Monday, January 25, 2016

Wakuden Kodaiji Kyoto

Besides the famous Kitcho and Kikunoi, Kyoto actually has another less well-known (to foreigners) but equally as reputable as these 2 kaiseki institutions named Wakuden. The establishment, dated back in the late 19th century, began as a hotel in the north of Kyoto. Even then, this country inn already had focus on preparing great seasonal Japanese cuisine. Its hard work has been paid off as currently Wakuden group, focusing only on restaurant business, has 3 branches in Kyoto. In early October last year, we had to opportunity to savor the creations of this famous group at its flagship restaurant - Kodaiji Wakuden, located in the Higashiyama area and as the name suggest, it was not too far from the Kodaiji temple.

Kodaiji Wakuden is an esteemed traditional ryotei whose building had a beautiful architecture and elegant setting. We were greeted by a few staffs around noon as we entered the restaurant and immediately escorted to our private room overlooking a narrow road. We opted to open a bit of the window in order to have more natural lights and fresh air; fortunately the outside street was relatively quiet too. Our private room was spacious with minimal & zen-like interior design. Little did we know that the extra space would be used by the kitchen staff (chef) to prepare and cook some but important dishes during our meal. We started with a cup of Shiso tea as well as in-house sake specialty (Aotake-shu) served in a bamboo bottle and cup. Following this, we had our kaiseki meal:  

Starter: A mixture of tofu and tamago in chilled dashi - The white 'creatures' of bean curd and egg custard was rather plain, but elevated by the tastier broth; a clean dish
Assorted appetizers: Tempura of Hamo, Maitake and Kamasu sushi - The barracuda sushi was well prepared and 'surprisingly' delicious (the rice's vinegar was rather strong); the mushroom and eel (somewhat taste like salmon) were quite good

Ise ebi served with Komatsuna (mustard spinach) and Namakono (sea cucumber) - All ingredients (including the jelly-like sauce) were fresh, tasty and complemented each other; very refreshing
Suimono containing meaty duck, assorted mushrooms, mitsuba (honewort/parsley), chestnut, taro, and yuzu - It tasted liked a 'healthy' soup but tasty with some hints of bitter flavor. There are too many stuffs that I thought overshadow the clear dashi's flavor

Raw fish: Karei sashimi with Autumn flower, spinach, lime and ponzu sauce - The perfectly sliced raw & fresh righteye flounder had translucent meat; it was slightly sweet with pleasant texture
Grilled item: Abalone with its liver sauce - An outstanding yaki awabi (tender texture and inherently sweet) with its thick and rich but smooth liver was truly delicious. "Simple" dish with perfect execution

Barely seared (medium rare) Tamba beef served with grilled figs & light sauce - Another superb dish with minimal preparation; simply let the ingredients and their combination to shine. The rich & marbled beef was nicely balanced/countered by sweet figs; truly umami. It's recommended to wrap the beef around the fruit
Soba served with daikon and 'caviar' - This palate cleanser was served chilled to ease our appetite. It was refreshing and a bit sour as expected. A good intermezzo

Chargrilled dish: Matsutake rolled in pike conger with lime - A moist, fragrant & tasty Hamo beautifully wrapped the aromatic, meaty & delicious Pine mushroom with some twist from the sudachi. The portion was right, the execution was meticulous; a terrific dish. I like it slightly better here than the one I had at Yukimura 
Vegetable dish: Nasu (aubergine), Myouga (ginger) and Tougan (winter melon/cucurbit) with 'soup' - The Japanese version of these forms of vegetables were generally more superior in flavor and texture than what I usually have at other places 

Claypot rice with mushrooms served with pickles and clam miso soup - Good quality rice served with generous mushrooms. It was tasty and nourishing 
Dessert 1: Peeled muscats served with wine jelly - Sweet and watery grapes with lightly flavored jelly; decent combination
Dessert 2: Yokan with kuri and mochigome - Soft red bean 'jelly' went well with the intense chestnut and contrasted in texture by the more 'robust' glutinous rice. Not as perfect as Matsukawa's yokan but still pretty awesome 

I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of my lunch here. It was not cheap, but really good. There were plenty of outstanding dishes in particular the chargrilled items such as the abalone with its liver sauce and Tamba beef with figs. Moreover, the ingredients were fresh and top notch with (often) flawless execution. The kitchen was able to showcase the natural and inherent flavor of the seasonal produce, display some texture contrast and present the food beautifully. While it might not reach the level of Mizai and Arashiyama Kitcho yet, I would rate this meal above the kaiseki I had at Chihana and Nakamura - despite the fact that these 2 places holding 3-star michelin. The hospitality here was impeccable. Although, most of the time we were served by a junior lady who hardly spoke any english (hence, our communication was somewhat limited), she was sincere, diligent and helpful - get the job done properly. Any questions or requests we had, she would go the distance to ensure that they're fulfilled. Sometimes, the more senior waitresses coming to assist her as well. Shinya Matsumoto-san, the Wakuden's head chef, appeared at the end of the meal to check whether everything was fine, thank us for having a meal with them as well as bid as farewell. Delicious food combined with excellent service and gorgeous setting would guarantee a memorable meal.  One of the places you can find such meal would be at Wakuden Kodaiji. Here are the picture of the dishes: Wakuden Kodaiji Oct '15

Food: 96 pts

Service: 95 pts

Overall: 95.5/100


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