260-4 Nishikiyamachi-dori


3 Chome Ichinocho,



Kyoto, Japan


The Food:

Seasonal appetizer box: ayu (spring fish), Kyoto aubergine, salmon with miso, octopus, abalone, nori

Clear soup with chicken and namafu (wheat gluten)

Tuna sashimi with wasabi and shiso leaf

Yakitori skewers: Omi chicken thigh, breast and skin with soy sauce

Wagyu beef cutlet with tomato, soy and Daitokuji natto sauce

Sea bream soup chazuke with dashi

Mascarpone cheese and honey meringue

The Wine:

Miyao Brewing Company (Niigata) Shimeharitsuru Jun Junmai Gingo Sake   93

As mentioned in my primer, you can spend endless hours planning the ultimate gastronomic tour. Lo and behold, the gustatory high point is an unplanned visit to an unknown restaurant that whispered into your ear as you nonchalantly walked past its door: “Discover me. Or you’ll regret it for the rest of your life!”

It’s happened countless times. This sojourn was no different. Allow me to set the scene. It is a sultry Sunday, and I’d spent a thoroughly enjoyable, if fruitless, day flitting between Kyoto’s vinyl emporiums and Buddhist shrines. Feeling peckish, I walk down the famous Kiyamachi-dori, a narrow pathway that follows the Kano River. Illuminated by suspended lanterns and flanked by higgledy-piggledy wooden buildings, it evokes a scene from a Miyazaki animation. I feel spirited away. The choice of places to eat is endless. Every building accommodates a restaurant catering to every facet of Japanese cuisine, from Michelin-starred temples to touristic noodle bars. However, on the eve of the Goin festival, the passageway heaves with tourists. So, I venture further south past Kawaramachi Station and along the Takase River until I reach Shimoguyamachi. My nose starts twitching, and I am pulled towards the opposite side of the stream to a simple doorway where I read the wooden inscription…


“Discover me!” it whispers. “Come inside!”

Heeding the call, I peer behind the hanging noren curtains and look upon a small counter with two empty stools. A young, aproned girl appears, and I enquire if they are taken.

Dõzo. Please, take a seat,” she gestures against expectations and pulls out a stool.

One of the culinary highlights of my trip to Japan is about to unfold.

The chefs running the show at Takesegawa

Type “Takasegawa” into a search engine, and you’ll see it classed as a “yakitori” restaurant. This is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more of an upmarket counter-bar restaurant offering a seasonal omakase menu selected on the day by Chef Moto. It’s a two-person operation, just Moto and the young lady charged with greeting customers, pouring drinks, washing up and prepping whenever necessary. I adore the interior. The setting is everything you want. Overlooking the Takase, it comprises a six-seat counter that looks directly over the bijou kitchen so diners can observe every turn of the skewer and every slice of sashimi. Part of the joy is watching the interplay between the chef and his right-hand-woman – there is barely a divide between them and their customers. Another part of the pleasure of being seated at the counter is conversing with strangers, though, of course, it depends on the quality of the stranger. Tonight, my diners-in-arms are an amiable Montreal-based Korean family…

“Whenever I come to Kyoto, this is the first place that I book,” the mother enthuses, barely concealing her excitement to be here, handing her son an iPad to keep him occupied. Lucky lad. I was eating fish fingers and chips at his age.  

Chef Moto doesn’t speak English, but his assistant speaks enough to get by without too much trouble, notwithstanding the fact that an English menu is provided. The dozen or so drinks are written in Katakana script that I can read myself, but your smartphone will be able to translate them. A seasonal appetizer box is offered for ¥3,500, which you can augment à la carte if you wish. I opt for the appetizer box and take barely two mouthfuls before requesting to upgrade to the chef’s ¥8,500 omakase menu. This is an astonishing monetary value for the quality of cooking and ingredients.

Seasonal appetizer box: ayu (spring fish), Kyoto aubergine, salmon with miso, octopus, abalone, nori

The appetizer box includes grilled ayu or spring fish. This one is less bitter than the ayu served the day before at Tempura Matsu. The aubergine, picked locally in Kyoto, was sweeter compared to others that I have tasted in Japan and needed no seasoning. The two mouthfuls of tako (octopus) are beautifully seasoned and complemented by a sweet soy dressing and salmon sashimi with miso - tender and refined. The abalone offers pleasing chewiness but is not rubbery, cooked to the exact millisecond.

Clear soup with chicken and namafu (wheat gluten)

The first course consists of a clear soup that is exquisitely seasoned, given just the right amount of edge thanks to the judicious use of rice vinegar. It is enhanced by chicken and namafu or wheat gluten, which tastes a bit like mochi, though softer. Meguro or tuna sashimi follows, paler in hue as it should be, with a melt-in-the-mouth consistency. I wrap mine in shiso leaf and just a dab of wasabi in the soy sauce since I find Kyoto wasabi less potent. Of course, it is freshly ground, and maybe that just takes out the sting.  

Yakitori skewers: Omi chicken thigh, breast and skin with soy sauce

Meanwhile, Chef Moto has three types of chicken yakitori sizzling over coals: thigh, breast and skin. Here, the chef uses Omi Shamo chicken, which is known for its heightened flavor and elasticity of the skin. My preference is for the sweet soy sauce rather than salted. I must confess, though I love crispy chicken skin, I’ve never felt it quite works as a yakitori.

Wagyu beef cutlet with tomato, soy and Daitokuji natto sauce

One of the highlights is a wagyu beef cutlet covered with panko served with tomato, soy and Daitokuji natto sauce. This is commonly available in Japan and can be found in department stores, though it came from the Daitoku-ji temple itself. It imparts an irresistibly rich and relatively salty flavor, and the beef has a melting consistency that you can only find in Japan.

Sea bream soup chazuke with dashi

The sea bream soup chazuke with dashi is next. Chazuke is a simple rice dish, usually topped with fish, over which Chef pours either a dashi or green tea (“cha” means tea in Japanese and “tsuke” is to submerge). This is absolutely divine. The sea bream is mouth-wateringly tender and delicately seasoned with sesame, wasabi and radish. The dashi, again, is unbelievably nuanced.

Mascarpone cheese and honey meringue

Dessert almost seems superfluous to requirements, yet the mascarpone cheese and honey meringue are to die for.

This is definitely an occasion when wine just feels out of place. Upon their recommendation, I opt for sake. Shimeharitsuru Jun is a Junmai Ginjo using Gohyakumangoku rice with a polishing ratio of 50%. It is produced by the Miyao Brewing Company, established in 1819 in Murakami City in Niigata, renowned for the quality of its rice and the natural soft water of the Miomote River. It is the perfect foil for the dishes, with a more neutral aroma and touches of linseed oil developing with aeration. The palate has weight in the mouth yet is relatively lighter in style, more about texture than overt flavors so that the Japanese dishes could shine. There is a clarity/focus to this sake that makes it easy to drink, and readers should note that it is inexpensive and exported to the United States.

Takesegawa epitomizes everything that makes Japan such a special, unique place to dine. The care afforded to every dish is evident by observing the chef and the flavors in the mouth. It’s the kind of place that you fall in love with and, like my fellow diner, you vow to return to every time you go back to Kyoto. It embraces several aspects of traditional Japanese cuisine and delivers them all with simplicity and nuance. I end up paying less for the entire meal than a single course in some of London’s over-priced restaurants. If you are in Kyoto, take a peek behind the noren curtains and treat yourself.

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