Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Feb-ulous Kyoto: Gion Matayoshi

I made only one restaurant reservation this time in Kyoto - partly because the trip was rather short and partly because by the time we started planning only a couple of weeks before the trip, many places we wanted to go were fully-booked. But at the end we loved our experience dining at this small kappou restaurant at Gion on our first evening in town.

Gion Matayoshi (祇園又吉) received its second Michelin star in 2012 and kept it since, and in 2015 moved to the present location in Gion, just a few turns away from the famous Hanami-Koji-Dori. For us it’s a quick 20-minute stroll from where we lived along the Kamo river.

We began with a hamaguri (hard clams) soup with shogoin daikon (round white radish) served in a heated mini stoneware casserole, followed by a single piece of hokigai (surf clams) served in a small cup with egg-yolk sauce on top and seasonal vegetables underneath. The sauce – which was used in one other dish later on, was rich, creamy and slightly sweet, working in harmony with the clam and vegetables seasoned with mild vinegar.

Kani shinjo was then served as our takiawase course in a clear broth, garnished with thin sliced daikon and carrots and served with a lidded lacquer bowl. The shinjo – minced crab and fish “meatball” – has a delicate flavor, and same went the clear dashi broth which was very light with mild umami taste, which I thought was very enjoyable.

Two dishes of sashimi course were served – featuring four different types of fish served with different condiments. The tai (snapper) was the lightest of all in terms of taste, which was paired with a shoyu sauce, then the kinmedai (golden eye snapper) was briefly torched on the skin and served with the slightly acidic ponzu sauce mixed with salt and sake mixed in. Two more fatty fish was served in the second plate – yellow-fin tuna and then the thick-sliced sakura-masu, or cherry trout served with toasted seaweed and the egg sauce (similar to one which was used for our clams earlier). The smoky flavor from the seaweed works amazingly well with the fish.

We started off with a wonderful sake served in a nice vessel from none other than my favorite brewery – Kokuryu from Fukui Prefecture. The Nizaemon was one of their limited releases and has amazingly rounded texture with hint of tropical fruits on the nose. Started with a bit on the sweet side but later on turned dry.

By the time we were ready for the hot courses, we asked the chef to recommend us the second sake to go with our dishes. Instead, he pulled out a few more bottles from under the counter and offered us a glass each to taste before letting us decide. That also gave us the opportunity to appreciate his vast sake cup collection as well. At the end we went for the Minogiku Reisen Masamune, another Junmai Daiginjo, this time from Gifu prefecture. Even further on the dry side and with more emphatic palate, partly because it's bottled at cask strength.

Yet another cold course was served before we went into the hot dish, which was the oyster served with pickled daikon and green onion radish. The oyster was super creamy and doesn’t need any additional seasoning. Then we continued with the futamono course. It’s not really a soup per se, but a rich “sauce” made with sake-kasu, or lees, with a piece of duck served in a lacquer bowl. The duck was tender and the combination with the thick soupy sauce was interesting. Just as we were finishing up with the duck course, Chef Matayoshi-san passed us a simple hand-roll with matsubagani (snow crab) meat wrapped in seaweed. The crab meat was mildly seasoned with ponzu and worked well with the perfectly crisp piece of seaweed.

In traditional kaiseki cuisine, hassun course normally comes in the beginning of the meal, but this time ours were served after the main course. And it arrived in rather spectacular fashion with a layered hinoki wooden box with an artistic mask served as the lid on top. I lost track of every single items presented in the box, but my favorite was the sea cucumber roes with rice served in a stoneware cup on the top level.

After that, there were a few more courses to come – including the king crab legs served like a snow forest in a bed of shaved ice, and a vegetable stew with manakatsuo (silver pomfret) fillet, all with impeccable presentation and flavor. Then there’s another steamed course – shirako (cod milt) with uni (sea urchin) presented like a chawanmushi, then a simple piece of nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch) served in the seaweed wrap.

After that came another soup course, “kani-men” as Chef Matayoshi described it, with crab meat served with soba in a crab soup. It’s very hearty. Then it was the rice cooked in the traditional casserole served with a number of pickles, including some presented like flower petals on a long ceramics plate. Desserts were served as a platter in individual portion, with four mini-dishes on a flower-shaped lacquer tray. The mini-cup of goma tofu was probably my favorite among them all.

In slightly over 2 hours, we were served 18 courses with far more small dishes often served within the same course. We were blown away with everything presented in front of us, with good balance between tradition and contemporary cooking and presentation. Fabulous meal.

More pictures available at

When? February 17 2017
Where? Gion Matayoshi, 570-123 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
祇園又吉 京都府京都市東山区祇園町南側570-123
Menu Highlights? Aigamo sakekasu-ni (Duck braised in sake-lees)
Kokuryu Nizaemon Junmai Daiginjo - Kokuryu Brewery, Fukui Prefecture (黒龍 二左衛門 純米大吟醸 - 福井県 黒龍酒造)
Minogiku Reisen Masamune Junmai Daiginjo Nakagumi genshu - Gyokusendo Shuzo, Gifu Prefecture (醴泉 正宗 純米大吟醸 中汲み原酒 - 岐阜県 玉泉堂酒造)

(Feb-ulous Kyoto Part 3 - check out the whole series here!)

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