I’m often in Kyoto, and know my way around some of the city’s best yakitori, soba and izakaya, but this time I wanted to try something along the lines of kaiseki.

When I asked friends in Kyoto to help me decide which of the famous or three star Michelin restaurants I ought to visit this June, each one of them said, “Don’t bother. Look, you’ll probably have a good meal, but it’ll be in a room full of foreigners. These aren’t where Kyoto people go.”

The problem is that these places are not only, as my friends pointed out, on the Tourist Route for high-end folks, but they are also pricey and formal.

“Kuzushi Yoshi Yoshi is where you should go,” said my friend Izumi Nakagawa. Izumi owns Kyoto Travelers Inn, a relaxed place in the Gion. “Let me see if I can get you a reservation.”

Kuzushi Yoshi Yoshi is a tiny six-seater, counter only, hard-to-find, no menu, hole-in-the-wall deep in the heart of Gion. It took about twenty minutes of wandering around to find it. As we looked, “working girls” in high stilletto heels and cheap, skimpy dresses trolled the alleys seeking customers. Bright neon flashed. Touts called out from nasty doorways.


Photo credit: Laura Goldman

The restaurant was worth the search. Open just over two years, it’s the size of a large elevator, and in the kitchen space stand young Chef Yoshimi Honma (36) and his wife, Yoshie. Together, night after night, they work together to create deeply original and satisfying meals that appreciate and add to tradition. Hence, the eponymous name: Yoshi, Yoshi.

Menus change monthly, weekly, and even daily depending on what’s available, affordable, and a reflection of the chef’s outlook. It’s pure omakase: Unless you have an allergy, the chef decides.

The night I went, four of us shared a succession of small, precise, highly focused dishes. We were served nine courses, eight of which were savory and a final one of dessert.


Photo credit: Laura Goldman

Fried potato root with jack mackerel. Sea perch with micro-greens and fresh wasabi. Raw egg and hamo (conger eel) to create a “hamo sukiyaki.” Unagi (freshwater eel) stuffed with burdock. These were among the dishes we enjoyed.

The dinner lasted nearly three hours, and was accompanied by a few glasses of simple sake. Lots of laughter and conversation with the two “Y’s.”

And the price, all inclusive? About $120 for two.

So get in now before it’s discovered, and so famous that food guides for foreigners find out about it, and getting a reservation is impossible. You won’t regret it.

Reservations a necessity. Cash only. Very limited English, but you can point and smile and pay, right?

What’s your favourite Japanese dish?