KYOTO: Wondering the streets of Kyoto in the district of Gion, we stumbled upon a waitress/hostess on the street. She stopped us and asked if we had a reservation for her restaurant – as we were completely lost and having no reservations to eat anywhere else we asked if there was availability for us. She quickly went inside and found us two seats at the counter.
Let’s be honest, anywhere that gives you the privilege of watching food being prepared, trusts its quality, integrity and high standard.
I cannot speak highly enough of Tempura Endo Yasaka Kyoto Japan.
Our hostess was charming and funny and saw to our needs perfectly, for example we ordered two beers, in limited English and gesticulating, she explained to us that we were better off ordering one at a time as they were large bottles.
A waiter then came around to take our tempura order – I chose a 15 piece seafood tempura set menu and my fellow diner chose a 10 piece vegetable tempura set menu. And the show began…
…The two tempura chefs, master and protégée, set to task, organising the different pieces that they would be using to create our tempura. Individually frying each piece.
From batter to oil to plate to mouth.
Each dish was exquisite – crispy, light tempura; served warm. The flavours well-balanced and nothing overpowered the rest of the menu. Actually, the further into the menu we went the bolder the flavours and the richer the pieces. My tastebuds were tantalised from the initial squid and bream sashimi all the way to the tomato sorbet I had for dessert. Items such as nori-rolled sea urchin tempura, cod tempura served over a soy and mirin sauce, prawn tempura – even their heads were covered in batter and deep fried! Yakimono – seasonal fish – like our beachside boquerones but delicate and artistically presented to emulate the fish swimming in the sea and the impressive cod served with bonito shavings.
The most impressive part, other than that everything was delicious, was that the chefs timed our tempura perfectly so that we could eat our meal together. They timed 10 vegetable pieces to coincide with 15 seafood pieces as well as the other components of the set meals. As the chef served each piece he would come over and explain, in English, what each piece was and whether it would be best with salt, lemon, wasabi powder or dipped in the dressing.
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What an experience. After my tomato sorbet for dessert I left stuffed but wanting so much more!
This restaurant is truly a 5* gourmet experience and a must for tempura lovers. Next time you’re in Gion-Kyoto, Japan – dinner has got to be here, it can be expensive at £85 approx pp but it is worth it. Just make sure to book as there a plenty of other tables, rooms and small group tempura stations inside that must be worth a visit.
Check out the link: http://www.gion-endo.com/english/
Another great dining experience in Gion-Kyoto was at Gion Karyo, a Kaiseki (Japanese cuisine) restaurant. Kaiseki is Japanese cuisine such as Yakitori, etc but known for its meticulous preparation and beautiful presentation. It felt like dining at a Michelin starred restaurant without the hefty price tag that can sometimes go with.
Here we enjoyed some amazing dishes, such as: chicken sausages (tsukune) glazed in soy and mirin and dunked in raw egg yolk before serving, duck teriyaki, soy glazed pork; which were absolutely amazing and I would definitely try and recreate at home followed by an amazing homemade dessert – vanilla ice-cream, coated in a sugar glaze and given the crème brûlée treatment. However the surprise was cutting into the dessert as there was a sugared yolk sitting under the glazed carapace which oozed out of the vanilla ice cream – decadent, luxurious and delicious – OISHI!!!
On another evening we ate at Kyoto’s Train Station. Yes, the train station. Kyoto’s train station is a huge experience full of shops, escalators that climb to heaven, sky walks and restaurants and here we tried the delicacy of the region a grilled ox tongue platter and lemon chicken pieces!
The ox tongue was tasty and bold in flavour but very chewy – considering that the ox, continually grazing, must give its tongue a workout would explain why the meat was tough. The chicken pieces, marinated in lemon juice and then floured and fried – lovely.
We visited Nara for a day and grabbed a quick Japanese curry lunch on the go whilst visiting deer, buddhas and temples.
Then having spent three nights in Kyoto we ventured south to Mount Koya (Koyasan).
MOUNT KOYA (KOYASAN): We checked into our temple lodgings to stay with Monks at Ekoin, Koyasan. Our hosts explained how the lodgings ran and told us that our meals would be vegan meals due to the monks’ Buddhist beliefs.
That evening, before the night walk in honour of the dead, our room was prepared for dinner by trainee monks and after dinner prepared with our futons whilst we were out. In the morning whilst we went to morning meditation and the ceremony of fire, our futons were cleared away and were prepared for breakfast.
On both occasions, meals consisted of miso soup, salad, pickled vegetables, boiled rice, tofu and seasonal fruit arranged in bowls. The food here was sufficient for our needs and well balanced. If however, you needed a larger portion or meat, there were plenty of places to have bought extra food in the village-town of Koyasan.
“Sumimasen, kore wa American dog?” was the chant my travelling companion heralded as he saw cooked meat products at a butchers shop!
Onto Hiroshima and Miyajima Island next…