Hurry down the picturesque street of Hanamikoji to Kyoen before everyone discovers the wonders of this Kyoto gem, captivating connoisseurs with a creative washoku meets Italian menu. A passionate chef faithfully recreates the delectable recipes inherited from the restaurant’s producers, capturing their essence but sublimating them into a new style with ingenious combinations and memorable pairings from Gion’s largest wine cellar.
Hanamikoji is an eye-catching street in Kyoto’s Gion district lined with tea houses and high-end restaurants. Along the street just north of Shijo-dori is the Kyoto Gion Hotel, a popular new spot that opened in 2019. On the first floor is Kyoen, a wine restaurant the gourmet world is buzzing about because of its illustrious backing. The producers are highly acclaimed chefs Yamagishi and Yamaguchi of restaurants Tominokoji Yamagishi and Yamaguchi, respectively, who, while pleased with their own successful restaurants, sought a way to serve guests long waiting for a chance to enjoy their cuisine. They have entrusted their recipes to washoku specialist Chef Kanemoto, and the business is operated by Plein, a rapidly growing company with eleven eateries, mainly in the Tokyo area. The three players joined forces to create a brand new genre to great success.
The chic, chilled-out space is precisely what guests have been seeking in Gion, opening high-quality dining to a new, younger generation of adults. Nothing prepares you for the stunning 20-meter counter extending from the entrance deep into the restaurant space. A wine cellar within the counter holds over 1,000 bottles of mostly French wine and champagne. While the space exudes a great sense of comfort and ease, all around, you will find the finest tableware and accoutrements.
A creative washoku meets Italian
Kyoen’s ten-dish course follows a traditional kaiseki flow, starting with two sakizuke dishes akin to amuse bouche, followed by a warm appetizer, sashimi, a bowl of seasonal ingredients highlighting the umami of dashi, a grilled dish, pasta, rice course, and dessert. The sashimi and bowl dish showcase Tominokoji Yamagishi’s recipes, for example, whereas the tomato sauce pasta is a nod to Chef Yamaguchi. These elements of the course leaning toward a single cuisine contrast with dishes that skillfully weave together Italian and Japanese techniques and flavors. The details are determined by seasonal ingredients, thus, even as you savor a dish, you begin to dream about what might emerge on a future visit. Adding volume and interest to the delicious foods are pairings by the glass or bottle recommended by the talented sommeliers.
In summer, the course begins with two refreshing amuse bouche, one of which may be soft-braised abalone infused with rich dashi flavor with white taro stem and loquat dressed in tofu. Another may be a dish of eggplant, bell pepper and sea urchin, for which the chef applies Tominokoji Yamagishi’s recipe for cooking eggplant in flavorful dashi drawn from kombu and bonito flakes and pairs it with Yagamuchi’s recipe for bell pepper puree. It is topped with sea urchin, caviar, nasturtium, and micro tomatoes. The final dusting of yuzu zest is the perfect accent to this dish fusing multiple cultures.
The otsukuri sashimi course features Bluefin tuna and yariika spear squid accompanied by wild asparagus, the flowering plant hamabofu, known commonly as beach silvertop, wasabi, and salt. While the squid is distinctly Italian, served with olive oil and salt, the tuna is best enjoyed Japanese style with wasabi and irizake – a condiment first created in the 14th century and popular until the spread of soy sauce made by stewing pickled plums in sake. The savory egg custard dish may spotlight ingredients spanning the Japanese archipelago, like hair crab from Hokkaido in the north and Yatsushiro green laver from Kumamoto on the southern island of Kyushu. The premium sujiaonori seaweed variety is prized for its rich aroma and flavor, accented in this dish by ginger. Wafting of incredibly nourishing stock extracted from a soft-shell turtle is the bowl dish – an essential element of formal Japanese cuisine. For his, Chef Kanemoto has created a homemade deep-fried dumpling of tofu, soft-shell turtle and kikurage wood ear fungus, which is plunged into the stock to soak up all the delicious flavors and topped with slippery mozuku seaweed, zingy myoga and Kyoto Kujo negi green onions.
For the tomato sauce capellini, the chef presses fully ripened domestic fruit tomatoes with their skin on as in Yamaguchi’s original recipe and serves a beautiful plate of pasta accompanied by colorful tomatoes, shiso flowers, and red shiso leaf and basil for a rich aromatic finish. The seasonal grilled dish may be duck side-by-side with salt-grilled sweetfish – a Japanese summer delicacy. Both charcoal grilled and served together on a large platter, seasonal vegetables like Manganji peppers provide an excellent pop of color and flavor.
Butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers frequented by Yamagishi and Yamaguchi over the years supply all the tasty ingredients served at Kyoen. This includes Kyoto heirloom vegetables like Manganji peppers and Kujo negi green onions, as well as tofu. The elaborate course is filled with premium ingredients everyone longs to savor: sea urchin, caviar, sweetfish, duck, tuna, hair crab, and soft-shell turtle. From condiments to seaweed and every last grain of salt, each item is carefully selected and served with purpose.
The sommeliers are intensely proud of the wine selection that answers the deepest wishes of the world’s wine lovers. A team including sommelier Yasuhiro Ito and Chef Kanemoto prepares the wine list to delight guests from around the globe, securing bottles from suppliers specializing in each genre: Burgundy grand crus like Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, wines from the five grand chateaux of Bordeaux, magnums of champagnes, and fresh-style natural wines from Japan – the range of styles, flavors, and grape varieties is certain to delight even the most discerning drinker. Gion’s most extensive wine cellar is visible from every seat, showcasing the restaurant’s 1,000-plus bottle collection. The wine pairing selections are made to suit each guest’s preferences and appetite, with recommendations based on the wine’s peak timing for drinking as well as perfect matches for the season and ingredients.
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000