Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Japan Holiday Day 3 - Kyoto and Hyotei Kaiseki

Today we were heading out to Kyoto on the Shinkansen and we had gotten the kids very excited about the train ride, selling it as "the fastest train EVER" so that they would not be bored. I was sad to be leaving the luxurious Peninsula hotel, but we ate breakfast there (which was dreadfully pricey but I felt like we had to at least try eating there), with the adults having a traditional Japanese breakfast and the kids having a more western breakfast.

We made our way to the train station and I queued up for Shinkansen tickets.  You can buy them from the machine but there was no English menu so I couldn't figure out what to buy.  I lined up for the tickets and ended up buying unreserved tickets which was cheaper by about 20000 yen (buying reserved tickets meant the two infants we were travelling had to pay for seats) and we passed the tickets off to our friends and headed into the station to look for some of the amazing bento boxes we had seen online.  We had wandered around the station looking for them but only to realise those stores were all PAST the ticket gates.

However, we were running out of time, so I ended up getting bento boxes from one of the stalls near the platform.

I got the 30 flavours bento (above) and the special makunouchi bento (below).

We caught the Nozomi shinkansen which is the fastest one, getting us to Kyoto in just over 2 hours. Tickets were 13090 per adult and half that for the kids.

Kyoto station felt like it was just as busy as Tokyo station!

It took us a while to get to Hotel Granvia because silly hubby followed Google maps which took us outside the station when I was insisting to him it was within the station.  I was right, of course.  What we should have done was turned right when we got out of the station and found the north-south pass and walked to the other end which was where the hotel was.  My son was dripping in sweat by the time we got to the hotel because it was so crowded, hot and humid and so we relaxed for a bit at the hotel and freshened up before we headed out to Nishiki market.

View of the shinkansen and JR trains from our room.  That should keep my son occupied during the day!
Nishiki market was shoulder-to-shoulder packed even so it was late (it was after 4pm and the market closes at 5pm).  It was also a public holiday so that could explain the business.  Nishiki is always a fantastic market to visit to see different food items as well as some traditional items such as knives, chopsticks, Japanese cloth goods.

After that we walked in Ponto-Cho looking for places to eat.  We came across Ukiya, since it didn't seem busy and also there was a man making soba in the window, and they had seats so in we went.

We didn't know but Ukiya is famous for its Ukiten soba, which is hot soba with tempura and raw egg.  Unfortunately we didn't order that, we had cold soba with tempura, and another cold soba with duck pickle.  The kids and hubby ate that, because I was heading out for a 3 michelin star kaiseki at Hyotei, near Nanzenji temple.

It was dark and I couldn't see much but I could see that the building was a traditional Japanese building, old, steeped in tradition.  Hyotei has been around for almost 400 years, when it first started as a tea house outside Nanjenzi temple.  

If it wasn't for this gourd image, I wouldn't be able to recognise the place in the dark!
Hyotei has offered its famous “Hyotei Eggs” since the end of the Edo period. These soft-boiled eggs are cooked so that the whites are firm while the yolks are soft and tender. The whites remain clean without being stained by the yolks.

The taxi driver took me to the right spot, but it was dark and there was an older Japanese lady across the road and he opened his window to ask where Hyotei was.  "Koko desu," (here) was her reply. Thank goodness I caught a cab! I was the first to arrive and the lady asked me where my companions were and I said they were coming by train.

She showed me to a tatami room above and it was a little too dark to see outside, but I had seen images from the internet about the garden.  I took a picture of the menu which helped a lot to identify what we were eating. Luckily we also got to take it home as well!

SAKIZUKE - The sea urchin roe was not overly fishy and the tofu cream was sweet and was a great compliment to the dish.  The rock salt was just enough and I really loved this dish.
SANPOU - I've never had Taro buds before and they were cute.  The grilled sweetfish (Ayu) was nice, as it always is when it's grilled in that way and edamame is edamame, nothing super special there.  And I took a bit of the decorative leaf. MISTAKE!
NIMONO - Pike eel which was boiled and cut well so that the bones were not a problem.  It was soft enough but not overly soft.  I was excited to try a matsutake mushroom (a highly prized mushroom in Japanese and Chinese cuisine because of its distinct spicy smell) but it was not as flavoursome as a truffle, and seemed mild compared to other mushrooms. Perhaps that was because it was boiled.
MUKOZUKE - The bowl of this dish was absolutely GORGEOUS! It's hard to capture here, but it was a wavy edged bowl, with round holes along the upper 1/3 of it. This is Tai sashimi, with a tomato based soy sauce and the regular soy sauce.  The tomato soya sauce was sweeter than the regular. Chrysanthemum flowers were sweet too, and the shiso flowers tasted like shiso leaves.  A delightful dish with extra points for presentation.

HASSUN - The signature Hyotei egg here was the highlight of this dish, except for me since I loathe boiled eggs!  I feel like it was wasted on me, though of course I ate it.  The barracuda sushi had a lovely crisp skin and the typical meat eating fish texture/flavour and the grilled hamo with yuzu miso was deliciously sweet. I am not sure why there was so much salmon roe to eat, but I trying to eat that with chopsticks was a pain. I upended the bowl into my mouth - much easier that way.  The sweet chestnuts were just that - sweet and grilled - and the gingko nuts tasted a little like edamame to me.
TAKIAWASE - The abalone was sweet with a great texture, not too chewy and lightly smoked.  The winter melon was a fantastic texture - not too firm and not too mushy. Seems like yuzu features prominently in this kaiseki!
SHIIZAKANA - The isomaki was fabulous! I liked the subtle flavour of the rice powder which was like having it in tea, but without that dreaded crunchiness that gets stuck in your teeth. I could taste the blue crab, and it wasn't like eating a crabstick.  The disappointment I had was with the matsutake mushroom which was with boiled sugukina (a green vegetable) but the jelly of special sauce (3 different citrus) seemed to overwhelm the mushroom. I tried eating it together with the sugukina and I think that was how I should have eaten it to start because the vegetable blunted a lot of the strong citrus.  I feel like I still don't know the flavour of the matsutake mushroom!
YAKIMONO - The charcoal grilled beef was cooked superbly and marinated with just the right amount of saltiness. However, there were two mushrooms here - the yellow mushroom and the black mushroom. The flavour of the yellow mushroom was wonderful, a hint of sweetness but the black mushroom was bitter, but if you had it with the miso/beef paste that was with it, it was a little bit more palatable but it wasn't enjoyable to eat.
KONOMONO - I was getting full by this time. The rice with edamame had just the right amount of saltiness, and the red miso soup with the fried lotus root dumpling was refreshing.  That dumpling was very soggy, not sure if that was what it was supposed to be like.  The pickle was interesting - in that the eggplant pickle seemed like it was pickled raw.
MIZUMONO - The ice cream had no cream and no butter and it was wonderfully sweet but not overwhelming so.  That grape was so juicy! Apparently that is how the grapes are in Korea! I should buy some at home - though I hear they are very expensive.
OMOGASHI - I laughed at the name, it sounds a little like Oh My Goshy! This bean dessert was shaped like a bush with pink flowers!  Inside was red bean but it was the presentation of it that really got me!
USU-CHA - Bitter matcha tea to wash it all down and cleanse the palate.
 The old ladies warmed to us during the evening and even complimented us on our Japanese! And they also called a cab for us when we departed. It was a great meal and a wonderful experience. Service was brilliant and presentation as well - I guess that's what make it a three star Michelin!

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