This restaurant is located a little way from central Kyoto in a quiet residential area. The unassuming building houses a red lacquered wood counter around which a dozen seats are arrayed, with a separate private dining room to one side. Four chefs were working in view of the diners at this meal, and in total the restaurant can seat 28 customers.
The head chef here is Mr Hisao Nakahigashi, who opened the restaurant in 1997. He specialises in using mountain herbs and vegetables and focuses on local ingredients, though on occasion he has been known to use the high grade Matsusaka beef. The chef picks plants and flowers from the mountain every day, and aims to use ingredients almost entirely from within 15 miles of the restaurant. Even by the demanding standards of Kyoto, this two star Michelin restaurant is renowned for being amongst the hardest to book in the city.
The first course was a beautifully presented selection of appetisers. There was tamagoyaki (rolled omelette grilled over charcoal), smoked hotaruika (a sort of baby squid), bamboo shoot, egoma (perilla) seed, taranome (angelica buds), grilled bonito, sweet rice wrapped in cherry leaf, deer jerky, dandelion and udo (mountain asparagus) shaped as cherry blossom, and a little bowl of salad that included a superb tiny wild strawberry. This was an impressive composition of elements, the bonito excellent and the taranome having remarkable flavour, the tamagoyyaki benefitting from a gentle hint of smoke from the charcoal (18/20).
A dish of broccoli with tofu puree and horsetail (the plant rather than, you know, the end of a horse - anything is possible on a Japanese plate) was good but not quite in the league of the previous dish (16/20). This was following by white miso soup with mugwort mochi (rice cake made from a short grain glutinous rice), snow peas and yellow mustard. The snow peas were superb and the depth of flavour of the miso was fabulous, the level of mustard really well judged (18/20).
Grilled Japanese cherry salmon (sakuramasu) had been marinated in miso and came with cabbage, tiny peas in their pods and broccoli puree. This was another most impressive dish, the salmon lovely with its hint of charcoal from the grill. The quality of both vegetables was remarkable - the vegetables in Japan are surely the best in the world (19/20).
Carp sashimi was cut ultra-thin and came with carp skin, carp jelly, soy, wasabi, radish, chickweed, wild onion, pea shoots, shiso sprouts, shoya (related to aubergine) as both a mousse and a powder, and little fried crisp fish scales. This was easily the best carp I have eaten, and the clever use of textures (the jelly, the skin, the crisp scales) was very effective in showing off the potential of the core ingredient. As ever, the quality of the spring vegetables here was impressive (18/20).
This was followed by bamboo shoots with bracken, sansho (Japanese pepper) flower, nappa flower, royal fern, and a little fish that did not seem to have an English translation but was reminiscent of an anchovy, all in a vegetable broth. The vegetables were lovely and I liked the way that seasoning was provided naturally from the ingredients: the bite of sansho and the saltiness of the fish (17/20).
The final savoury dish was grilled local Kyoto beef served with sweet onion, spring onion head and leaves. The beef had excellent flavour but I was almost more impressed by the onions, which had lovely sweetness and were a world apart in flavour from those we see in Britain (18/20). As is customary in kaiseki cooking, the transition from savoury to sweet was marked by rice and pickles, here made from scratch in the kitchen from onion, scallion, carrot and deer miso.
To finish there were strawberries with wild carrot, royal fern, plum seed and soy sorbet. The local strawberries, picked that morning in Kyoto, had extraordinary flavour and were a great example of how Japanese fruit at its best is simply the best on earth; it is hard to score something so simple, but I have never tasted better strawberries.
The staff were charming, both waitress and chefs happy to explain the elaborate ingredients and preparations. One very important thing to note is that this restaurant is cash only - no credit cards are accepted. The bill, with plenty of beer to drink, came to ¥20,320 for two, which works out at £63 a head. To me this seems like a complete steal for what was extraordinarily elaborate food using glorious ingredients. I enjoyed this meal more than some of the 3 star Michelin places in this city, yet it was a fraction of their price.