Hiiragiya Ryokan, Kyoto

Once the capital of Japan for a thousand years, the pristine beauty of Kyoto is truly a sight to behold with its immaculate shrines and temples, its narrow streets lined with low-lying traditional Japanese houses and inns. Apart from its cultural and historical dominance in ancient Japan, Kyoto is also the birthplace of Kaiseki, the highest form of Japanese cuisine, the original tasting menu. As we were staying in what could only be described as the epitome of Japanese hospitality, formality and tradition; a traditional ryokan that dated back to 1818. It would be a sin not to dine in house.

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In the ryokan, the main room serves many purposes. During the day, it’s a dining and sitting room, while at night it becomes a bedroom. Prior to our dinner, the staff had meticulously noted down my food allergies and intolerances, the detailing of which was rather impressive. Time for dinner to be served in the comfort of your own room!

Appetiser
Simmered
Sashimi

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Appetizer (Sakizuke): Grilled chicken, tilefish wrapped in yuba , Japanese honeywort, dried sea cucumber belly, wasabi. Lovely little selection to start with – the tilefish wrapped in yuba (soy milk skin) came in a warm stock that had a creamy jelly-like consistency, and held up the subtlety of flavours without diving into blandness.

Simmered dishes (Nimono-wan): White fish paste with oyster, shimeji mushroom, Kikurage mushrooms, bok choy, Yuzu citrus. A surprisingly huge fish dumpling with a ton of oysters embedded in it had a light spring to it, and was merely a vessel for the plump zinc bombs nestled in it that went down a treat with the yuzu.

Sashimi dishes (Mukouzuke): Sea bream, tuna, yuba, perilla budstems, laver, wasabi. Exactly as it is – the tuna, however was luxuriously soft and creamy. The perila flowers were plucked from their stems and mixed in with the soy.

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Feature
Grilled
Meat

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Feature dishes (Hassun): Salmon sushi, boiled sweet fish with roe, white radish, boiled abalone, grilled tilefish with sea urchin, roast chestnut: This dish had it all – exquisite flavours, temperature variations, cooking techniques….brilliant execution.

Grilled dishes (Yakizakana): Sierra with soy sauce, pumpkin sponge cake, walnut with sesame, lotus root cracker, fried ear of rice, Sudachi lime. Probably my favourite course! Delicately roasted fish glazed in sweet soy with a savoury pumpkin cake was heaven. Then there was the fried ear of rice – exactly that – the crisp rice being plucked from its husk and eaten. Absolutely brilliant and a giggle to play with.

Meat dishes (Nikuryori): Beef steak, eggplant, carrot pumpkin, asparagus, Italian parsley. A perfectly roasted piece of Kobe beef (what else did you expect with Kobe being only an hour away?!) really is a joyful experience! That is the whole truth.

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Simmered
Fried
Rice, Pickles, Soup

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Simmered dishes (Takiawase): Turnip, splendid alfonsino, garland chrysanthemum, yuzu. This probably was my least favourite dish, as it resembled the fish dumpling earlier. Chrysanthemum, however, has an intense bitter fruitiness to it and unfortunately, on this occasion, proved a bit too strong for the fish.

Deep-fried dishes (age-mono): Taro, sand borer, sweet green pepper, maitake mushroom, dipping sauce, yuzu salt: Crisp and light tempura is the best way to enjoy maitake mushrooms!

Soup (tome-wan): Awase miso soup with saury ball, long green onion. Now the food meter in our eyeballs was starting to tick over into the red area of full saturation. The soup was tangier and meatier with a stronger fish influence than most miso soups. The balls itself was a herby chicken dumpling!

Rice (Steamed rice mixed with Hiratake mushroom, deep-fried bean curd, carrot, green soy beans

Pickles (Kou-no-mono): Red turnip, Japanese white radish with sesame. Simple ending to a rather large, complex and intense meal  – rather a nice way to go about it as after all that food, one’s receptors tend to get a little muddled and exhausted, so saving the best dishes for last really wouldn’t work!

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Dessert

Dessert (Mizu-mono) Pear, sherbet of persimmon, strawberry, mint. Fresh flavourful fruit – light and refreshing. The sherbet was merely frozen persimmon. Don’t think we could have handled anything more than this!

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Well, having emerged from this gastronomic expedition, I realised that it was only available to residents, and not the general public, which is a bit unfair, but does give one a unique edge, one that I’m rather chuffed about! This truly was a meal and experience worth 3 stars from Michelin – miles ahead of the Kaiseki dinner we had at Kojyu (3 star) in Tokyo. The ryokan itself is a magical space of tranquillity and perfection, an experience that must be taken at least once in a lifetime.

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Overall Experience: 8
Food: 9
Recommend you go: 10

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