As the capital of ancient Japan, Kyoto was historically a centre of culture, religion, and cuisine. Although modern-day Kyoto has preserved much of its historical buildings and architectural style, it has gained international recognition for its culture but also for its award-winning restaurants. There are over 100 Michelin-starred restaurants in Kyoto, offering food that ranges from traditional Japanese, to French, and fusion styles. Here we explore the best.
A three-Michelin-star establishment, Hyotei has been situated on the grounds of the Nanzenji Temple since the 17th century. It is a family-run establishment, and the current owner-chef is the 14th generation to serve at the Kaiseki restaurant. Kaiseki is a type of Japanese cuisine created in Kyoto, with a philosophy of the balance of taste, texture, appearance, and colour. Hyotei uses local ingredients and adds almost no seasoning to them, in order to bring out their delicate flavours.
Another Kaiseki restaurant that dates back to the Edo period (17th to 19th century), Nakamura is run by the 6th generation of owner-chefs. This three-Michelin-star restaurant serves Kaiseki courses in a traditional setting, in rooms laid with tatami mats, where guests sit on cushions on the floor and eat at low tables. Nakamura uses only the freshest local ingredients, to ensure that the taste is at its most flavourful. It has a menu that changes with the seasons, using ingredients available at different times of the year for their dishes.
This family-run establishment was awarded one Michelin-star for its authentic Shojin cuisine. Shojin is a Buddhist vegetarian cuisine that strictly uses no meat, according to the Buddhist decree of non-violence. Ajiro’s founder studied in the kitchen of a Buddhist temple before establishing the restaurant, therefore the food served is authentic in its simplicity and delicate flavours. The interior of the restaurant is decorated with traditional screens and a setting of low tables and cushions on the floors.
If you’re craving something more familiar to a western palette, visit Motoï, a one-Michelin-star French restaurant located in a former private residence. Looking at the traditional Japanese building, with its wooden-panelled walls and oriental tiled roof, you would never know that it houses an elegant, modern French restaurant. Motoï mixes French cuisine with Japanese ingredients, to give a local twist to French cuisine.
Yonemura is a fusion restaurant that mixes local ingredients and Japanese cooking styles with western ones. The restaurant is located in Gion, the district where geishas are trained and one of the most popular destinations for international tourists in Kyoto.
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