Japan has no shortage of Michelin Starred restaurants, but the true test comes in finding those that have these coveted stars and serve some of the finest Japanese cuisine. Enter Manakemerou in Kyoto, which serves the Japanese-style Kaiseki Cuisine!
What is Kaiseki Ryori (会席料理)?
Kaiseki Cuisine (Kaiseki Ryori) is a multi-course meal featuring traditional Japanese foods, similar to a chef’s menu or pre fixe meal in how it is priced and served. It has humble origins as a simple meal that would be served as part of a tea ceremony, which would sometimes last an entire day. Over the years, though, the cuisine has evolved and multiplied, and looks very different from its tea ceremony roots back in the dining halls of Japanese artistocrats.
The style also gives a lot of freedom to the chef: They can add, omit, or modify the courses as they see fit. They usually do this in order to highlight regional techniques or seasonal foods, to give that truly local stamp of authenticity on the dining experience.
Learning about Kaiseki Ryori at Manakamerou
We managed to walk in to this restaurant without a reservation. Wild, right? Since we didn’t make a reservation, they could only give us a standard lunch set, since they didn’t have the time to get the ingredients or prepare any special menus they could offer to those with reservations. We gladly accepted and went in.
We had a massive open room to ourselves, with our petite tables right in the center and a privacy folded wall in front of the entryway. It had some remnants of the tea ceremony roots in the room: The ikebana and the scroll with the word or theme for the meal, which I promptly glossed over and didn’t translate.
Course 1: STARTERS
PART 1: APERTIF (Shokuzen-shu 食前ー酒, or before-meal sake)
This wasn’t included, but we ordered some ourselves. It was a local sake from Kyoto, a dry sake, so it packed a bit more of an alcoholic punch than a smoother sweet sake. You can’t really go wrong with sake made in the Kyoto area!
PART 2: APPETIZERS
Our appetizer was a cold shrimp with miso and avocado. I can’t express to you how the mix of savory and sweet in the pile of miso really made the dish perfect. It had a wonderful creamy texture the really complemented the umami in the shrimp and the earthiness of the avocado. This was an incredible start to the meal, and may have been my favorite part. I still have dreams of the miso and yearn to discover how to make it that good at home!
COURSE 2: MAIN COURSES
PART 1: SOUP (Suimono 吸い物)
So for us, there wasn’t a dedicated soup selection, which, as we said before, is not required for the kaiseki experience, as each place does its own thing. Just know that this is what the part is called and what you can expect from it, very generally speaking.
PART 2: SASHIMI (Otsukuri お作り)
Here we had some raw tuna paired with some steamed veggies and a seaweed jelly. Of course, there was a healthy helping of wasabi to mix with some soy sauce, should you wish to dip your fish to get a little extra saltiness to your bites. The curly presentation and taste were excellent! Such a fresh, clean taste to everything presented.
PART 3: BOILED DISH (Nimono 煮物)
So, the next parts all came together in a massive bowl of hot, delicious food, with an incredible presentation. For the boiled foods, we had yuba (tofu skin) as well as some nice boiled veggies in our tasty cornucopia. Boiled vegetables are not exactly the most flavorful, but the natural taste of the vegetables are very refreshing after the blast of flavor that was the sashimi with soy sauce in the previous dish.
PART 4: GRILLED DISH (Yakimono 焼き物)
The grilled tasties we got was a nice chunk of grilled white fish, probably from one of the many rivers around Kyoto. It had this soft texture and a nice cooked flavor that paired well with the vegetables and sauces available for us to dip.
PART 5: DEEP FRIED DISH (Agemono 揚げ物)
Now here’s the good stuff! Who doesn’t love deep-fried anything? Here, we had a cluster of deep-fried roe and some deep-fried scallops. Holy moly, deep frying roe was not something I thought possible or desirable, but it really adds a nice texture to the salty, briny bites. Scallops are always delightful deep fried, so those were gobbled up very quickly!
PART 6: STEAMED DISH (Mushimono 蒸し物) – shrimp and veggies, jellies
We got ourselves some lovely steamed jellies and shrimp for this in our basket. The jellies were more savory, containing flavors of the sea mixed into konjac jelly to produce some really nicely colored blocks. If you’re a big texture person and the soft or chewy feel of a harder jelly isn’t up your alley, then brace yourself for this course! Steamed shrimp were steamed shrimp: Perfectly cooked to bring out the slight pink color and nice texture of the little guys.
PART 7: VINEGARED DISH (Sunomono 酢の物)
As far as I could see, we didn’t have a dedicated vinegared food or dish with our meal, but know it is an option for certain kaiseki meals.
COURSE 3: SHOKUJI (Meal 食事)
This course are you Japanese staples. You’ll see these served with almost every Japanese meal, regardless of whether or not it’s kaiseki-style.
PART 1: RICE
We were served a nice mountain of rice piled with small dried fish (chirimen-jako – ちりめんじゃこ, I think these were), served in a nice wooden box.
PART 2: MISO SOUP
Of course you get miso! Ours had a bit of tofu, seaweed, and herbs to give it an additional tangy, salty punch and variety of textures.
PART 3: PICKLES (Tsukemono 漬物)
We got three types of pickles: pickled plums, pickled daikon radish, and pickled seaweed. I love the sourness of the pickled plums and the earthiness of the pickled daikon. There’s a bit of variety with pickle flavors on our dish, so there was something for everyone to enjoy.
COURSE 4: DESSERT
Desert for us was this amazing jelly made from grapefruit and encased in a grapefruit rind, as if the fruit had grown that way!
And there you have it! It was an amazing meal, quite possibly the best Japanese meal I’ve ever had in my life! It was well worth the price but we (and the staff!) do highly recommend making a reservation first as there is no guarantee you can be accommodated as a walk-up customer. We just got incredibly lucky and I am so thankful we did!