Japan 2016: Kaiseki at Gion Nanba
What would a birthday in Japan be without a special dining experience? Let’s get the bad out of the way first, I made reservations online for Gion Nanba (one Michelin star) about two weeks prior to the date which seemed to go smoothly, but when we arrived, they did not have our reservation listed at all. I had the confirmation on my phone though, and fortunately it was a Tuesday so they weren’t so busy that they couldn’t slot us in 45 minutes later, there was no one else eating at the counter that night that we saw. I think somehow it would be best to confirm a day or two prior either via email, phone or even in person if you book online, just to be sure. It’s opposite a Starbucks in Gion so we went across the road and chilled with some frapuccinos until our time had come.
So second time around we got our seats at the counter and by this time ready to gorge (as much as you can gorge eating such a meal), I was so eager I pretty much fell into the leg pit and banged my knee. I didn’t realise there was space to dangle your legs at the counter rather than just sitting cross legged.
We started off by ordering some sake letting the lady recommend us the type, we had it hot. You can probably see from the pictures how nice the dinner ware is, everything is so intricate and pretty, and especially wabi-sabi (my new favourite term!).
Sushi and Sashimi
Next up were the sushi and sashimi courses, the sashimi consisted of squid, bonito, sea bream, and tuna, while the sushi (and other stuff) had anko fish liver (top right behind the lead), salmon roe, mackerel sushi, and shirako (a river fish) spem sacs (yes, you read that right! Top left with the spring onion garnish). All the usual suspects here except for the fish liver and the fish sperm sacs, the liver didn’t taste like liver but I’ve never had fish liver before so maybe that’s what it normally tastes like, it didn’t seem to taste like mercury at all (:D). The sperm sacs, well this was actually one of the most memorable items on the menu that night, it tasted really good once you forget what it is you’re eating. The texture is like custard and it’s a bit salty, and a bit sweet, the hard part was getting over what I was eating, it wasn’t that hard, I just needed to eat it.
Turnips, Soba, and Rice
Down to the staples now with soba, rice, and miso soup, clearly turnip is in season as there were two dishes with turnip, and it was really cool that it was done two ways. That petal shaped bowl was very interesting as well.
Dessert and Matcha Tea
We finished with some very yummy desserts, especially the wine jelly, it all sounds very sweet but it really wasn’t, just really, really well made, in great harmony and balanced so well as you would expect. I’m not 100% sure if the mochi wasn’t extra (as an apology) or not, I don’t remember seeing the people before us getting that. And then washed down with a traditional tea ceremony style matcha green tea.
This was almost three weeks ago, and you may have noticed that I didn’t actually comment on the taste of the food that much, unfortunately I didn’t take detailed notes on the night (preferring to just be in the moment, I didn’t even take these pictures!) and obviously I can’t remember how most of the dishes tasted now, but I can say this, if there was anything subpar I definitely would remember it. We can safely assume that this meal was a highlight and that we enjoyed everything, except the whole “didn’t have our reservation” issue. It was a great meal, especially seeing the ingredients that were used, you wouldn’t normally think of a lot of this stuff. And watching the chefs at work up close and being able to see the utensils that they use, the pots and pans, and the oven, it was all very cool.