Friday, August 3, 2018

Luxury Bento

Thankfully I didn’t make much plan for my short trip to Kyoto, ‘cause otherwise any plan would have been severely disrupted by the heavy rainstorm covering almost my entire time there (sad to be the worst in the region for decades). But for a few things that I planned at the last minute, I decided to have lunch and pay a visit to a new hotel, and an old friend.

Ritz-Carlton is one of the few new foreign luxury hotels popping up in the old town of Kyoto, along with the likes of Four Seasons or Hyatt Regency, and the decor and setting was stunningly beautiful, set against the Kamo River on the edge of the city center with a zen-like interior, tastefully combining the vibe of a traditional Japanese ryokan and a contemporary hip luxury hotel. Mizuki, their Japanese restaurant which was separated into Kaiseki, Tappenyaki, Tempura and Sushi sections, was located in the lower level – yet somehow they managed to let the natural light in to create a warm and cozy atmosphere against a backdrop of trees and rocks.

Being a lone diner I thought it’s easier to go for something simpler rather than a long omakase lunch, so I went for their Akebono Bento box, with appetizers, main courses served in tiered Jubako bento box followed by rice, soup and dessert. And don’t let the name “bento” fooled you, this is as elaborate a meal as one can have anywhere. After my drink was served (a glass of sake made by a local brewery), my first course arrived, which was a block of homemade tofu with azuki beans, served with junsai (water shield) and dashi in a glass bowl. I love the rich soy flavor from the tofu and the refreshing seasonings. Then it’s followed by the seasonal dish of hamo (pike conger eel) served with plum sauce. I was expecting this at some point during my trip given hamo is a summer delicacy in the region, and this one didn’t disappoint, with great bouncy texture and subtle hint of umami flavor.

After the two starter courses, I was presented with the main course served in a lacquer jubako box in 3 layers with a contemporary design, like an inverted pyramid. Inside was more than a dozen of small bites, each carefully prepared and nicely plated, resembling a mini-version of a kaiseki course with each prepared in different ways. I started with the bottom layer with a few cold dishes (like octopus with ponzu, marinated squid with cod roes, or poached prawns with sweet potatoes), then the middle layer of warm dishes and a small bowl of mozuku in vinegar, and finally, a top layer of simmered vegetables (pumpkin, eggplant, lotus roots and broadbeans)

Among all that I had tried, a few of them were particularly memorable – the soft-boiled egg, served in half with the runny yolk in bright orange color, reminded me of the signature dish at Hyotei not far away from the hotel. The texture was like none other – with the firm egg white and the runny egg yolk in the center. I am normally not a fan of eggplant, but the Kamo Nasu kind served with sakura prawn and arrowroot sauce on a small porcelain dish has excellent texture and I loved it. I also liked the few tempura pieces served – including the one with corn, fushimi tougarashi (long bell peppers special in Kyoto region) and shiso-wrapped cod. Even the bowl of rice served at the end (along with pickles and miso soup as per tradition) was spectacularly – with chicken and mushroom mixed in and cooked with dashi for the extra flavor.

And I am so glad to have caught up with my friend J, who is now the F&B Director at the hotel. I made my plan so last-minute that I didn’t get a chance to message him about my impromptu visit, but soon after I sat down, I asked the staff to see if he’s around and might be available to meet up – I figure it would be rude coming over to eat right under the same roof without at least saying hi. And it's great to catch up with him while I was finishing up the dessert, which was an ice-cream sundae by Pierre Herme (and it was delicious, by the way). Afterwards he even showed me around the rest of the dining facilities around the hotel, which made me wanna stay over for dinner as well.

The lunch is of amazingly great value (I joking said you can’t get more than a plate of chicken rice and a cup of coffee in any hotel café in Hong Kong for that) and I definitely recommend this to anyone wanting something simple yet nice. For me, I will be back for sure next time when I am in town - maybe taking J's offer to eat at one of their private dining rooms at the hotel for the tailor-made menu.

When? July 4 2018
Where? Mizuki, The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, Kamogawa Nijo-Ohashi Hotori, Nakagyo-ku. Kyoto, Japan
ザ・リッツ・カールトン京都 会席 水暉 日本京都市中京区鴨川二条大橋畔
Menu Highlights? Three-tiered Bento Box
Sawaya Matsumoto Shuhari Yamadanishiki Junmai Daiginjo, Matsumoto Brewery, Kyoto Prefecture
Hoobiden Kanjuku Momo, Kobayashi Brewery, Tochiji Prefecture
澤屋まつもと 守破離 "山田錦" 純米大吟醸
鳳凰美田 完熟もも - 栃木県小林酒造

No comments :