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Aug 5, 2012 12:31 PM

Kyoto Arashiyama Kitcho

Full pictures:

For people who live there, and visitors seeking out a Kaiseki experience in Kyoto, you have certainly heard of Kitcho. It is considered one of the finest restaurants in the world. It has won just about every award a restaurant can attain, including 3 michelin stars AND all 5 forks and knives.

A third generation run restaurant, its current chef is Kunio Tokuoka. The kaiseki meal comes in several courses, which are themed around the season you come. If you choose the full tasting menu, you get around 12 to 14 courses, including the Hassun course (which is about 5 dishes served together). All dishes are immaculately presented and brought to you in beautiful antique tableware, some of which are very very old and priceless. Ingredients are painstakingly sourced for quality and prepared to their highest potential, all of which are seasonal and local.

Another highlight is the venue itself. Kitcho resides in Arashiyama, by a riiver, and near a green sloping mountain, one of the most beautiful and dramatic locations you can get. The restaurant is divided into several private tatami rooms, all of which have their own separate gardens.

Dinner for one person lasts a bit over 3 hours, and will run you more than $600USD, not including sake. Because this can seem quite steep for many, I recommend this restaurant if you have eaten Kaiseki several times in your life AND you appreciate it.

Here is an example of a summer menu:

Junmai Daijingo sake apertif. Very high quality sake.
Kelp and plum tea, which is really more like a soup.
Roast vegetables with grilled octopus.
Hamo eel is served next, in a flavorful broth with a touch of yuzu.
White fish sashimi with two sauces, one is citrus based, the other uses the fish innards.
Bluefin O-toro sashimi and grilled lobster. For a sushi lover, this is impressive.
Ayu sweetfish, a specialty of summer, is grilled whole and served with a green leaf sauce.
Broiled trout, with shiitake, tempura vegetables, and sudachi citrus.
Red bean rice and sesame. The gold bowl it comes in is fantastic.
The Hassun course, an assortment of seasonal dishes.
Edamame beans, which have been cut in half and chilled in a cold clear broth
Uni served over warm root vegetables.
Stewed radish.
Simmered shrimp, sushi rolled in a leaf, fried fish, mountain potato.
The shrimp’s head is served with ginger.
A stew of nasu eggplant, pumpkin, and okra.
Kyoto raised beef, with a gelee. I felt this surpassed even the best Kobe beef I ever had.
Lotus rice cooked in a pot, served with tiny white fish, shiso, plum, and tsukemono
Watermelon, cantaloupe, mango, white peach, and a Kyoho grape. All are unbelievably perfect.
Green tea sorbet, which has a strong matcha flavor.

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  1. I really wanted to go there last year when we were in Kyoto but couldn't justify the dollar amount.
    I will go someday when I have a corporate sponsor in Japan ;)

    I'm surprised this restaurant (chain) isn't mentioned more on this site.

    Thanks for the review and the pictures!

    1 Reply
    1. re: quddous

      It is indeed expensive. I think the extra price goes into the maintenance for the private rooms and the pricey antique ceramics. The one thing you can really pick up on is the details in ingredient sourcing and careful cooking.

    2. My love for Japanese kaiseki (the highest form of culinary art in Japan) is very close to my passion for French cuisine (more to the nouvelle than the old haute). Talking about the ‘ultimate’ kaiseki restaurants, it’s almost certain that people are bound to mention the name Kitcho. A legendary Chef (and businessman) Teichi Yuki found Koraibashi Kitcho in 1930; this place, until now, is like a private club for the rich and famous. There are plenty of Kitcho restaurants in Japan at this moment that is open to the public. Among these places, the most famous one is no doubt: Kitcho Arashiyama located in the west side of Kyoto. Kunio Tokuoka, the grandson of Kitcho’s founder, became the executive chef-owner of his flagship restaurant in 1995. Under his leadership, Kyoto Kitcho has positioned itself as arguably the most luxurious and best kaiseki ryotei in the world. This place was sort of my dream restaurant when coming to Japan last November and it’s rightly so. The restaurant provided an unforgettable experience and was almost perfect in every sense. Actually it’s not the first time I tried Tokuoka-san’s cooking – a couple of years earlier, I had a chance to have dinner at his Singapore branch before closing for good. It was a decent meal, easily the island’s best kaiseki place but they charged an exorbitant price that’s not directly proportional to what the diners would get.

      I was still convinced that dining at Kitcho Arashiyama would be totally a different experience than eating at Tokuoka’s modern restaurant in Singapore. I had a meal at Genyana Hamadaya 6 years ago, so I knew exactly how awesome it could be to savor a meal at Japan refined ryotei. We went for lunch at Kitcho. I thought it would be nice after eating a great meal and burn some calories in the afternoon by exploring the Arashiyama area, in particular in search of the “perfect” spot to enjoy the falling (momiji) leaves. The grandeur of Kyoto Kitcho can be seen even from its big entrance gate. It’s very uncommon to have a restaurant this size merely to accommodate guests in their ‘only’ 6-7 private rooms. But, exclusivity was something you would get when dining here. Upon entering the restaurant, a few friendly kimono-clad ladies greeted and then escorted us to our private tatami room. We’re pleased to be seated at a huge private room in which 7-8 guests can easily fit in here. About half of our room’s total perimeter was surrounded by magnificent Japanese garden. Overall, it’s really a pleasant and fabulous “dining room” – I could not think of a better one in Japan.

      Regardless of the Kitcho Arashiyama luxurious surroundings, the main star was still the food. We began our meal with an excellent quality of karasumi with gold leaf as well as refreshing & crunchy combination of veggie, fruit and steamed chicken to whet our appetite. This was followed by an excellent soup of smooth silky grilled tofu with sweet & tender snow crab on top of it; the dashi was umami. Like Ishikawa, Kyoto Kitcho served 2 sequences of sashimi dishes. The 1st one was a white fish (the first time I ate this Kue); the Kelp’s (served with iwatake and wasabi) quality was stunning with sophisticated flavor. The 2nd round of serving was succulent seared Ise ebi and tender Ika. Then come one of the main highlight for our lunch: lightly cooked snow crab legs with their shells still intact. The zuwai-gani (a good source of low fat protein) was succulent and tasty; we had the option to heat up the crab on cooking pot to make the crab sweeter. There was also kani miso that’s richer than the crab meat. To make it more interesting, you could dip the crab in the yuzu sauce. I ate lots of zuwai gani in this trip and didn’t seem to ever get enough of it

      The dish that I look forward the most in Kitcho Arashiyama was its Hassun, assorted delicacies from the mountain & sea showcasing the food’s seasonality. Tokuoka-san believes that hassun has to be artistic (and delicious). The dish was elaborately decorated and indeed beautiful, from both me and my spouse’s vantage point – just see the picture yourself from the link below. The kitchen prepared 7 different kinds of items and among them, the outstanding stuffs were: The Ikura was of stunning quality, Shirako with jelly and veggie was very good, the beef tongue was smooth and delicious, the other 4 were fine. I ate plenty of terrific grilled fish during my trip, but the one I had here (and at Matsukawa) was the most flavorful. The outstanding butterfish, served with chestnut and deep fried turnip, was fresh and carefully seasoned. After yakimono, come the mushimono – usually my least favorite part in kaiseki sequences. I had simmered taro that well absorbed the soup’s flavor; it’s accompanied by decent shiitake mushroom and kujyo leek.

      The Gohan at Kyoto Kitcho was extraordinary. We were served 2 kinds of rice: the “brown” rice was cooked with matsutake producing pine mushroom distinct aroma. Moreover, we had 2 pieces of tender and tasty local beef with the rice. After this, we also sampled a bowl of new harvested koshikari rice from Niigata - pure, fluffy and having top grain quality. The tsukemono was also carefully selected; we had turnip mixed with bonito flakes, Mibuna leaves mixed with sesame and Hinona turnip. This place ‘famous’ dessert was simple assorted fruits. I had to admit that the fruits were really amazing; I don’t usually appreciate this kind of dessert in which the chefs pretty much doing ‘nothing’. However, it changed now - they sourced each fruit so that each kind that I ate was probably the best kind I’ve ever had: the peeled grape was a big and flavorful, the musk melon was moist and sweet, the pear was crisp and sweet; the kaki was watery and tender. Lastly, the rice cake with adzuki bean wagashi to accompany the bitter matcha was alright. The omakase was exquisite throghout; the Chef and his team put a tremendous amount of effort for every single dish. Great job!

      The Kitcho’s front of the house was also doing fantastic job. The service was impeccable, pretty much faultless. Our room attendant was professional, courteous, friendly and knowledgeable. Before leaving the restaurant, we also met the ryotei’s Okami; she’s none other than Chef Tokuoka’s wife. Along with our waitress and the Okami’s son, she escorted us on the way out - a great display of Japanese omotenashi. Having a meal at Kitcho Arashiyama was a unique and memorable experience. I doubt it can be replicated at other places or even its own branches. It’s not cheap for sure, but you got the entire package: luxurious surrounding, immaculate hospitality, top quality produce, flavorful dishes etc. The food was generally very enjoyable, even for someone who’s probably still quite novel in the kaiseki world – many items would be very friendly to your palate. Tokuoka-san’s cooking was dynamic (it keeps evolving); he’s an open-minded gentleman who’s not afraid to try new techniques and sometimes even using non-Japanese ingredients. Overall, it’s an etheral meal and I gladly bestow this place almost 97 pts (definitely worth 3-star Michelin). Personally, I think that Matsukawa had slightly better food, but Kyoto Kitcho’s service and setting were at another level. This ryotei is (somehow) like the Japanese version of Ducasse Monaco/Paris establishments for the reasons already mentioned above.

      For more detailed reviews, please check:

      For dishes' pictures only, check: https://picasaweb.go...yamaKyotoJapan#

      7 Replies
      1. re: Bu Pun Su

        Thanks for the report. Can I ask how much was lunch?

        Fyi your links aren't working.

        1. re: Bu Pun Su

          PorkyBelly, thank you for reading and especially pointing to the "broken links". Here are the correct ones:

          Report: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspo...

          If I recalled correctly, around JPY 40K per pax including service charge and sharing a flask of house brand cold sake

          1. re: Bu Pun Su

            I have wanted to go there, but we cannot sit in a traditional tatami room. Are there possibilities of tatami with a leg well or of tables with chairs?

            We loved Hana Kitcho where we had a private room with a table and chairs.

            1. re: beaulieu

              Honestly, I don't really know the answer
              The purpose of tatami room and floor seats in any ryotei would be to really enjoy the experience in a traditional way

              The website below had 2 pictures that would give you the idea of the seating situation

              If that's still uncomfortable, you should contact them directly (call or e-mail) and explain your situation - there's always someone who could respond in English
              Given the restaurant's resources and reputation, they might be able to do something about it

              We passed by Hana Kitcho and it looked very chic - glad you enjoyed the food there. Good luck

              1. re: Bu Pun Su

                I thought the purpose of the tatami room was to make you feel you're so wealthy that you and your babe are dining in a room 4 times the size of your typical 1K. ;)

                Kitcho is really fine, and their white rice alone is worth the price of admission, but they could try harder.

                1. re: Gargle

                  You are, of course, welcome to think that way ... with regards to the tatami room

                  1. re: Bu Pun Su

                    Are there things I think about in regards to which I'm not welcome to think the way I think about?