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kaiseki - hakone or kyoto?

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hello! a friend and i are traveling to japan for the first time next month and i've been reading a lot of the postings on here with great interest. we will be there for 9 nights and i feel we must experience one kaiseki dinner, though we are not staying at a ryokan on this trip (i know, many people feel that is a must-do; perhaps next time).

so: does anyone have an opinion of whether we are better off trying kaiseki in the hakone area (where gora kadan has been suggested to us, though we will go anyplace) or in kyoto? there our concierge suggests Kikunoi Honten, though again suggestions are welcome.

thanks!

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  1. Personally I would opt for Kyoto. If you don't speak Japanese, I would also consider a Kaiseki place inside one of the better hotels, for example http://www.granviakyoto.com/dining/ra...

    Kaiseki is full of wonderful unfamiliar ingredients and I would believe that a little explanation on what you are eating etc. will make it even more interesting. Many of the prime Kaiseki places in Kyoto are, for the lack of a better word, arrogant.

    1. Some random thoughts... Gora Kadan should be english-speaker-friendly. Their kaiseki courses (even at dinnertime) run from Y 5,000 to Y 15,000 whereas Kikunoi would probably start from 15,000. If you go to Gora Kadan, you can also consider a day use plan that consists of kaiseki lunch and use of private bath (see their web site).
      Having said all that, to experience one kaiseki dinner I would opt for Kyoto as well. Btw Kikunoi has an English-language web site, don't know if that indicates anything about their willingness to use English though.

      1. If you're not going to do the ryokan plus meal spread out in your room, then have your kaiseki in Kyoto.

        4 Replies
        1. re: deraumai

          Thanks all! I was sort of leaning towards Kyoto (just a gut feeling) anyway but appreciate the intel....and of course if anyone has thoughts on other dining in Hakone (we are staying at the Hyatt) that would be swell :)

          1. re: starvomarvo

            Is your reservation at Hyatt in Hakone refundable?

            I just think it's wonderful to go for a dip in the hot spring, then don the yukata and then enjoy the kaiseki (whether the kaiseki is in your room or in the hotel dining room). To me, onsen, yukata, kaiseki go hand in hand. But that's just me.

            You don't have to stay at a small ryokan necessarily to enjoy the hot spring or the kaiseki. Hakone has many luxurious lodgings that are more like hotels or large inns, but offer nice hot spring baths and kaiseki meals and tatami rooms with futons. For example, Hotel Green Plaza near Ubako ropeway station, or Yamato Hotel in Miyanoshita. Hotel Green Plaza has a Western atmosphere, but you still get the same type of onsen experience as at ryokan and you have the option of choosing either the Continental dinner course or the traditional kaiseki course.

            I don't want to discourage you from staying at the Hyatt. I have heard wonderful things. But it's not really a place to enjoy hot spring (I don't believe they even have a rotenburo) with kaiseki. If you're staying at the Hyatt with anticipations of enjoying it for what it is, then don't change your plans. But I'm just saying that, if you are going to Hakone, you do have an opportunity instead to go stay at a place for that onsen/kaiseki experience.

            1. re: chowmouse

              Thanks for that viewpoint - it was definitely something we thought about! But, we decided on 2 nights in the area to make the travel & experience more relaxing, and based on what we've heard/read didn't think we'd want 2 nights in a ryokan...I think the Hyatt has some sort of onsen situation, even if not outdoors, which we are ok with - coming off this ridiculous NY winter any body of warm water will be welcome!

              Appreciate the tip on Green Plaza as another option and have emailed them, so if they have availability perhaps we will be swayed - but how's the food? :)

              1. re: starvomarvo

                First, Green Plaza has a couple of locations in Hakone. You'll want to go for the one in Sengokuhara (near the Ubako ropeway station), not the one in Gora. We usually go for their "asian twin room" which is a luxurious room with your own private onsen. It really is a real treat, and you don't even have to bother to go to the communal baths. The in-suite onsen is actually a rotenburo that is in the patio just outside your room, but it's well-sheltered so you'll have complete privacy. It faces out to a backyard and forest, with incredible views of Mt.Fuji on clear days. Luckily, we've been able to see Mt.Fuji all 3-4 times that we've stayed. We usually go crazy with the onsen... we typically go for a dip at random times 5-6 times between check-in and check-out. The Asian twin room comes out to about 45,000-50,000yen for 2 adults, inclusive of taxes, dinner and breakfast.

                The food keeps changing at Green Plaza. And they usually offer a couple of different courses at a given time... one that is fully traditional Japanese kaiseki, another that is either fully Western or mix of Western/Japanese. The former is the cheaper option and is standard for the regular room guests. The latter is the more expensive and is standard for the more expensive room guests (eg, Asian twin room), although regular room guests can upgrade to this dinner option. The first time we were there, we stayed with the Western course because it included lobster, and it was amazing and we were stuffed afterwards. I think the second time, it was some sort of a French course with some Japanese mixed in... it was very high quality, but we were disappointed in the lack of quantity. The third time, we purposely downgraded to the cheaper traditional kaiseki course... this was very good, although not quite as elaborate as some of the really good ones I've had over the years. It's hard to say... I go to Japan 1-3 times a year and so I have kaiseki all the time; I can't say that Green Plaza's kaiseki is mind-blowing. But if it were my first or second time having kaiseki, maybe I'd be blown away by it. Regardless of the quality/quantity of kaiseki, I always really enjoy the whole combination of hot springs, chilling out on futon, kaiseki dinner, and then more hot springs. The breakfast at Green Plaza is a rather extensive buffet that has a mix of traditional japanese stuff (fish, pickles, rice, miso) and Western things (bacon, egg, croissants, fruits, yogurt)... really enjoy that every time.

                Their current menu actually is available with English. Here it is...
                http://www.hgphakone.jp/meal/img/spri...
                This is the Japanese/Western kaiseki that comes standard with rooms that have en-suite onsen. It looks good, but I wonder if you won't still be hungry afterwards. If you do decide to stay here and stay 2 nights, maybe you can downgrade to the traditional japanese kaiseki on one of those nights.

                I think if you want the very best kaiseki experience period, don't count on it at Hakone Green Plaza. But I can thoroughly recommend them as a place where you can enjoy the ultimate onsen experience (view of Mt.Fuji from your own private rotenburo to boot, if the weather cooperates) to go with respectable kaiseki and a nice room (many rooms have tatami mattress; Asian twin rooms have hardwood floors but the bedding is futon).