Kyoto is a magical place. Everything is prettier, meals more elaborate and tradition followed. Kaiseki was born in this lovely place. So it was only reasonable to go to a traditional Kaiseki Ryokan to try a nice Kaiseki dinner. Of course, being Kyoto it would be expensive.
Gion Karyo offers a gentle introduction to kaiseki, which is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. Set in an old Kyoto house, the setting is authentic and traditional without feeling overly formal. Seating is available along the counter, where diners can watch the chefs preparing their meal; or at traditional sunken floor tables for larger groups. True to the kaiseki-style of dining, each dish is beautifully presented and full of rich, subtle flavors. With English signs on the outside and English menus, Gion Karyo is incredibly foreigner friendly.
We started with Summer vegetables and Tiger shrimp jelly. In the savoury jelly was pieces of baby corn and edamame with two plump Tiger shrimp. This chilled starter tamed the hot summer night. Accompanying the jelly was a few slices of Tako (octopus) and sea cucumber dressed with a tangy, spicy sauce with Japanese ginger.
Next up, a Japanese Soup of Red Snapper and pumpkin tofu. Technically this is not tofu because it was not a soybean. The pumpkin tofu had a texture of a pudding and complimented the piece of very fresh fish.
Up next, Sashimi featuring the freshest catch of the day, which included poached Pike conger eel, Ika and Chutoro. Delicious.
Small dish of Ayu sushi and a side of sweet potato and pickled Japanese ginger. Yum.
Grilled Grouper fish with green pepper with miso paste and celery.
Corn soup, egg cake, potato, fig with red wine, sesame of pumpkin
Pike conger eel with onion
Pike conger eel, Yuba and Lotus root
Eggplant, sea urchin and Wagyu
Kamemeshi of Pike Conger Eel Rice with Konomono and Tomewan of Miso Soup
Gion is Kyoto’s famed Geisha District (called “Geiko” in Kyoto). Though Gion’s many tea houses and entertainment restaurants are closed to foreigners, Geiko and Maiko in their traditional makeup with gilded hair in full kimono can be seen drifting the streets on their way to and from work, where they fan dance, sing, and play instruments for customers. Gion lights up at night when the ancient-looking streets glow with lanterns along the river, where weeping willows catch the starlight and the air is warmed with conversation. Groups pass through to populate the restaurants and bars along the riverfront, but Gion still manages to be a mostly quiet district, due in large part to limited automotive traffic through many of its streets. Gion is a wonderful place to indulge in Kyoto’s local and customary cuisine and is best enjoyed after dark.
Many would consider Karyo a tourist trap. But Kyoto itself is a big tourist trap. Karyo Gion provided a glimpse into how sophisticated life was once in Kyoto. It was a meal where time stood still. Service was impeccable. The chef took much effort to explain to you what you were eating, even when their English language was limited. Nothing rushed, yet everything was so well choreographed. So take your time and enjoy every Instagrammable moment.
And at USD 130++ per person excluding drinks, it was not really more expensive than Tokyo. Reservation recommended.
570-235 Giommachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0074, Kyoto Prefecture
Phone: +81 75-532-0025
Date visited: Jul 2017