Luckily Kyoto has been spared from air raids during the 2nd world war due to its historical value and has remained one of the world’s most culturally rich cities harbouring 17 Unesco World Heritage sites, more than 1600 Buddhist temples and over 400 ShintÅ shrines. Can I just start by saying – I did not visit all of them. In fact I did not visit very many at all which was not due to a lack of interest but rather to the heatwave which happened to visit Japan at the same time as me. The heat was especially bad in Kyoto and one could not stay outside for very long (longer than 30 seconds) without being completely soaked and close to fainting.
I tremendously enjoyed Kyoto despite of the challenging weather conditions. Walking through this city is an exceptional experience: shrines and temples on every corner, hidden gardens, charming little streets, and food everywhere. We had wonderful and diverse food in Kyoto – I will focus on our 3 major dinner events: one relatively low key sushi dinner, one kaiseki style dinner and one tempura feast.
We stayed in the Hyatt Regency (which by the way is a really nice hotel) and on the first evening we were too exhausted to venture out into the unknown and had dinner at a sushi place named ‘Manzo‘ close to the hotel recommended to us by the concierge. The staff speaks decent English and is very friendly and helpful. The food is really good value for money. We had a selection of sashimi (salmon, tuna, oysters, parrot fish among others) and all was very fresh and tasty.
This also was my first encounter with sea urchin roe (uni) (picture 4) which I got warned of by several people as being utterly disgusting. I actually quite enjoyed it once I got used to the consistency which is kind of creamy and reminiscent of brain tissue (with this comparison I might have put you off uni forever but this what it reminded me of…). If you need some persuasion to try uni – it is also thought to be a great aphrodisiac and it is said to neutralise alcohol. But as you can see below their servings of sake were rather generous and – despite uni – we did not leave this place sober.
On the second night weÂ followed a recommendation from the Lonely Planet guide and had one of the most memorable dinners in Japan at Manzara Honsen. The chef’s special (Omakase) menu for 5000 Yen (roughly 40 pounds) is absolutely worth it. The restaurant itself is really lovely – traditional and stylish at the same time. Like in a lot of Japanese establishments you have to take off your shoes upon entering. We had our dinner at the counter but the were also little booths available.
The evening started well with 4 different appetizers. I can’t remember what they were, only that they all tasted delicious.
This was followed by the most beautiful, tender and delectable sashimi. I think one was amberjack, but I could be completely wrong.
I have to admit that I have never had shark fin soup before so I cannot really compare but this one was utterly tasty.
The beef in a Japanese style BBQ sauce was to be rapped up into the salad leaves together with the fresh herbs and it was nice. And then the home made Tofu. I really like tofu in general, but this tofu of perfect creamy consistency flavoured with soy and grated ginger I loved.
There were two more heavenly courses before the dessert: the Shabu Shabu style octopus (the octupos is served raw together with a vegetable broth on a little stove. you then need to put the octupus in the soup and when you have said ‘Shabu Shabu‘ it should be ready to eat) and Chinese style udon.
The dessert did not disappoint either: green tea flavoured creme caramel was a worthy finish to a perfect evening. I still dream of this dinner and I want a restaurant like this in London, pretty please!
The third evening in Kyoto we were taken out by another pharmaceutical company to a tempura place called Tempura Endoh Yasaka in Gion. So, tempura is clearly my least favourite Japanese food and I would have never chosen to go to a tempura place as for me deep frying food is just a waste of good ingredients. However, ultimately I was glad for the experience and I have slightly reversed my opinion about tempura. The restaurant itself was again beautiful. We were seated on the floor in a private dining room and got served huge amounts of food most of which I (surprisingly) really enjoyed. It is not cheap (about 80 ponds per person) but if you are into tempura this is the place to go.
I was amazed how many things you can deep fry. I particularly liked the sweetcorn and sweet potato tempura. I was not sure about the tomato ice cream as a dessert though…
You might be surprised to hear this but we did not eat all the time but also had some time inbetween to explore. Please find below some impressions of this beautiful city.