Friday, September 28, 2018

Kikunoi: 3-Michelin Star Kyoto Kaiseki Cuisine

Presided over by three-star Michelin chef Yoshihiro Murata, this exceptional ryotei is arguably one of the most famous restaurants of Japanese cuisine in the world, and an obligatory stop for any Kyoto-bound gourmet. Kikunoi, which has been in Murata’s family for three generations, is the epitome of refined luxury from its bespoke lacquer-ware to its delicate ikebana flower arrangements, but it is chef Murata’s beautifully crafted kaiseki that has brought him much-deserved acclaim. Served by kimono-clad waitresses, every element in the multi course dinner is perfectly matched to the seasons.

Born in Kyoto more than 500 years ago, kaiseki was originally a light meal, named for the warm stones that young monks carried in their robes to soothe their hunger — kai means bosom, and seki, stone. By the 16th-century, the meal became part of the tea ceremony served to travelers stopping over at a ryokan, one of Kyoto's traditional inns. For generations, the Murata ancestors were tea servers who protected a well that sprang up in the shape of a chrysanthemum, or kiku in Japanese. When the restaurant opened using water from the very same well, it was given the name Kikunoi, meaning ‘chrysanthemum well’. Water is the key element in Japanese cuisine, indispensable in dashi – the umami-rich stock that delicately flavours almost every component of a Kaiseki course. Customers today can still enjoy the taste and tradition of cuisine based on this incredibly historic water and see the deep connection in the chrysanthemum motif around the restaurant on the crest and on dishes.

With an impressive atmosphere much like a luxury ryokan, we were greeted by an elderly doorman in charge of removing our footwear, before we were escorted over the soft floor to our beautifully appointed private tatami mat dining room with hori-kotatsu sunken tables that allowed us to extend our legs below the table for more comfortable dining. The view over the spacious gardens from the broad glass windows was stunning with our first floor room overlooking a bright white raked sand garden designed to look like waves with the playful touch of a turtle examining its reflection in the ‘water’.

Graciously served by kimono clad ladies who bow as they enter and exit with service that is hushed and reverential, each of the tiny, jewel-like courses are brought in one at a time, in exquisite porcelain bowls and lacquer dishes that often have been handed down from generation to generation, just as the menu has been. Courses always include an elaborately composed appetizer, a sashimi course, a simmered dish, a grilled dish, a steamed course and a course that comes in a beautiful lidded bowl. Reservations are almost impossible to get, but worth moving heaven and earth to experience the rarified world of Chef Murata's memorable kyo-kaiseki, an exquisite, elaborately choreographed tasting menu, where as much attention is paid to the beauty of each plate as it is to the texture of the silky slice of fish, the aroma of the tiny blossom that adorns it, the flavour of the mountain herb that's just come into season.

Chopsticks with chef Yoshihiro Murata's personally designed gold sake bowl

Ochazuke with Bubu Arare - In Kyoto the dish is affectionately called bubuzuke, 
which is tea with small crispy toasted rice balls

Beautifully dressed in a gold and green kimono, our server presents our chilled bottle of 
Cuvée Chrysanthème Brut

Kikunoi's signature champagne nestled in a bucket of crushed ice

Walnut Tofu with Delaware grapes, wasabi jelly and shiso flower buds

Chef Yoshihiro Murata is also the author of his famous Kaiseki cookbook 
that has an introduction by famed chef Ferran Adria

Each of Chef Murata's Kaiseki dishes are featured in his cookbook including the delicious Walnut Tofu with Delaware grapes, wasabi jelly and shiso flower buds we were just served

A beautiful red and gold bowl with cranes - the bird of happiness

Sekihan: sticky rice known as 'mochi' and red Azuki beans is a festive Japanese dish 
served when celebrating special occasions

The second course, an assortment of appetizers was beautifully presented under a bamboo cage on a bed of fresh leaves

Seared Barracuda Sushi, Hamo Roe Terrine, Hamo marinated in miso and grilled, Grilled Candied Chestnut, Salt-Preserved Ayu Milt and Roe, Salmon Trout Roe, Sake glazed Gingko Nuts, Pine Needle-shaped Green Tea Noodles, and Gingko leaf-shaped sweet potato

Salmon Trout Roe in a sudachi, a small round green citrus fruit that is a specialty of Tokushima 

Sashimi of Tai (red sea bream) and prawn, with mixed sprouts, vinegared Chrysanthemum petals and wasabi with curled daikon and carrot

Sashimi of Koshibi (young bluefin tuna) with mustard and soy marinated egg yolk sauce

Kikunoi specially brewed sake

A delicate glass bowl-shaped sake cup

Deep Fried Tilefish with toasted rice, matsutake (pine mushroom), tsuruna leaf, and crescent egg custard (to resemble a crescent moon) with yuzu peel

Passion Fruit-Wasabi Sorbet

Abalone, sea urchin roe and wakame seaweed was served baked in a salt dome

The salt dome was removed at the table to present the wakame topped abalone and sea urchin roe

Luscious Abalone Liver Sauce

Salted Sudachi Lime Juice

Muscat Grapes and Prawn dressed with tofu and marscapone, gorgonzola, 
pomegranate seeds and black pepper

Hamo, Matsuke Mushroom, Mibuna (Japanese Arugula) and Kabosu Lime

Ponzu with grated daikon, red pepper and green onion

Japanese Sukiyaki served with a nabemono (Japanese hot pot) with Hamo, mushroom, 
and Japanese arugula with dipping sauce

Mrs Murata personally serving the rice with chestnuts, chicken and mitsuba

Rice with chestnuts, chicken and mitsuba

Konomono: Pickled eggplant and cucumber

Edamame Soup Bowl

Edamame Soup with foxtail millet gluten and yuzu

Tea served in a beautiful cup

Cocktail of Poached Fig, Kyocho Grapes and Ceylon Tea Granité

Chestnut And Green Tea Jelly

The kaiseki meal finished with a bowl of frothy matcha tea

Michelin-starred chef Yoshihiro Murata and Mrs Murata

(3-Michelin Star Kaiseki Dinner for 2: ¥74,390)

Deep-fried Eggplant Marinated in Savoury Dashi
Makes 6 pieces
Recipe courtesy of chef Yoshihiro Murata

6 eggplants

1 1/2 cups dashi
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
14 oz grated daikon radish - empty into a strainer to drain
3 tbsp ginger juice
Scallions, finely sliced as needed
Oil for deep frying, as needed

Combine the marinade ingredients in a pot and place over high heat. Bring to a boil and immediately turn off the heat. Pour into a heat-resistant bowl and set aside to cool, then chill in ice water.

Prepare the eggplants by making an incision around the base of the calyxes to remove them. Make deep vertical incisions about 1/4-inch apart. Pour vegetable oil into a frying pan to a height of about 3/4-inch. Heat the oil to 350°F. Fry 3 eggplants, turning them around with chopsticks so that they cook evenly. Squeeze the eggplants with your chopsticks to test them. If you hear a slight crackling sound, that means they're done. Turn off the heat and drain the eggplants on paper towels. Fry the remaining eggplants in the same way.

Place the hot eggplants in the marinade and add the grated daikon and ginger juice. Set aside to cool and then refrigerate for 2-3 hours to allow the eggplants to fully absorb the flavour. Plate up together with the grated daikon and sprinkle with chopped scallions.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Tempura Yasaka Endo in Historic Kyoto Teahouse

Housed in a century-old traditional sukiya-style wooden teahouse formerly used as an ochaya where geisha parties were once held, Tempura Endo Yasaka serves what is arguably the world's best tempura. Waiting staff in delicate light blue kimonos wait outside for guests at their appointed time of arrival. A flight of stone steps and lantern-lit stone pathway welcomes guests into a traditional, relaxed setting representative of old Kyoto. The main dining area seats around 16 people, but the best seats in the house are those nearest the fryer, which is covered with a beautiful copper hood. Yasaka Endo’s style of tempura is tied to kaiseki ryōri - a traditional multi course cuisine - and the meal moves through a series of carefully orchestrated courses, with a focus on seasonal Japanese ingredients coupled with an extensive selection of fabulous sake. Guests can choose from one of three set menus, including the sensational six-course Tempura Kaiseki Yasaka menu, which includes an appetizer; seasonal sashimi; omakase tempura; salad; a main course choice of rice topped with mixed tempura fritters served with akadashi red bean paste soup, and pickles followed by dessert. The delicately seasoned original dipping sauce, made with a secret recipe and carefully selected salt, enhance the natural flavours of the dishes, and the premium quality cottonseed oil made from the finest ingredients guarantees the most amazingly crisp, light and healthy tempura. The opening dish of corn tempura is Yasaka Endo’s signature dish, but the Hokkaido Sea Urchin tempura in laver, should be too. When it arrives, the paper thin edible seaweed crust allows you to scoop it up just in time before it melts away in a burst of umami bliss.

Greeted as we arrived, we were escorted into Yasako Endo through the lantern-lit stone pathway 

Marble counter table setting with lacquer tray, chopsticks and cut crystal glasses

Fresh Yuzu welcome drink to whet our appetites for the Tempura Kaiseki “Yasaka”

Chef's Sashimi: Red Snapper, Hamachi and Toro

Our sake lady 

Chilled Jurakudai’s Junmai Daiginjo Sake

Lovely vintage sake cup

Fresh Kyoto-style corn tempura

Salts for seafood tempura - green Tsujiri Matcha salt and salt with ground rice

Housemade Tentsuyu dipping sauce for vegetable tempura, 
made from dashi soup stock, mirin and soy sauce

Kamonasu: Luscious Kyoto heirloom aubergine tempura

The chef fries one piece at a time and serves the tempura immediately 

Sweet meaty prawn head tempura

Japanese Kuruma Tiger Prawn Tempura

Outrageously delicious sea urchin wrapped with laver tempura

Lotus Root Tempura

Shiitake mushroom and minced prawn tempura

Lake Biwa Ayu and green bean tempura

Shiso vinegar sauce for the Ayu

Japanese paper napkins

Chef preparing our Hokkaido scallops with caviar tempura

Scallop and Caviar Tempura

Sea Bream wrapped with shiso leaf tempura

Gingko Nut Tempura

The wonderful sous chef who worked hand in hand with the chef to serve the tempura 
piping hot from the copper domed fryer

Shishito Pepper Tempura 

Conger Eel Tempura with Ponzu and Lime

Salad of pea sprouts and crispy sweet potato, diced thin-as-a-thread, flash fried 
and served with with Japanese plum dressing 

Little decorative pot with shoyu sauce

Chef frying our Kakiage of mixed vegetables and shrimp tempura

Tendon with Kakiage: shrimp and root vegetable tempura on rice

Tencha with Kakiage: shrimp and root vegetable tempura on rice 
served with special Japanese tea

Japanese pickles — known collectively as tsukemono — cucumber, Shibazuke (mix of chopped cucumbers and eggplant that has been salted and brined with red shiso) and umeboshi

Akadashi: Red bean-paste soup

Matsutake mushroom tempura with shaved truffle

Grapefruit Granita

Yasaka-no-Tsuki: Tempura of Sweet Beans

Edo period woodblock print of woman enjoying shrimp tempura by Yoshitoshi Oso

(Tempura Kaiseki Yasaka Dinner + Sake for 2: ¥37,422)