20th December 2012.
Sitting along the quiet street of Kiyamachi-dori along a quaint looking canal is Roan Kikunoi** (菊乃井), our reward for the morning hike and our highlight meal in this trip to Japan. Roan Kikunoi is the informal branch of Kikunoi a kaiseki restaurant, helmed by Yoshihiro Murata. The chef is also part of the International Culinary Panel of Singapore Airlines.
At Roan Kikunoi, you also get to savour the gastronomy that is served at Kikunoi but at a more affordable price and much less formalities. The interior of Roan Kikunoi was modest like a rustic chaya with a petite indoor garden. After a brief introduction by the chef and handing out of English menus, the multi-course kaiseki begins.
First off was an aperitif, a strong but sweet rice wine to stimulate the palate for the first course of the meal, the Hassun 八寸. The hassun is the prologue to a kaiseki meal with seasonal inspiration. Beautifully presented, the hassun includes Mizuna with anglerfish liver sauce, Fish Cake, Matsukaze (tuna pate with white poppy seeds), Japanese Taro, Lotus Root stuffed with Mushard and Salmon & Radish Roll.
It was a plethora of flavours and textures. The braised Japanese taro has a hint of citrus and the mizuna served anglerfish liver sauce was like a burst of rich flavours.
Next up was a course of Sashimi (also known as Mukōzuke course in Japanese kaiseki) which features thick slices of Tai (Red Sea Bream), Koshibi (Baby Tuna), Stream Laver and Wasabi. The Tai has a chewy, briny texture while the Koshibi was superbly succulent.
For soup, we had Yuba, Mibuna and Ginger Juice, and easily the best dish for the whole meal. It was served in a dark lidded lacquer bowl. Upon lifting the lid, the fragrant spicy aroma of ginger fills the air. Sitting in pool of thickened ginger juice is a stalk of mibuna (mustard-family vegetable) resting on a ball-shaped yuba. The ginger juice was surprisingly mild but extremely fragrant. The best part is when you broke open the yuba ball (which consist of multiple layers of thin yuba) to reveal mushrooms which infuses the ginger juice with its savoury flavours. This dish made my day.
Then we moved on to the “Salad”, which was Syougoin-Daikon (Kyoto Indigenous Radish), Thick Tofu and Fried Squid Ball served on a pretty looking bowl. This was very good too, the milky broth has touch of mustard and yuzu flavours and the delicate syougoin-daikon was very sweet.
This was followed by another course of Tempura which consists of Prawn, Sweet Potato, Maitake-Mushroom and Great Burdock (arctium lappa, a kind of vegetable cultivated for its roots). The tempura course was nicely executed but there was nothing to rave about too.
Next up was “Rice”, today we had Rice with Small Scallops served with Tsukemono (Japanese pickles) and Kintoki Carrot Soup. Kintoki Carrots are Japanese sweet carrots. The rice was cooked to the right texture and complemented by the distinct tsukemono. The Kintoki Carrot Soup was excellent as well, it was mellow and sweet with a hint of spiciness.
Lastly, we ended the meal with wedges of Kaki (Persimmon) topped with Tea Jelly and served with a Yuzu Sorbet. The yuzu sorbet was too sour for a fellow diner but when consumed together with the sweet, jelly-like persimmon it was a great combination.
Overall, it was an awesome meal. I realized that for the whole meal, there was no meat like chicken or pork yet every dish tasted amazing and different. The whole experience was like a journey of the seasons, a story being presented in successive dishes, each representing a different chapter.
The restaurant was awarded two Michelin Stars by the Kyoto-Osaka Michelin Guide and lunch kaiseki cost around 4200 JPY onwards. To get to Roan Kikunoi, you can take buses 205, 17 and 5 from Kyoto Station and get off at Shijo Kawaramachi. Alternatively, you can also take the subway to Kawaramachi Station. Roan Kikunoi is near the Kamogawa and facing a canal (not the river).
118 Saito-cho, Shijo-sagaru, Kiyamachi-dori, Shimogyo-ku,