we will be visiting tokyo, kyoto, hiroshima, takamatsu, kanazawa, osaka and nara in march. any special restaurant recommendations are appreciated. thank you
For tempura, I really enjoyed Tenko Honten in Hiroshima. I have no comparison, it remains the only high end tempura meal I’ve ever eaten, but it was an almost perfect experience and the chef is a very amicable guy. Prices are lower than possibly comparable options in Tokyo. It’s score is good but not amazing on tabelog; it received either one or two michelin stars when they appraised the country a few years ago (I’d take stars in Japan with a pinch of salt, I get the impression the inspectors were overwhelmed by the hospitality).
If you haven’t had counter style tempura I recommend you try it somewhere on your trip.
thank you for the information
I was in the Kansai region last year. Some of my fave places to eat in Kyoto - all these places are within the city centre and very easily accessible.
Traditional kaiseki at Kinmata:
[Kyoto, Japan] Kaiseki dinner at Kinmata (近又)
French-Japanese fusion at Okumura:
[Kyoto, Japan] French-Japanese fusion kaiseki at Gion Okumura
Kyoto homecooking flavours at Oku
[Kyoto, Japan] Kyoto-style home-cooking at OKU
Trad-Kyoto amidst geishas at Hanasaki
[Kyoto, Japan] Kyoto-style cuisine at Hanasaki
Do NOT miss the egg sandwiches from Inoda Coffee, I kid you not. I had it on one day, and returned the next two days for the same. I love this place to bits.
[Kyoto, Japan] Inoda Coffee at Kiyomizu
Amazing tonkatsu at Katsukura
[Kyoto, Japan] Tonkatsu at Katsukura Shijo Higashino toin (かつくら四条東洞院店)
Soba at the 600-year-old Owariya
[Kyoto, Japan] Lunch at Honke Owariya (尾張屋)
Lunch at Kyo-Suiran. I stumbled upon this elegant dining spot - with amazing service and meticulous cooking - after the original intended lunch spot: the no reservations 1-Michelin-star Hirokawa was closed suddenly for 3 days for some emergency situation (Yes, that Hirokawa where long queues form one hour before its opening time).
[Kyoto, Japan] Lunch at Kyo-Suiran, Arashiyama
Unajyu (grilled eel on rice) at Nakagawa
[Kyoto, Japan] Unagi lunch at Nakagawa (なか川), Arashiyama
The Singaporean-Malaysian DNA in me started screaming for a spice fix 10 days into my Kansai region holiday. Believe me - I searched practically everywhere in Kyoto for curries, and this was the only one I managed to find. I am packing jars of sambal the next time I come back to this city.
[Kyoto, Japan] Spicy Masara (スパイシーマサラ ) at Kyoto Station
I missed this much talked-about ramen spot and would go back to Kyoto to try it - Inoichi at 528 Ebisu Terrace (Ebisunocho), Shimogyo-ku. It opens 11.30am-2.30pm, 5.30pm-10.30pm, Tue-Sun (Closed on Monday). It serves Shina-soba topped with grilled Kyoto pork chop, and has a perpetual queue upfront - so try and go early.
I was a bit exhausted by the time I got to Osaka during my Kansai trip, so was not very adventurous in looking out for Osaka’s best dining options.
These are my meals - the finesse in cooking, and service in each and every one of those places were amazing.
Seasonal kaiseki at the Genji, Hilton Osaka:
[Osaka, Japan] Seasonal kaiseki at Genji, Hilton Osaka
Seasonal kaiseki at the Hanagatami, Ritz-Carlton Osaka:
[Osaka, Japan] Kaiseki dinner at Hanagatami, The Ritz-Carlton
Teppanyaki lunch at the Teppan Grill, New Otani Osaka:
[Osaka, Japan] Dining with a view at Teppan Grill Keyaki, New Otani Osaka
Osaka, despite its No. 2 city status in Japan after Tokyo, has always been compared unfavourably, culinary-wise, to Kyoto. Whilst the latter is always feted for its refined kaiseki meals, Osakan chefs have always been stereotyped among the locals as being “monotonous” and too run-of-the-mill. But I think that’s pretty unfair, as the Osakan places I’d eaten at all showed a lot of attention to detail and meticulousness in preparation.
Some Osakan regional items I’d recommend:
Takoyaki - octopus balls. These are the quintessential Osaka must-try - missing them is like going to Vienna without trying the wiener schnitzel. Takoyaki is actually a pretty recent invention - just back to the 1930s by a street vendor, Tomekichi Endo, who sold choboyaki, a flour-based snack. As octopus was in abundance, he added them to his snack, and it became a hit.
Takoyaki are small golfball-shaped snacks made from wheat flour containing boiled, diced octopus, chopped scallions and pickled red-tinted ginger. Griddle-cooked in little moulds, the balls are coated with takoyaki sauce (which tasted akin to Worcestershire sauce) and drizzled with mayonnaise, and a sprinkling of katsuobushi (finely-shaved dried bonito flakes).
There are a few popular spots at the Dotonbori area, lined with small eateries.
A couple of highly recommended takoyaki spots are: Donaiya at Nishishinsaibashi, and Kukuru at Hakua Building at Dotonbori.
Beware of bad takoyaki pop-up stalls near the Osaka Castle. Tourist traps - I tried one which served awful takoyaki balls: mushy and half-cooked.
- Okonomiyaki - this dish is sometimes labelled a “Japanese pizza”. Sometimes, preparing the okonomiyaki oneself at the table (with a hotplate at the centre) is part of the dining experience. The okonomiyaki batter consists of flour, grated mountain yam or naga-imo (which has a gooey, mucus-like consistency), egg and finely-shredded cabbage. Toppings added before serving are somewhat similar to those for the takoyaki, i.e. your brush your disc of hot okonomiyaki pancake with a sauce akin to Worcestershire sauce, a generous drizzle of mayonnaise, and sprinklings of aonori (fine seaweed flakes) and katsuobushi (shaved bonito flakes).
For good okonomiyaki, you can try Kiji at Umeda Sky Building, Oyodonaka 1-1-90, and Mizuno at Dotonbori 1-4-15.
Seconding Katsukura and Owariya. I’d also like to mention Omen (in Kyōto) for udon. I went there after visiting Ginkaku-ji and walking around all day, and it really hit the spot!
Thank you for your help
Take caution with Takoyaki, they are hotter than the sun!
Fukutarou is another good place for okonomiyaki. It gets busy but if you arrive early just before it opens for dinner you can put your name down and get in with the first sitting. Then you can have a second dinner!
On the topic of okonomiyaki, if you have it in Osaka you should seek out Hiroshima style for comparison. There are many options, we went with Tanpopo, a lonely planet recommendation by Hiroshima station. The husband and wife behind the griddle couldn’t have been more welcoming and were keen to communicate as best we all could.
Yes, there are essentially 3 regional variations of the okonomiyaki - the version described above is the Kansai type, typical of Osaka, Kyoto and Nara.
The Hiroshima version has more cabbage and is cooked in layers, some with noodles at the bottom.
The Tokyo version has a more runny texture, and is called monjayaki. It’s commonly found in the Tsukishima district of Tokyo, where it originates from.
@Wmg Are there any particular types of food you are interested in?
No special types of food however I am not a curry/spicy food eater.
Just curious, which one do you prefer?
I wonder if anyone has eaten at tempura Matsu, near Kyoto city. Any thoughts on it? It was recommended, but is quite expensive and only takes cash. We thought about making a reservation there.
If you are referring to okonomiyaki, I go for the Kansai/Osaka-style which , to me, is the type I’d think of when someone says okonomiyaki.
It’s the same with tempura - Kansai’s pale, crisp-crusted tempura is my “definition” of tempura, compared to Tokyo’s soft, moist, darker cloak for their tempura.
As you move from Osaka-Kyoto-Nara northwards to Tokyo, you’ll notice the regional variances: miso and soysauce will be darker and saltier towards the north.
I’d not, but heard quite a bit about their amazing set meals. Do make your reservations well ahead, though - it’s notoriously hard to get into.
Many Japanese eating places have this astonishing cash-only policy, even when they are very expensive. I remembered once when I was in Tokyo on a two-week business trip - on my last evening, my local colleagues took me out for a blow-out dinner. There were 6-8 of us, and the dinner bill was about US$1,500. And the restaurant only took cash! Our company’s financial controller had to dash around looking for a cash machine outside because she’d forgotten to check if the place took credit card payments.
Just sharing the few places I tried out in Nara.
- Lunch at Kurokawa Honke - this is a delightful, bright restaurant with some of the lightest dishes I’d had.
[Nara, Japan] Lunch at Kurokawa Honke (黒川本家)
I was a bit curious about Kamameshi Shizuka which we passed enroute to Kurokawa Honke. It specializes in rice with various choices of toppings, cooked in a small, individual traditional iron pots which will be conveyed straight from the cooking stoves to the dining tables. There was a queue of 20-30 people outside the restaurant, waiting to get in.
Kaiseki at Takenoya. It’s located at the Nara Royal Hotel, mere 11 minutes’ walk away from Wa Yamamura, Nara’s own 3-Michelin-starred temple to gastronomy - but Wa Yamamura requires at least 2-3 months’ advance booking, Takenoya does not.
[Nara, Japan] Dinner at Takenoya
Tonkatsu Ganko - nice spot for a quick lunch enroute to visiting the temples and deer park nearby.
[Nara, Japan] Tonkatsu Ganko Restaurant (とんかつがんこ 奈良店) at Higashimuki