As if invited to a home of an old tea master, dining at Kiyama is like experiencing a culinary ritual. Treasuring the delicious well water they discovered on its Kyoto grounds, every dish of the seasonal kaiseki meal heightens your mindfulness and calls you to appreciate beauty in the simplest detail.
Opening his first restaurant in 2017, Yoshiro Kiyama says he’s blessed with good karma. Located just at the south end of the divine Sakaimachi Gate, he found out that the restaurant is built above the same stream source as the water used by the Imperial Palace. The water has become the central pillar of the restaurant’s identity, and is used in all aspects of the meal, from distilling the dashi broth to brewing fresh green tea. “I couldn’t hold back my joy when I tasted the water for the first time,” remembers Kiyama, formerly a top chef at Kyoto Wakuden, one of the established Japanese restaurants in the old capital.
You can sense the level of sophistication from the moment you see the restaurant’s entrance. Glistening with uchimizu, a cleansing ritual of water sprinkling in Japanese gardens, the rows of stepping stones guide you to the front door.
The interior, made of wood, bamboo and stone, is simple and minimalist, shifting the focus on the guest’s experience. The subtle details like the seasonal flower arrangement on the wall offer a warm feeling of welcome. The private room resembles a classic tea house with a low wide window that looks onto the tranquil garden. Here, your mind slows down from the bustling lives of the modern world, giving you time and space to appreciate the moment.
Experiencing a culinary ritual.
The kaiseki at Kiyama begins and ends with the water. At the start, you are served a cup of boiled water that warms and relaxes you. Then, the meal flows through a series of beautiful seasonal dishes that are infused in different aromatic broths, all made using the same well water. For a cleansing end, you sip some ousu, or usucha, a cup of weak Japanese tea.
To Kiyama, the soup is the most important dish as it emcompasses his entire philosophy towards cooking. In order to invite the guests to experience the entire process with him, he begins by making the broth right in front of them. Using a special grater that is built into the counter, he skillfully starts sliding the hard blocks of dried fish into beautiful thin strips of kezuri-bushi. Enjoy listening to the quick swishing sound while watching the fish shavings come to life as they dance in the air. The deep aroma of the sea gradually fills the room.
The mix, amount and thickness are the three important elements he thinks about and adjusts each and every time he makes a new batch of broth. He uses a blend of dried tuna and bonito blocks from Kagoshima Prefecture on the southwestern island of Kyushu.
The flakes are then tossed into a pot of kombu broth, which has been brewing from cold water for two whole days. It is true mastery to see him gently sink the flakes to the bottom of the broth, and gradually stirring them altogether using a thin brass spoon. When the taste is just perfect, he pours the hot amber-colored broth through a bamboo siv and into a beautiful round glass vase. This becomes the base for the soup. For the day’s soup, he chooses pieces of fat greenlings for the delicate flavor, coupled with light and refreshing urui leaves and a strip of dried sea cucumber that he lightly scorched for a deeper aroma and texture.
The next picturesque dish is rice with hard shell clams, served in the beautiful shell on a bed of long grassy leaves. Every grain of rice is soaked in the umami of the shellfish. Another signature rice dish is the sea urchin egg bowl. Heaps of creamy sea urchin pieces rest on top of the moist and sweet egg omelet. Sprinkled with the freshly-grated fish flakes, multiple layers of umami come together in your month.
“Guests are welcome to ask for seconds of any dish they like,” Kiyama kindly offers. “I want everyone to be full!” The meal ends elegantly with some traditional sweets and matcha green tea. The day’s dessert is a little wagashi sweet made of lily roots, so subtle and delicate in flavor.
Kiyama searches across the country for the best ingredients. For fish, he buys from various ports from Mie, Bungo of Kyushu, Suruga Bay to the main fish market in Kyoto. He spent a lot of time looking for the perfect rice that matched with the pure flavor of the well water. In order to do so, he did a blind tasting of several recommended brands and ended up picking a type of Koshihikari from Noto Peninsula.
The green tea used in the final course is matcha from Rishouen, one of the best tea stores that Kyoto has to offer. The restaurant also stocks more than 100 different bottles of western wines and 30 brands of Japanese sake.
Kiyama has a priceless collection of antique tableware, many of which are from the Ming Dynasty that complement the subtle colors and compositions of his dishes. His collection of bowls is simply magnificent. Selected to serve the soup, the most important dish of the meal, each design is unique and intricate. He also has other historical treasures such as some beautiful Kokutani dishes from the Edo Period.
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000