16th February 2014
Long-time Kyoto kaiseki restaurant, Wakuden (和久傳) has its humble roots in the Buddhist vegetarian cuisine at 17th century temple, Kodaiji (高台寺). Today the restaurant has branched out to other parts of Kyoto such as Kyoto Station and a machiya along Sakaimachi-dori in Nakagyo-ku.
Wakuden’s kaiseki is distinguished by its emphasis on natural seasonal flavours which is reflected throughout the multi-course kaiseki I had at the Muromachi Wakuden in winter, early this year. Owing to its influence from the Buddhist shojin ryori, the kaiseki at Muromachi Wakuden is subtle and austere in comparison to Roan Kikunoi’s.
The kaiseki experience begun with our entry to a historical machiya with a quaint Japanese garden within its compounds and we were seated in a large private room with western style seating. The interiors, a mix of contemporary and traditional elements was by Ashihara Hiroko. The meal begun with a cup of house-brewed sake named Aotakeshu (青竹酒セット) served from a bamboo container. Along with the sake was a cup of Shiso Tea, another speciality of Wakuden.
What followed was a succession of dishes served on exquisite ceramic plates and bowls, the textures, colours and forms of which conveys subtle references to the winter season and serving as atmospheric vessels for the food served.
The meal begun with the hassun course as an introduction to the season with karashi (mustard), ika (squid) and uni (sea urchin) served with wasabi and shiro miso. Instead of the rubbery sticky texture I often get from squid sashimi, this was smooth, springy with a slight stickiness. The sea urchin has a contrasting experience. It was a burst of flavours and went very well with the mildly sweet shiro miso. The mustard provides another dimension of texture with its crunchiness.
The hassun was followed by an owan course (お椀) cream-coloured milky soup with tofu, cod intestine and yuzu. It was pretty light and delicate dish.
The sashimi course or mukozuke course features a house-speciality of sea bream (tai) and scallop (hotate) sashimi served with seaweed, wasabi and radish.
The yakimono course (焼物) was a grilled buri (yellowtail) served with plum sauce with sansho pepper and radish. It was a decently grilled fish with a slight smoky flavour. However, I thought it was quite ordinary.
The next course is probably a Su-zakana to cleanse the palate for the next course. The su-zakana was a salad of carrots, konnyaku jelly, mountain vegetables with tofu crumble and pine nuts. The flavours are pretty delicate for this course as well.
The shiizakana was one of the most memorable courses along with the hassun course with uni and ika. The shiizakana or hot put course is a substantial soup with leek, ginger, yam and kani (crab). The kani was sweet and rather fresh, the flavours of which was accentuated by the sharpness and spiciness from the leek and ginger. This was really good.
Wrapping up the meal is a combination of three courses: gohan, ko no mono and tome-wan (御飯・香の物・止椀). The rice used is house-harvested rice and it was served with an assortment of pickled vegetables which include burdock and radish from Ohara, located north of Kyoto. Alongside the rice and pickled vegetables is a bowl of red miso soup.
Lastly, the meal was completed with another speciality of Wakuden’s, their house-made renkonmochi covered with kinako (sweet soybean flour) and drizzled with kuromitsu (molasses)
Sakaimachi-dori Oike Sagaru Higashigawa,