Even today, it can be difficult to find fresh seafood cuisine in landlocked Kyoto. Nishiki Daimaru Yoshi, a historic fishmonger in Nishiki Market, changed that several years ago when they hired a top-notch chef and converted their living quarters behind the shop into a kappo-style (“cut and cook”) restaurant. The finest quality ingredients (fish were still swimming that morning) all at a reasonable price – and friendly service makes this one of the best restaurants in Kyoto.
Insider Tip: Try the excellent wagyu beef, accompanied by a sake or shochu from the extensive selection.
503 Nakauoya-cho, Takakura Higashi-iru, Nishikiroji-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Tel: 81 75 211 6577
At Akari, yakitori meets bistro and red wine in a fabulous fusion, with Kyoto-style sophistication. After Torito, his female-friendly and stylish yakitori restaurant that was a runaway hit, chef Matsuda wanted to create a grilled chicken and duck “yakitori-bistro” using seasonal Kyoto vegetables dishes that would all go well with wine. Some house specialties include grilled spiced tsukune (chicken meatball) with raw unlaid egg yolk, chicken wing meat rillettes on garlic toast and deep-fried chicken cartilage with parmesan cheese.
Insider Tip: The adventurous can try the chicken liver sashimi garnished with a novel mixture of fresh ground wasabi and in-house smoked salt. It’s usually only available on weekdays.
2-1 Gyoganji Monzen-cho, Teramachi Marutamachi-sagaru, Nakagyo-ku, Tel: 81 75 255 1390.
Izuju offers authentic Kyoto-style sushi in a quaint and nostalgic interior with friendly service, at a reasonable price. This historic family-owned restaurant is said to be the last eatery in Kyoto that still cooks with wood. When Izuju started, sushi wasn’t eaten in sit-down restaurants, but was catered. The small antique plates that adorn the walls were used during that time. The usual soy sauce for dipping is not served here because each sushi has already been perfectly seasoned. Many varieties are wrapped and rested in kombu, fresh sasa bamboo grass leaf and dried bamboo sheath, among other things. A subtle flavour is imparted to the sushi from the wrappings.
Insider Tip: Try the guji (tilefish) sushi, a rarity in Kyoto, yet said to be the favourite fish of Kyotoites. Go early – they close when they run out of sushi rice.
292-1 Gionmachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku, Tel: 81 75 561 0019
Hatakaku is the inventor of the now famed Botan Nabe or wild boar hotpot. The meat of the boar is thinly sliced and beautifully arranged in the shape of a botan (peony) flower. Hatakaku uses a Kyoto dashi broth base with Kyoto-style white miso for the hotpot. Cooked in a hearth over charcoal, the broth develops a deep and rich flavour from the meat and select winter vegetables. This broth is poured over rice for the final course. It’s a warming and hearty yet elegant winter meal.
Insider Tip: Botan Nabe is a winter delicacy and is only served at Hatakaku from mid-November to mid-March.
430 Uchikamae-cho, Karasuma-dori Nishi-iru, Goryomae, Kamigyo-ku, Tel: 81 75 441 0610
Ryokaku curry cafe opened in 2012. It’s the latest family jewel of the legendary Kyoto spice and Chinese medicinal herb tea brand, Hararyokaku, which has been in business since 1703. Thirteenth generation owner Satoru Hara decided to follow the trend for fashionable cafes and create a range of Kyoto-style Japanese curry recipes for his new cafe. The family’s secret spice ingredients are paired with umami-rich dashi broth, the cornerstone of Kyoto cuisine, to create the rich yet delicate curry sauces.
Insider Tip: Purchase spices, especially kuro shichimi (oily black seven-spice powder) and sansho (Japanese pepper), for use in your home cooking or as gifts.
216-1 Nishino-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Tel: 81 75 561 2732