While researching our trip back in March, I came across mention of Kitcho Arashiyama on several english language websites. The descriptions were vague and only described it as high end Kyo-Kaiseki. (Kyoto style banquet feast) By chance i suppose, we decided to reserve there, hoping for the best, with little concrete info on what to expect.
Here is it's website: http://www.kitcho.com/kyoto/english/about/index.html
We took a taxi from our ryokan in gion, and after going north west through the suburbs of Kyoto, we finally got to the Arashiyama district. It was a beautiful area, heavily wooded and characterised by a large river flowing from the mountains.
There was a row of townhouses by the banks of the river. The taxi approached one of them, that looked like a hotel quite frankly, with a large steel gate, and drove inside.
As the car parked on the walkway outside a very traditional Japanese style townhouse, three male attendants ran to the car and proceeded to open the doors for us. At this point, it was clear to us as to the level of service that we were to expect.
After being greeted by our hostess we were led to our room, on the second floor of the townhouse. It was situated in the corner of the building, both sides of which had windows, which when opened revealed on one side, the river and on the other, some lush greenery. The room was airconditioned, as July is a very hot month in Kyoto. It was very large and exquisitely furnished, with an antique chest not shown in the above image.
As is customary the meal begins with some green tea.
We were served by tow hostesses, one of which was fluent in english. The hostesses were extremely friendly, humble, helpful and courteous. While one of them was pouring my fiancee Maya Sake, some condensation from the outside of the bottle (a single drop) had dropped onto her handbag. I can not describe how much the poor lady appologised for that and how she hastily sprung up and got a towel to wipe the bag, even though we were trying to calm her down, insisting that she not worry about it at all.
This only went to confirm in our minds that Japanese service was in a different league altogether.
I really regret not writing down what the individual plates was. I will have to rely on my memory in trying to recall what these many elaborate plates were.
The first course was lightly seared sweet shrimp, steamed abalone, pond seaweed (described earlier under my Okahan entry), okra and some Japanese squash in a ponzu-soy sauce.
This dish was spectacular, it was a combination very fresh, delicate ingredients and had a summery mood.
Next course was another summer favorite, Hamo (Pink conger) in a clear soup.
Hamo is extremely fluffy, owing to its method of preparation where the flesh is sliced cross-sectionally so that it fluffs and twirls around the skin when cooked.
As you can see, our Sake also arrived around this time. :)
This dish was Awabi (Abalone) sashimi with some cubes of steamed Awabi liver (the dark brown cubes).
The method of preparation was paper thin cross sectional slices.
Not shown above was the sauce. The sauce was made from abalone liver and was dark green, with a muddy texture.
I had tried this dish before at Kanetanaka (The first restaurant to appear in this blog) and did not particularly enjoy it back then, so i approached this plate with a certain caution.
I only lightly dipped the first slice of Awabi in the sauce, fearing its strong fishy taste, however, much to my delight, the sauce tasted nothing at all like I expected. Its flavor was strongly nutty, as if it contained almonds. In fact, the taste closely resembled that of fine Fois Gras. Even the steamed Awabi liver was ridiculously nutty in flavor. It seems strange that both the liver of the Abalone, a sea slug, and Goose Liver would taste so similar. After I drenched the remaining slices in the sauce, I even took a few sips out of the sauce because it tasted so good.
This was the second sashimi course. On the right , you have some red snapper sashimi, served with soy sauce and pickled ginger. On the left was clam sashimi, "bakagai" if i am not mistaken, served with a light Dashi-Soy dip and roasted sesame seeds.
The shellfish was very sweet. There was also Jellied seaweed on the plate, presumably to be eaten alone.
This course was Uni (Sea Urchin) in tofu with Wasabi mousse and chopped seaweed, in a light dashi-soy sauce.
Uni was both a summer favorite as well as my own personal favorite. Needless to say I enjoyed this plate very much as well.
At this point I was becoming overwhelmed by how amazing all these dishes were.
After my fiancee Maya inquired to the hostess about the plates, she revealed that they were 3-4 hundred years old, and came from the owner's own personal collection. I couldn't help but to think that each of these antique plates was probably worth hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
Next was this elaborately decorated, truly beautiful, edible, work of art...
Opening the red flower reveals very little fish, presumably sardines, deef fried with a strong, sweet black miso flavor. Going right, we have steamed green beans, a steamed shrimp, a slice of sweet potato, and on the bottom was a sweet tasting brown paste which i could not identify!
The picture of the plate at large, shown above shows two smaller bowls not pictured in detail. One of which contained a form of pickled seaweed whereas the other had some broiled Hamo (pike conger) and spinach in a sweet tasting sauce.
Next was some Ayu (sweetfish) from the arashiyama river Broiled on a stick, in most traditional Japanese fashion.
The Ayu was medium in size, and still contained its inerts. Apparently, that is the proper way which the Ayu is supposed to be eaten. Being a somewhat adventurous eater, and perhaps emboldened by Walid eating the Ayu whole before me, I proceeded to bite its head off, along with the intestines, and they did not taste pleasant. In fact they were quite bitter. Unknown to me at the time was that the primary source of food for sweetfish was little river insects, so one can only imagine the sort of little buggers which I ingested with the Ayu! Fortunately, the remaining flesh of the Ayu was sweet tasting (as the name sweetfish suggests) and quite enjoyable. The Ayu was served with a vinegary dip, presumably made with rice-wine vinegar.
The ladies decided to have the fish with head, bones and inerts removed, whith the help of the hostesses ofcourse.
This course consisted of simmered vegetables, all local products of Kyoto. These included clockwise from top, two slices of eggplant, okra, green pepper, pumpkin, and lotus root.
The Kyoto eggplant was as sweet as we had come to expect.
The final course was some "Japanese risotto" with some slices of really creamy, broiled Unagi (fresh water eel). This was an excellent variant to the plain steamed rice usually served to signify the end of a meal.
The bones of the Ayu, expelled before they were eaten by the ladies, were presented to us as "crackers" to be eaten with our Sake, a form of fish chips! They were very soft and actually quite pleasant to eat.
This plate of Japanese fruits was pure heavenly bliss. None of the varieties was imported, all were local produce. Even the Mangos were from Kyushu.
The varieties were Melon, Watermelon, PEELED grapes, PEELED peaches and mangoes.
They were utterly spoiling us with this level of indulgence.
The fruits were really unexplicably good. The peeled grapes were absolutely huge, the peaches were so moist, watery, sweet and almost perfume like with regards to strength of flavor, the musk melon was just as good as expected, it really blows my mind how these fruits could be so much better than what we were accustomed to, mind you most of the fruits we get in Dubai are either imported from the United States or from various european countries.
The fruits were only the first of our two course dessert. For the second we had a choice of either Matcha with Jellied Azuki bean paste...
(The Matcha was very rich and was obviously of exceptional quality.)
Or crushed ice with Matcha syrup over mochi riceballs and azuki bean paste. Very refreshing!
Here we were with, to the left of the picture our gracious hostess, and to the right of the picture, Kitcho's Madame...
Kitcho was an amazing experience, hands down the best food, the best service, and the best setting that i have ever experienced. Truly exceptional.
The pricetag was very steep though, at 240,000 JPY (2,604 USD) for four people, nothing short of the very best ever would have sufficed!