Kinmata sits quietly in the heart of Nishiki Market, one of Kyoto’s busiest districts. The place is ridiculously discreet for a Registered National Cultural Property. Even with my GPS and Google Maps, I walked past it twice before I found their kitchen. A kind chef directed me to the main reception, which was hidden away two doors down. Great taste, as they say, is hard to find.
Reminder: Book before you go
Getting a table at Kinmata isn’t easy, and we were lucky to even get one. We got our guesthouse (shoutout to the ever dependable Khaosan Kyoto Guesthouse!) to help us give them a call about 2 days in advance, and were really lucky to get a private room. We decided on the 9 course dinner priced at 16,000 JPY, a decision that we were asked to make during the reservation call.
Private Room Perks
If you’re in a private room, you’ll be treated to possibly the most classic type of service. Our cheery, kimono-clad waitress was making sure that our drinks were topped off and that we were comfortable, all while she was serving us our individual portions, explaining the dishes to us and giving the classic bow before entering and leaving our room. Just a quick note before we hit the food pictures: The menu is seasonal, and tweaks can occur day-to-day depending on ingredient freshness. What you see here, will probably be different from what you will eat, if and when you go.
To be clear, this was my first Kaiseki experience, so I didn’t expect the elevated experience I was about to get. From the get go, the meal was all about the details. Here’s their opening appetiser – Grated Chinese Yam on a bed of Conger Pike, with a single roasted strand of rice. Garnished with a single petal of Marigold leaf.
I didn’t want to eat this dish. Everything about it was so delicate, but I had to take a bite to push my meal forward. The sauce is a simple sesame and vinegar, but it brought out the flavour of the conger pike, while the grated yam gave texture. The rice strand gave the dish a fun size, because we were eating the rice like popcorn!
As I pulled the lid off my newly-presented soup bowl, I was greeted by this Handmade Tofu & Tidal Fish Soup. The tofu was soft and smooth, while the tidal fish was firm and lent its essence to the soup. The soup itself wasn’t too salty, and held a tinge of sweetness from the fish. Well-balanced, and comforting to the tummy, this was perfect after my long day of walking the streets of Kyoto.
While almost every meal in Kyoto came with sashimi in one form or another, Kinmata eschewed the typical Maguro/Salmon/Yellowtail combination in favour of showing off the seasonal ingredients they had so carefully chosen. This Tai, Pike & Tofu Sashimi made sure to contrast both the rougher Pike eel and smoother tofu textures. While the Tai fish gave me a sense of normalcy, the pike eel took me by surprise with a roughness further amplified by the soft bones it possessed.
Feelin’ Like Royalty
Kyoto lies inland, and doesn’t have access to the ocean. Before modern refrigeration and logistics technologies were created, this was a headache for chefs in Kyoto Those serving royalty there had serious trouble coming up with fish dishes that could please royal palates.
The Hamo fish was one of those rare fish that could withstand the extended journey from the port cities, and thus became a fish of choice for chefs in Kyoto. Here, we have Hamo Fish, on sticky rice. Autumn is the season of harvest, and so the fish is made to look like a rice bag. The Hamo fish was sweet, without giving off any fishiness while the mushrooms added to the wholesome flavour of the dish.
Kyoto is also famous for Vinegared Fish Sushi for the same reason as Hamo fish: Preserved fish travels better. Of course, Kinmata wouldn’t disappoint us by serving the typical Vinegared Saba Fish Sushi. Instead, they went for Red Snapper, more commonly found in the deeper parts of the Pacific Ocean.
The Vinegared Red Snapper with Fried Lotus Root is a peculiar combination of firm fish flesh and slight saltiness. When I first bit into this dish, I noticed that the fish didn’t fall apart immediately, unlike Saba. Instead, it give just a bit of resistance before I chomped down completely to sever the meat. There’s this robustness to the fish, which complimented the specially seasoned sushi rice. I loved the idea that a vinegared fish could still give a “sashimi fresh” texture in my mouth.
The final, and perhaps most complex dish, was Oven Baked Barracuda with Squashed Melon, Rice with Soy & Azuki Beans, and Red Miso Soup. I enjoyed the lightness of the fish more than anything. Even though it was oven baked, it was still moist and supple. When I took a bite, followed by a mouthful of rice, it was the perfect balance of warm toasty fish and fragrant short grained rice.
Dessert was a true treat. Now, I’m not a dessert man, but I finished everything on this plate.
Azuki Jelly, Classic Kyoto Sweets, Grapes and Uji Matcha gave our meal a sublime closing. We could totally taste the ground up beans that went into making the Azuki jelly, and that spoke volumes of the work put into making these little red squares of joy. The grapes were my personal favourite because they burst with succulent flavour whenever I bit into it.
Kinmata has been widely praised, and after our meal, we totally agree with the positive public sentiment. For those who have never experienced kaiseki before, it’s a perfect place to get started. Staff speak in both English and Japanese, and welcomed us with warmth. While we were suitably impressed with the setting and service, what really floored us was the attention to detail, focus on quality and outstanding treatment of ingredients. While it can be pricey, Kinmata is a must-go if you’re in Kyoto if you’re chasing an authentic taste of Kyoto.
Kinmata Restaurant & Ryokan
Shijo-agaru Gokomachi nakagyo-ku Kyoto.JAPAN 604-8044