The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, 25 November 2006

Kaiseki dining @ Mametora (Gion, Kyoto)

Like I said before, the Kyoto trip coincided with my birthday (hm, I wonder if that was a deliberate plan on my part?), so we decided to splurge a bit to celebrate. On recommendation by someone who has lived and dined in Kyoto for 23 years, we went to Mametora in Gion which served kaiseki at reasonable prices (well, they were still expensive, but more reasonable than most places that serve kaiseki). Kaiseki ryori is very much an artistic piece of work featuring seasonal ingredients, and are notoriously known to be really expensive. Some say that kaiseki ryori is the height of Japanese cuisine. Many kaiseki restaurants are not intimidating only for foreigners, but for natives as well because they are like super-first class restaurants requiring a certain degree of etiquette and formality.

On the streets of Gion searching for the restaurant, we saw several geishas on their way to their appointments. The poor girls - having people shoving cameras in their faces. Being entertainers, they surely must enjoy the celebrity status, right? (That was my justification for taking a photo):

The entrance to Mametora:

Inside, our seats had a view of a Japanese 'zen' garden. The restaurant had a very calm and relaxing atmosphere:

We went for Mametora's special Mame Sushi kaiseki, which is an 8-course meal for 8000yen (~AU$90) per person. Everything was immaculately prepared and presented and the service was friendly and helpful. The food was very delicious, and I'm not obligatorily saying it was delicious because it was expensive - no no I've had expensive crap food, but this was truly perhaps the best Japanese food I've had so far.


The entree course consisted of six dishes - there were tofu, beans, shrimps, fish roe, and a piece of daikon served with a deliciously sweet sauce. In fact, the sauce was so delicious, I'd really like to know what it was!

(Clockwise from bottom left) daikon with that yummy sauce; strongly-flavoured shrimp (perhaps fermented?); I can't remember what this dish was like; fish roe; and beans deliciously prepared. In the centre is the tofu:

Mushroom soup with goma dofu

Oo, this was soooo yummy! I have previously given an account of our first encounter with goma dofu, so perhaps you can understand our excitement to find out that the tofu pieces in this course were goma dofu. In the soup were an array of various Japanese mushrooms, including the oh-so-expensive-and-rare matsutake. The soup was d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s!

Big pot of mushroom soup:

Yummy goma dofu just for me!

Sashimi course

This included maguro (tuna), ika (squid) and a few other types of fish whose names I do not remember. The seafood was fresh and beautifully presented.

Fried sweet potato

We had the chance to enjoy one of the Japanese favourite autumn vegetable, which was either yam or sweet potato. The colour looked like yam but the taste was very sweet. When I asked if it was satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potato), the waitress said another name and explained that it's like a type of sweet potato. We enjoyed it a lot anyway :)

Broiled fish

If I'm not wrong, the fish in this course is called ayu, which is a freshwater 'sweet' fish enjoyed during summer and autumn seasons. It is quite an expensive fish too. I enjoyed this fish, but I wasn't sure how to eat this fish, so I ate everything - head, bones and all. Rob was a bit more picky, refusing to eat everything and spent some time fiddling with the bones.

Sushi course

The star dish of the whole dinner is the sushi plate. One word: beautiful. The presentation was amazing, and the taste was even better! This dish included unagi (eel), hotate (scallops), ebi (prawn) and maguro (tuna) interspaced with vegetable sushi like daikon, seaweed and red onion.


By this time I was stuffed. Dessert was a traditional wagashi: a green tea mochi with anko (adzuki bean paste) filling.

Phewy, this post took a while, didn't it? All this talk about food is making me hungry!

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