There are few cities that can boast the quality of dining that Kyoto possesses.
My family and I have enjoyed some of the best food in the world. There are many great restaurants. I would like to give kudos to two.
This ryokan/restaurant in the hills about an hour outside of Kyoto is idyllic.
This is old Japan. With beautiful scenery and a peaceful setting. The 11 course kaiseki dinner starts with
a wonderful dish of ginkgo nuts with red miso paste that is smoked by placing it on a chestnut leaf under
your own little grill. The meal proceeds from there with a selection of local herbs and fresh water fish. Some Kyoto style sushi (zuchi)
in which the fish is draped over a long roll of rice giving the sushi the appearance of the yin/yang symbol. DELICIOUS mackerel belly.
This is a special location and wonderful food. The service is as you would expect in Japan. First rate
Matayoshi in Gion
We are staying in Gion so we walked to Matayoshi-san’s place which is down a dark alley. Only a small curtain with a few kanji letters lets you know where you are.
The interior is beautiful. 8 chairs around a central station. It is TINY. Matayoshi-san makes you feel at home. Not much English is spoken here but they make a huge attempt
to communicate everything to you. You feel like family just like the Miyamasou. I can’t really describe this meal. It is one of the top meals I have ever experienced in the world.
11 to 12 courses of absolute magical food. In the progression of a Kyoto Kaiseki. Your senses tingle. The local sake is glorious and a great addition. The balance is what takes your breath. This is very refined and delicate cuisine. Not big sauces. Just beautiful product and lots of love. The show is a plus. You get to see Matayoshi-san prepare everything in front of you.
If you find yourself in Kyoto, this is a great choice of a place to dine. Because of the size, you need to get reservations either on an off night or someone at your hotel to obtain them for you in advance.
Thanks for the reviews, Don. We were there in June and had some wonderful meals. It is really a magical city. I’ll have to dig out my notes, but I do remember the meal we had a Mame-cha (on an alley off an alley in Pontocho) was excellent (and our server was very fluent in English (which helped with a vegetarian wife))
It is not that hard to get to Miyamasou, and well worth the trip. We rented a car and did the drive up ourselves, as it is beautiful and we were staying there overnight, as I believe Don was. If you are not staying. you can book for lunch and there is a bus that will take you up in time. The ryokan will also arrange for a private taxi, and it is not outrageous, though it is much more expensive than either of the other two options.
I highly recommend splurging on one traditional ryokan in the Kyoto area. In town, the two old school inns are Hiiragiya and Tawaraya. Since they are located closer to the tourists, they are a little more accessible to non-Japanese speakers. Miyamasou is our favorite, though. It is more rustic, out of the way, and even more traditional (though you’ll hardly lack for tradition at the ryokans in town). Very little English is spoken (some staff and family speak more than others), baths are shared (no shower or bath in your room, just a beautifully appointed washroom), breakfast the next morning (almost always included in the price of a ryokan stay) is communal. Don’t let this stop you, though! It is a very special place.
If you want to experience the cuisine without leaving Kyoto proper, you can visit their restaurant in town, Nakahigashi. It’s a tough reservation to get, and you might need help from the concierge at your hotel, but it is supposed to be spectacular. My husband and I will be dining there in a couple of weeks, and we’ll report back on the food and how it compares to Miyamasou.
Great notes, thanks! I will be in Tokyo again in two weeks, and I always am curious about what others discover and enjoy. I had one of the best meals of my life a dozen years ago in Kyoto. A truly special place called Restaurant Maruyama. It is not in the park of the same name, it is in Gion. I had many, many beautiful, small dishes, exhibiting astonishing clarity of flavors; it went on for a few hours, with my own room, two ladies who brought the food and explained it (one spoke English, luckily), and my own chef! I really need to find the time during one of my trips to get off at the Kyoto stop on the Nozomi Express Shinkansen I take out to visit one of our factories. I loved Kyoto.
Almost all really nice keiseki dinners are going to be about 17K to 22K yen/person for the entire meal including beverage. ($150 to $200/person) Well worth it however. To stay including dinner at Miyamasou it is 68K yen/person this includes dinner and one of the best breakfasts I have ever had.
This is probably more modern style but what wonderful sake. I had it at both Miyamasou and at Matayoshi.
This is very special stuff.
Also I love the sake that they gave Obama from Hiroshima at Jiro. We have it in our hotel for happy hour so I can
have it frequently. It is absolutely stunning. Also costs about $12/300ml if you can believe it. Well underpriced.
Just want to add for those whose eyebrows went up at the prices, as mine did the first time, that the experience of staying at a high-end ryokan in Japan is not comparable to that of staying at even the most luxurious western hotels, in my opinion, and so cost is very difficult to compare. I rarely feel it’s worth it to pay big money for hotels in Europe or the US, where often you are paying for opulent common spaces more than a great room (not always the case, of course). At a ryokan, you are not paying for a big room – many are quite small – or opulent furnishings, or grand lobbies or fitness centers. You are paying for the whole package experience of a beautiful setting, delicious meals, and service on a level beyond, where the staff taking care of you are there FOR you, and you should never see another guest, except maybe at breakfast. It should be a complete escape from the rest of the world where you bathe your senses in calm and relaxation. Even the material often used on the walls, called wara juraku or Japanese stucco, is supposed to have calming health benefits. Upon first arriving, you remove your street clothes and change into a yukata or robe for lounging, symbolizing your exit from the outside world and entrance to the world of relaxation. You aren’t there for very long – check-in is usually late and check-out rather early, so really just long enough for a bath (or two) and dinner, sleep and breakfast – and it’s unusual to stay for more than a night or two, but it’s such a different kind of experience from other forms of luxury, it’s nearly impossible to think of it like a hotel stay.
Happy to help. My husband lived in Japan for a few years, worked as a chef there, and speaks Japanese. We go a couple of times a year and he has been visiting often for more than 20 years. We’re not natives or even residents, but we have a few good insights and some experiences to share.