This restaurant is near to the Shimogamo-jinja shrine, a UNESCO world heritage site, on the outskirts of Kyoto. This is next to the forest of Tadasu-no-mori, the last remnants of a 2,000 year old woodland. Yoshimi Tanigawa is the head chef of Kichisen, which was promoted to three Michelin stars in the 2014 guide. The style is kaiseki, and the restaurant has counter seating for up to five as well as small private dining rooms.
The meal begins with a little sake as a welcome, and an appetiser. Ours was a small slab of crabmeat laced with ginger, a mushroom and okra, with a small bowl of tiny sea bream. The crab had superb flavour, the bream excellent, though I was less sure about the okra, a vegetable that I really like but here had a gelatinous consistency (17/20). Next was a savoury umami flan, with a slice of sea bream and also a sliver of matsutake mushroom. This was lovely, the flan having silky texture, the mushroom and fish excellent (18/20).
This was followed by a teapot containing a broth of hamo fish and Matsutake mushroom. You pour the broth into a little cup, and dip into the teapot with chopsticks to fish out the hamo and mushroom. The broth had beautifully intense flavour (18/20). Next were slivers of squid served with potato and a slow-cooked egg, to which was added the fatty toro tuna. The squid was very tender, the egg having surprisingly deep flavour, the tuna velvety (17/20).
This was followed by a dish of red rice with chestnuts and a green vegetable that I did not recognise. The chestnuts were very good but there are limits to how exciting a bowl of rice can be (15/20). Taro was served with a little cake of hamo roe, again pleasant but hardly thrilling (15/20).
The next dish was swordfish, served on a hollowed out half pineapple, alongside a further sliver of Matsutake mushroom. The fish was genuinely superb, perfectly cooked and with unusually good flavour (18/20). To enliven the traditional rice and pickle stage of the kaiseki meal, we were served rice soup with eel and yet more Matsutake mushroom. The pickles were of a particularly high standard compared to others I ave eaten.
For dessert an orange was hollowed out and filled with orange jelly, to which was added Cointreau to taste. The orange, as so often with fruit in Japan, had exceptional flavour, the jelly lovely (easily 17/20). This was followed by persimmon and strawberry. It should be explained that at this time of year strawberries are grown in greenhouses as they are popular as a gift, and I was impressed with just how good their flavour was. Finally there was a Japanese sugar sweet and green tea.
The bill came to ¥33,368 for two, which works out at £102 a head. Service was very attentive and friendly, the young staff speaking quite good English and happy to chat about the dishes. Overall I enjoyed Kichisen, and although I did not think it was quite in the league of Kitcho or Mizai, it is well able to hold its own amongst the other top Kyoto kaiseki restaurants.