Mar 1, 2016

祇園にしかわ (Gion Nishikawa) - Kaiseki Experience in Higashiyama, Kyoto

Located in Higashiyama Ward within walking distance of the famous Kiyomizu-dera, Gion Nishikawa, quietly situated in an alley not far away from the tourists crowded area -

My last two Michelin stars during this trip, a good choice indeed - 

As soon as I walked into the restaurant, all my senses received the same feedback - elegance and grace. Gion Nishikawa kept a minimal design and was decorated with fall-related art works during the month visited. The service was gentle and polite, and every dish was light yet filled with seasonal aromatic ingredients. Even the dining ware was carefully selected to reflect current scenes in the natural world. 

After numerous courses, my body was full but not overwhelmed. All the food I've eaten sits gently in my body and gradually transformed into energies. Maybe that's what a kaiseki meal will do to you, and maybe I've came a little closer to grasp the sense of a true kaiseki cuisine.

Spotted a calabash-shaped bottle in the center but didn't think too much. Instead, I was checking out the details of their semi-opened kitchen in the back -

Counter seat setting -

The chopsticks were covered by a shallow plate-shaped container. The material felt like wood, but it was as light as few pieces of paper.

The waitress in kimono brought over a hand towel, and the young chef was preparing the ingredients -

A small working section next to the young chef - 

That big pot in the back contains hot water.

Drink menu -

Ordered a glass of plum wine. The young chef might be asking me if I want it with water and ice cubes. Glad I nodded. It was almost sparkling wine-like texture, very refreshing yet a well-rounded sourish taste to start the meal -

And I finally figured out what that calabash bottle was. The head chef came out and greeted every customer before the service starts. Then the chef poured out some yuzu wine from that bottle. 

I requested for a more full-on course when making the reservation. Not sure if it was the reason, my sake container, the light wooden plate, was different and appeared more refined than others -

And the thin chopsticks revealed, hopefully I won't break it with my clumsy fingers -

First course: crab meat, daikon oroshi, citrus -

What a beautiful ginkgo leaf-shaped plate.

Slightly sweet hint from the crab meat but the daikon oroshi on top was also seasoned with sweet citrus juice. The leafy greens on the bottom seemed went through the pickling process, providing a gentle sourness to balance off the flavors. A lovely opening. 

Shirako and seafood ball -

The brain looking things are called shirako, or milt, or sperm sac. Shirako is considering a delicacy in Japanese cuisine, quite precious, also expensive.

Soft and paste-like texture paired with clean-cut stock. The katsuo based aroma from the stock permeated through my whole sinus system but not a single sticky sensation cling on my tongue -

The seafood ball was puffy, fluffy, yet slightly bouncy at the same time. 

Autumn fruit, persimmon-shaped container -

The chef was trying to explain the ingredients used in English but didn't go well. So I tried my best to figure out the details in Japanese. However, he did have a laminated cheat sheet under the counter showing some common ingredients in both Japanese and English. 

Persimmon, snapper, daikon oroshi - 

The fish skin was quickly torched before serving, its gentle burnt aroma matches perfectly with the juicy and sweet persimmon -

Young chef at work -

Sawara sashimi -

The skin was lightly grilled this time instead of torching, further concentrated the umami flavor. The sashimi itself stood well even without dipping in the soy sauce -

Grilled/baked dish -

At fist I wasn't sure if the darkened skin from the chestnut was edible or not. Took a bite and fell in love with it. The texture was harder then the actual chestnut, but as I kept chewing into it, the savory salty flavor kept coming through. 

Puffed rice seasoned with red miso underneath, added a lightly crunchy bite to the dish -

Hamo soup -

Found a translation for hamo - pike conger. Not sure if it's correct but hamo do look like an eel, long body and carries many thin bones. The restaurant did a good job picking out all the tiny bones, all I've left with was chunky and soft fish meat -

The stock was just one level heavier than the shirako version but still clean and crisp -

Hassun, seasonal side dishes -

Hassun here was way better than Toriyasa, even though I absolutely adore Toriyasa's comforting service. The sabazushi (mackerel sushi) in the back was fatty and satisfying -

And this hassun came with a mini chicken bowl -

Ikura (salmon roe) and grated Chinese yam inside. 

Underneath the maple leaf was perhaps by far my favorite bite of the ginkgo nut in my life -

Tempura ginkgo nut. 

The grainy coating was aromatic, I'm guessing they fried it with sesame oil but not quite sure. The large ginkgo nut inside had a surprisingly soft texture. The two completely different textures intertwined so well, who would ever know that such small ingredient can became my favorite among all other major components here.

The kitchen staff was preparing the clay pot rice -

The chef let me took some pictures first. Such a beautiful cookware brightened by brushes of green -

Chestnut rice for me, some other customers got mushroom rice instead -

And it came with miso soup, tsukemono, and hot tea -

Japanese really knows their rice. Every grain was bouncy and moist, of course not overly sticking to each other. As you chewed into the rice, a delicate sweetness came through, kind of like the aroma from the mochi. The chestnut scent also permeated into the grains -

The texture for the chestnut was unexpectedly tender. It's almost like steamed garlic slices, soft and moist, also delicate like lily bulbs, a fancy ingredient occasionally used in Asian cuisine. 

The server handed me a hot towel, signaling the end of savory courses. It's time for dessert.

Pear and pear sorbet -

The pear is very sweet but not the sticky kind. The sugary flavor transformed into aromatic scent, felt like I can "smell" the sweetness -

Matcha in the making - 

Matcha -

Gion Nishikawa walked me through the fall season by enriching all my senses. The dishes made, the ambiance created, and the arrangements selected, leaving a memorable trace of autumn in Kyoto. 

祇園にしかわ/Gion Nishikawa currently holds two Michelin star status.

祇園にしかわ (Gion Nishikawa)
京都市東山区下河原通八坂鳥居前下る下河原町 473
473 Shimokawaracho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto
Kyoto Prefecture 605-0825, Japan
Official website:

Extended reading:

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