When I visited: May 2016
Location: Kyoto (Gion)
Team: Ryuta Sakamoto (Head Chef)
Rating in the Michelin Guide: 1 star
What to wear: Men – jeans or nice trousers and a shirt; women – jeans and a smart top or a smart dress
Ambience: Small, friendly, open kitchen (can eat at bar of kitchen)
Course of the meal: Duck with tomato and cheese
If I could change one thing: Give out printed menus
Slightly surprisingly, Japan has overtaken France in terms of the number of starred restaurants in the Michelin Guide. This is largely due to restaurants like Kappa Sakamoto: family-run hubs producing high-quality traditional Japanese (and other types of) food in a friendly environment with only a few diners (this one had around 20 covers).
In traditional Japanese style, we found it difficult to locate the restaurant (which was down a small road and narrow corridor) until a helpful lady came out to tell us they were expecting us; lots of high-quality Japanese restaurants are not clearly marked so you have to be brave enough to enter what look like private rooms or even car parks in some cases! My partner Owl and I took off our shoes, also in traditional Japanese style, and sat at the bar of the open kitchen, watching the chefs work and observing the view of the river in the Gion district. We were helpfully given English menus, but the Japanese menus were written out on old-school parchment (and the head chef explained that they are read from right to left and down to up).
We shared a half-bottle of white wine – Louis Jabot 2014 Chardonnay from Burgundy. We selected the ‘Hana’ menu, artfully described as ‘Round as summer blossom tasting menu’, involving seasonal dishes, for 13,000 yen each (around £80). This started off with plum sake in a mini engraved cup (I do enjoy the Japanese tradition of starting each meal with a small drink, which also happened at the Gora Kadan restaurant) and rice bed with a bitter cherry on top. This was followed by an omelette with fish, green beans and sesame sauce and then tofu with spinach sauce.
The next courses were octopus, asparagus and walnut sauce and a beautifully light cucumber salad with crab (which was slightly spicy) and yellow asparagus. We then enjoyed a miso soup bowl containing egg, sea urchin, yuzu flower and seaweed, and tuna, squid and white fish sashimi.
The best course of the meal was the duck, which was wonderfully succulent and served with tomatoes and feta-like cheese, and followed by a palate cleanser of mini soup with ginger and octopus roe. We then got charcoal with soy milk skin soup dipped in sauce, dispensed from small cooking pot, and green bamboo (which looked like avocado) salad.
Towards the end of the meal, we sipped green tea with rice containing lots of mini fish (which really improved the flavour) and creme caramel with skinned tomato – a cool combination of savoury and sweet.
The bill just included the scribbled total – a ‘Kyoto-style’ bill according to our head chef. We said ‘okini’ (‘thank you’, in Kyoto dialect) and gratefully took our gift of handmade chopsticks as the chef came out to wish us goodbye, as at The Araki.
Kappa Sakamoto thoroughly deserves its Michelin star and is well worth a visit, but should be booked in advance due to the small capacity for diners.