courses, and each dish really sung of this through the night, through the colours on the plates, or the overall earthiness in flavour. It would be lovely to be back again to see what the menu is like in a different season.
Although we were all pretty full, after a bit more of a wander, whilst we were originally looking for a bar to drink at, we ended up at a Family Mart, where my friend who had discovered the wonder of Hagen Daz’s crispy sweet potato ice-cream sandwiches decided everyone needed one.
From 3 michelin star’s to ice-cream sandwiches, this is the crew I roll with.
The next day, we were in meetings all day, but I did manage to sneak in this insanely delicious chestnut filled pastry, and these chocolate prawn chips (go figure), before we headed out to Hyotei Annex for lunch.
Hyotei is another 3 michelin star restaurant in Kyoto, but we visited the Annex out the back, which has a much simpler (and much cheaper) bento lunch box option for those who just want a taste.
Beautiful sashimi, juicy salmon roe, nutty rice shaped into a gourd, soft boiled eggs and beautifully seasoned miso cod. It’s all relatively simple and traditional fare, but done very, very well.
Before making our way back to Osaka (again), we also swung by the Fushimi Inari Shrine, where the thousand red gates can be found. We didn’t get to explore the whole of the shrine, but even our short visit resulted in hundreds of photos, selfies and happy group shots. Stunning place.
Kyoto had treated us to beautiful cultural landmarks and simply stellar traditional Japanese food, how was Osaka supposed to make it’s mark…?
Japan, 〒606-8406 京都府京都市左京区 左京区浄土寺石橋町74
〒607-8093 Oike-sagaru Tominokoji Nakagyo-ku Kyoto city
35 Kusagawa-Cho, Nanzenji, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi