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Nakamura

Oike-sagaru. Tominokoji, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan

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Nakamura serves traditional kaiseki cuisine, and opened in 1827 (though its current incarnation is not the original building). The current head chef is 6th generation: Motokazu Nakamura. Near the city hall, Nakamura serves traditional kaiseki food in a series of private rooms. Staff wear traditional dress, and you remove your shoes as you enter. Our dining room had a view onto a small garden, which had a water feature so that you could hear running water from the dining room, which is a tradition amongst kaiseki restaurants. Sunken seating is provided below the low table, and the floor where your feet rest was heated, which was a nice touch. The room, as is traditional, was simply decorated with a framed scroll of calligraphy on one wall, with a single flower. Each dish that appeared was presented on separate, and very prettily painted, ceramic bowls and plates.

The first dish was raw scallop and bamboo shoot in sesame sauce, with a little broccoli. The scallop was sweet, the bamboo shoot very tender, and the sauce quite punchy, tasting of sesame and also peanut, with the broccoli providing some contrast to the sweetness (17/20). Next was a miso soup flavoured with mustard, in which lurked a dumpling. This was much thicker than conventional miso soup, and the mustard gave enjoyable warmth to the dish (16/20). This was followed by sashimi: sea bream and otoro (belly tuna, which is fattier that the regular maguro tuna). This was accompanied by grated wasabi root and excellent pickled ginger; the tuna was superb, the bream very good (16/20).

Next a portable hamachi grill was brought in, on which had been cooked salmon trout and also bamboo shoot. The trout was carefully cooked and had good flavour, while the bamboo shoot was superb: still firm, yet tender and with a hint of sweetness (17/20). A wooden presentation box was then brought in. Opening this revealed a pretty configuration of leaves, in which were concealed a series of little dish elements. Crab was wrapped in ultra-thin noodles, prawns were cooked but served cold, there was a mushroom maki roll, and a cube of what was primarily hard-boiled egg, though that description does not do justice to its lovely flavour. Some strikingly good pickled ginger completed the dish. This was a beautifully presented dish, the elements working well with one another (18/20).

Next was a soft-shelled Japanese shrimp that had been fried, served with sweet potato and a deep fried lotus flower. The shrimp had excellent flavour and had been precisely cooked, the sweet potato a nice pairing (16/20). The last savoury course was a simply cooked white fish that I did not recognise; in Japan there are over 700 different fish specifies sold commercially, so identification is non-trivial. It tasted rather like a snapper, and was nicely cooked.  After eating the flesh of the fish, a stock was poured over the bones to make a soup. This was a pleasant dish, though not particularly dazzling (perhaps 15/20). At this point a bowl of rice and pickles appeared, marking the end of the savoury courses in a kaiseki meal.

Dessert comprised a single large strawberry, a type of Japanese grapefruit I have not seen before and vanilla ice cream. The strawberry had superb flavour, the grapefruit unusual in that it did not have the usual strong taste of grapefruit, but was nonetheless recognisably a grapefruit. The vanilla ice cream was fine, though I have eaten better: this was creamy but could have done with more vanilla (15/20).

Service was superb, the waitresses appearing at intervals via the sliding panel door to bring new dishes and top up drinks. No English was spoken, but the staff were very friendly, and at the end of the meal as we were leaving, the chef and staff that had served us came out to thank us for our visit, a lovely tradition in Japan. The bill came to ¥59,000 for two including beer, i.e. £222 a head. This is of course a lot of money, but you have to remember that you are essentially hiring a whole room for your exclusive use for the evening, and the level of work that went into the dishes was very high. Overall this was a very good kaiseki experience, certainly on a par with many of the other highly rated kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto.

 

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