Food: An intimate Japanese kaiseiki experience with an honest, homey feel. Kyoto is well known for its many kaiseki restaurants like Gion Nanba that offer multi-course set menus (much like the French degustation menu) of creative, and beautifully presented small Japanese dishes made with fresh, seasonal ingredients, and a number of exquisite fish dishes.
Tucked away in a small alley in Gion, there are only two small private dining rooms and six bar counter seats at Gion Nanba, so reservations are a must. The dishes here are much more traditional than many of the other kaiseiki restaurants, and much attention is paid to the flavour profiles of the key ingredients in each dish. Chef Nanba allows the key offerings of the season – which in summer is “hammo” eel and sea bream – to shine.
The kitchen is very small, so it’s really quite amazing to watch how adroitly the two chefs navigate the tight space, taking command of their stoves, ovens and produce as they juggle numerous food preparation tasks.
Service: There are only two chefs working and one elderly lady who is host and server. One of the chefs speaks good English and will explain the ingredients in the dishes before serving them to non-Japanese guests.
10 Course Dinner Menu At Time of Review:
Appetiser: Dashi jelly with shrimp, sea eel, eggplant and edamame beans with a plum sauce
Soup: “Hammo” sea eel with winter melon in okra soup
Sashimi: Sea bream, tuna, squid and bonito with ponzu
Small dish: Cucumber and hairy crab, sea bream sushi, tail fish, mountain peach, sea eel eggs and sweet potato
Grilled dish: Salmon and sweet pepper
Seasonal dish 1: Somen noodles with eel
Seasonal dish 3: Yam, potato stem and sea bream with green onions
Rice: Ginger and sea eel sticky rice with mushroom miso soup, seaweed, eggplant and cucumber pickles
Dessert: Lime sorbet and sweet corn mousse with Japanese mustard grape and wine jelly; Japanese adkuzi bean cake and matcha tea
Ambience: The atmosphere is relaxed and unpretentious. With a little stretch of the imagination, you could be inside the home of an epicurean Japanese friend, enjoying a thoughtfully prepared, authentic Kyoto style meal.
Average price per person: ¥5,000-8,000 for lunch; ¥8,000-15,000 for dinner. Prices exclude tax and service charge). Reservations are required.
Address: 4-jo Hanamikoji Higashiiru, Shijo, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. http://kyotonanba.com. Tel: (81) 75 525 0768. Closed on the first and third Thursday of every month.