Chimera is located near the South Gate of the Yasaka Jinja shrine on the border of Maruyama Park, at the edge of the geisha district of Gion in Kyoto. Chimera serves Italian food with Japanese touches. Its chef Mitsuhiko Tutsui worked at an Osaka restaurant called Ponte Vecchio in Osaka before moving here and opening Chimera in 2011. The building is a traditional wooden townhouse (machiya), with a lounge area at ground level and the contemporary dining room upstairs. This has two rows of tables with banquette seating and tables covered with crisp white linen. There is a view out over trees from the window seats. As is almost universal with high end restaurants in Japan, there was a no choice menu, in this case at ¥15,000 (£102) each. There was a substantial wine list, naturally enough with heavy coverage of Italy, through there was a wide selection of champagne and also quite a few French wines too.
The wine list started at ¥6,000 (£41) but climbed quite rapidly, with somewhat limited selection below ¥10,000 (£68), though markups were moderate by London standards. Sample references were Fritz Haas Lepus Pinot Branco 2016 at ¥8,000 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for ¥2,300, Bruno Rocca Rabaja Barbaresco 2008 at ¥18,000 compared to its retail price of ¥12,475, and Antinori Pian della Vigna Brunello di Montalcino 1997 at ¥23,000 for a wine that will set you back ¥14,410 in the high street. For those with the means there was Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera Intistieti 2003 at a relative bargain price of ¥58,000 given its retail price of ¥75,377, and Chateau Margaux 2002 at a fair ¥70,000 for a wine whose current market value is ¥69,403.
The meal began with bonito served as sashimi and mixed with aubergine, caviar and celeriac sauce. This worked nicely, the saltiness of the caviar complementing the richness of the bonito and the earthiness of the celeriac (15/20). An assortment of homemade breads appeared during the meal, all well made and with good texture. This was followed by ayu, known as sweetfish despite its characteristic bitter flavour note. The fish itself was excellent, served with pickled cucumber, celery, pickled peach and pickled luffa, a relative of cucumber also called silk gourd, whose fully developed fruit is the source of the loofah that you might have in your bathroom. The ayu was carefully cooked and the vinegar from the pickling process was a good balance for the fish, while the celery had unusually good flavour (15/20).
The next course was lobster with girolles, grilled polenta and corn ice cream, with some separate grilled sweetcorn. The shellfish was extremely tender and the corn ice cream worked better than I expected, with a star turn coming from the excellent cubes of grilled polenta. Any chef that can make polenta taste this good has my undying admiration (16/20). The first of two pasta dishes then followed. Tagliolini al nero came with pike conger, tomatoes and kujou negi onions, a green onion grown in the Kyoto area. The pasta itself had lovely texture, coming with excellent tomatoes and nice onions with a hint of sweetness, the pike conger having quite mild flavour. On the side was a little box of grilled sea urchin, which I did not think worked very well. I have eaten good pasta dishes with sea urchin but cooking it seems a bit of a waste to me, adding a slightly burnt note and changing the texture. Ignoring the separate urchin, the pasta itself was classy (16/20). This was followed by rigatoni with cheese and bean sauce, topped with red snow crab and porcini mushrooms. The pasta was again excellent, the beans had superb flavour and the crab was delicate, the combination with the mushrooms working well (16/20).
The final savoury course was grilled risotto, matsutake mushrooms with ginko nuts and a poached egg with a vivid orange yolk, along with lotus root crisps. This was pleasant though a little less coherent for me in terms of flavour combination. The mushrooms were nice and the egg had good flavour, though the little cubes of grilled risotto seemed lost amongst the egg (14/20). For dessert, muscat grapes came with ricotta cheese ice cream and grape sherbet, which was pleasant enough but not particularly exciting (13/20). Coffee was quite good.
Service was highly professional, though very little English was spoken here. The bill came to ¥65,934 for two, which works out at £224 per person, though this was with a bottle of very good Antinori Brunello de Montalcino 1997. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per person would be nearer £130. Overall this was a very enjoyable albeit not cheap evening. I would have said that it was worthy of a Michelin star, though Michelin appear to have spurned this place so far, with not so much as a listing for it.