[Kyoto] Kichisen 吉泉 - 3 Michelin Star Kaiseki

Rating: ❤❤❤

Our first kaiseki meal in Kyoto was at 3* Kichisen by Chef Yoshimi Tanagawa who is best known for beating Chef Masaharu Morimoto of NOBU in NYC on Iron Chef. To be honest, I've read mixed reviews about Kichisen and hesitated about coming here but since the other restaurants I wanted to visit were full, we decided to go ahead anyway. We were required to pick a course beforehand which ranged from 7 different price points (¥15,000 to ¥31,000) and I had to inquire multiple times about the difference between the menus, only to be told that the difference is in ingredients (duh). Finally they told me that ¥15,000 to ¥21,000 contains 10 dishes while ¥23,000 to ¥31,000 contains 12 including the Hassun (assorted side dish) so we opted for the ¥23,000 course. 

The service was certainly impeccable as one of the staff waited for our arrival outside in the rain while another welcomed us in the foyer on his knees as we took off our shoes. We were then led to the 6-seater counter where the other diners were all tourists. Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that but my alarm bells were kind of going off at the moment. Ideally I'd like to see some locals at a restaurant to verify authenticity and not a tourist trap but my dining experience hinted of the latter. The plating of the dishes were very lavish and elaborate for sure but the flavors were quite underwhelming compared to other kaiseki restaurants we've been to in Japan. To be fair, I think this could be a good place for beginners of Japanese kaiseki to dip their toes in due to the friendly environment but I would not recommend this for those who are seeking a higher level of flavor. 

Yuzu Sorbet and Water with Olive Oil

Welcome Sake

We ordered more sake which arrived in a bowl of fresh snow and maple leafs. 

Our next course arrived with a wooden rooftop as a cover.

Removing the rooftop revealed Abalone with soy beans, daikon and karasumi.

The blue birdie on the side contained Tai no Konbujime (sea bream marinated in kelp) with Tonburi no Aemono (a type of edible seeds).

The decadent seashell contained a soup made with Shiitake Mushrooms from Oita and Milk from Kyoto with a sprinkle of orange powder on top.

Broth with scallop, fish cake, kinoko, maitake and turnip

Sashimi of tai, aori-ika, kuruma ebi with nori jelly and persimmon

The Otoro from Kagoshima and Botan Ebi from Hokkaido arrived in a grand presentation but sadly the otoro had no taste and merely tasted of fattiness. 

Sticky Rice with red bean and chestnut

The Hassun typically sets the seasonal theme and consisted of assorted side dishes including beef wrapped around burdock root, salmon sashimi roll with daikon, quail egg, yuba, dango and duck meatball.

The next dish was perplexing with Tai (sea bream) and Shimeji mushrooms from Kyoto arriving in a Chrysanthemum bath. Other than provide a bit of aroma, the flower petals did little for the flavors of the fish which was rather bland. 

The Kyoto Beef with lemon juice, salad, thyme and rosemary was my least favorite dish of all as the beef was too tough and almost inedible. Having eaten amazing Japanese beef at Shima in Tokyo, I couldn't believe the low quality of the beef we were served here at Kichisen. 

The Matsutake Rice was too wet and not flavorful enough. I also wasn't really sure about the pairing of the vegetables with miso, fruits and ginger sauces with the rice.

Luckily the main dessert was better as the Pear with liqueur and honey foam had both style and taste as it arrived floating on a bed of dried ice. 

The Chestnut Omogashi (traditional Japanese confection) was hard to eat as we were given a wooden stick to eat with but the sticky skin made it impossible to cut through (FYI you are supposed to eat it with a wooden stick but this one was really difficult to eat for some reason). 

Fresh seasonal fruits with strawberry and pear served on a bed of moss that looked like it could have been a dish at Noma.

We were then served a series of tea after all the sweets had been served. The matcha was disappointing though and quite bitter.

Kichisen 吉泉

5 Shimogamo Morimotocho Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 
京都府 京都市左京区 下鴨森本町 5
Tel: +81-50-5872-9318

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