Kaiseki – is a traditional Japanese multicourse meal that originates from tea drinking ceremonies in the 16th century. Kyoto and its region is the cradle of the Japanese culture as well as of kaiseki. Many say that multicourse small portions menus in the “Western” gastronomic restaurants are influenced by the tradition of kaiseki. It is not only about many different plates (some can be only a few bites), but also about using the best quality ingredients of that particular season.
Kikunoi restaurant is considered as the best in Kyoto and probably the most famous kaiseki restaurant in the world. Yoshihiro Murata, the third generation chef of Kikunoi, has even his own book with Ferran Adria’s introduction…
Kikunoi is located in one of the oldest parts of Kyoto. Wherever you walk, you will see mysterious shrines and temples. When you arrive at the restaurant you are greeted and you are asked to take your shoes off.
Then you are shown your own private dining room.
Just having your own room and sitting on a floor in a traditional, Japanese style minimalistic environment is an experience by itself. You also have a hostess, dressed in traditional Japanese kimono, who takes care of you during all the dinner. ( see the first picture)
The kaiseki meal is composed of several courses – we had 11 if you count green tea, amuse bouches and the desserts. Each of the dishes of the dinner has a name and a meaning and different ingredients are used each season. I had quite a problem understanding how each dish was called and even what it consisted of as the hostess didn’t speak English at all and we tried to guess the components of each dish by looking at the book of the chef.
“The amuse-bouche”. I guess it consisted of cucumber and squid salad, shrimp with boiled egg yolk, seaweed. I am not sure of all the ingredients though… It was pretty good and it was also a good indicator that we would very traditional Japanese food.
“Pickled plums, sea bream milt, toasted ground sesame seeds, horsetail shoots”. One of the signature dish of the chef. After the dinner, I googled what “milt” is and all I can say is that… I was right not to eat it!
“Yellow jack sashimi, grated wasabi, tosa soy sauce. Shrimp, grated wasabi, tosa soy sauce.” I found out which fish it was only after looking at the book. The shrimp was very fresh and good, but the yellow jack sashimi was too chewy. Didn’t eat the second piece of yellow jack sashimi…
“Tuna (toro), egg yolk soy sauce, dissolved Japanese mustard” Excellent toro, maybe a little bit too thick, but I read in the chef’s book that he liked to slice the fish in thicker pieces to show the texture.
I didn’t find this dish in the book but we guessed that it was a soup with a clam dumpling. Globally it was good, maybe the dumpling had too much eggs inside that overpowered the taste of clams.
“Wakasa tilefish, sea urchin roe, saikyo miso paste.” This could have been an excellent dish, but I founded it poorly executed. The fish was too dry and not tender enough and the sea urchin was too much grilled and it lost its iodic and fresh nature. A pity – the combination could have worked very well…
Abalone and peas salad ( I think ?) Interesting and refreshing combination. The onions on the top gave a lot.
Shrimp bouillon –the taste reminded bisque of lobster. Good.
“Nama konoko”, fresh sea cucumber roe with some raw root vegetables (i think). For those, who don’t know what sea cucumber is, please click here. I found out that it was this biblical looking creature only after googling it in the hotel. I tried a tiny piece of it and must say the texture of sea cucumbers roe was kind of disgusting and globally, this dish was not for my taste.
I didn’t find this dish in the book so I guess it was seaweed (very jelly-like) soup with shrimp tempura and tofu. This dish was very good, probably one of the best of the meal. I liked the texture of the shrimp tempura – it was hard and crispy and was very well contrabalanced by the jelly aspect of the soup.
Rice with tiny fried anchovies and boiled egg yolk. Soup (i don’t know what it was). The last dish of the meal. I was disappointed that the rice was cold and kind of tasteless…
Ice cream and green tea jelly (I guess?) A classical Japanese dessert.
Beans jelly (again, I am not sure). Good.
Green tea to finish the dinner.
I will probably remember this kaiseki dinner all my life- a unique experience. ( and not cheap- $400 for two). When I think of each of the dishes separately, apart of the sea bream milt and sea cucumber roe, I think they were quite good, but when remembering the whole dinner it was probably too much of new and unknown tastes for me, so I don’t think I will repeat a kaiseki dinner any time soon. We have a reservation in a three Michelin star kaiseki restaurant in Tokyo this week, but I am seriously wondering whether to go or not…