Kyoto: Kikunoi Honten

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I’m so excited to share this place with you! Can’t believe I haven’t yet written about it – one of the best meals of my life, with food, service, company and ambience simply perfect. Expect nothing less at 3-michelin starred Kikunoi Honten, nestled in the quiet hills of Kyoto.

Within the Kikunoi family, helmed by Chef Murata Yoshihiro, is also the sister restaurants of Roan Kikunoi and Akasaka Kikunoi (in Tokyo). We planned our Kyoto leg around lunch here and it was absolutely worth it. Kikunoi serves up tradition Kyoto banquet food, but with a twist, since Chef Murata trained in France in his younger days and thus brings European techniques and influences to his Japanese sensibilities. Purists may decry this so-called contamination of Japanese cuisine, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. Traditional food started out as inventions, after all.

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July hassun: hamo sushi, tilefish and cucumber roll, octopus roe (interesting – creamy and sweet), salad with shiso flowers, baby abalone, river shrimp, pickled saffron ginger

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We were there in the midst of summer, such that our entire meal revolved around this season: both food and tableware reflected the light, bright flavours of a time of the year in which the Japanese organise explosive celebrations and revel in warm, balmy nights. Each dish also became an education to us on the beliefs and traditions of the Japanese.

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uni tofu, wasabi jelly, wakame puree

The umami-flavour of the sea urchin and its creamy contrast with the firm tofu was quite exquisite.

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sashimi filled gourd with ginger and ponzu jelly

A visual feast, it was my first time eating solid ponzu dressing. Bold and piquant, it was a great accompaniment to the firm slices of sashimi, in addition to the sweetness of the wasabi and chives.

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blanched hamo (pike) with violet wildflowers

Hamo is characteristic of summer in Japan. We read in Chef Murata’s cookbook, provided to us during the meal, that special knives must be used to finely pick out each hamo’s numerous spindly bones – doing so gives you the ruffled appearance of the hamo on your plate. The resulting flesh tastes extremely clean, and almost crumbles in the mouth.

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Hotpot with hamo, winter gourd, wolfberries, pine nuts, Kyoto green beans, scallop, red Manganji pepper, taro and lotus
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palate cleanser of roasted sweet corn ice cream
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salt-grilled ayu, served with waterpepper vinegar

The flavour of ayu is very much dependent on the waters in which they spawn. Chef Murata’s daughter was kind enough to tell us a bit more about the fish when she stopped by our dining room, such a lovely touch to their already stellar omotenashi. We were told to start from the tail and make our way down to the head, the crispiness of the tail giving way to a sweet body and a moreish, slightly bitter head.

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grilled Kyoto kamo eggplant with 2 types of miso, yuzu and mustard, green taro stalk

Is there any better combination than creamy eggplant and beautiful savouriness of miso? Devoured this with much bliss. Amos still thinks his favourite is the eggplant from Yamanaka last year, though.

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glazed hamo on rice, with burdock root soup, seven spice powder, pickled cucumber and eggplant
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matcha and lotus cake

The ryotei is such that even the dreariest weather of constant showers makes for a soothing and sensational dining experience. The sound of raindrops falling, and the glistening of water-coated rocks which reflected the golden shimmer of koi in our private garden created such a bubble of serenity that we didn’t realise we’d been eating for nearly 4 hours (!). It’s someplace for a special occasion, but one of the very best, and I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to experience this. Eagerly anticipating my return visit, whenever that may be.

Kikunoi Honten
https://kikunoi.jp/english/about/
Lunch begins at 12nn, last entry at 1300h. Bentos from Y4000, kaiseki courses from Y8000.
Dinner begins at 1700h, last entry at 2000h. Kaiseki courses from Y15000.
Reservations essential, through your hotel concierge.

459 Shimokawara-cho, Yasakatoriimae-sagaru, Shimokawara-dori, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 605-0825
Tel: +81-75-561-0015

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