Romance and rare meat

Yes. It was official. On Saturday, 12th November, my boyfriend and I reached that landmark of one year. Of course, I knew what the event really meant. It was not about romance; it was all about steak.

I had launched my cunning scheme a few weeks earlier….

Me: Wow! I can’t believe we’ve almost made it to a year. I feel like I’ve known you for years.
Boyfriend: Yes. It feels like I’ve know you forever. But the time has also gone really quickly.
Me: So you’re treating me to steak on the twelfth?

Me: Do you know what day it is this Saturday?
Boyfriend: Of course I do –  I’m not suicidal.
Me: So have you decided on a restaurant to take me to yet?

Now pipe down feminists! I’m more than happy to play up to the traditional male-female roles if I get bought a steak! Besides, I think you’ll agree, I have a wonderfully obliging boyfriend…especially since he’s vegetarian.

However, it was just as well I gave said boyfriend mental preparation because we got to about 5pm on the day, when he turned round and asked me: “So have you chosen a restaurant?”

Now that threw me. I should have taken control over that as well. Damn.

We desperately began scouring the Internet and I grew steadily more frustrated, until I shouted – “I’ve read that one before. It’s been recommended before! Let’s go there!”

The place: Nishisaka
The food: kaiseki (steak set; tofu steak) 

Kyoto is famous for kaiseki cuisine – in short, eating lots of little courses, either brought one after another or presented all at once but in a beautifully arranged way.

Now this reminds me of nouvelle cuisine. And I’ve never been a fan of nouvelle cuisine. Sure, it looks lovely…but I want it to do more act as an hors d’oeuvres before I run home and desperately raid the fridge.

I hoped for little dishes that added up to one big dish that filled my poor tummy. I was wrong.

In fact, things went wrong from the moment we arrived. Nishisaka is in Gion, the “traditional” area of town where you find quaint little alleys with immaculate wooden buildings, where geisha might be spotted. So how could a place that looked so lovely from the outside fail us?

Because never judge a book by a cover; never judge a restaurant by its exterior (or entirely by its exterior).

We were led into a brightly lit, sparse, cafeteria style room and sat at a black hard wooden table with a heater in the centre for shabu shabu (beef stirred around in a broth until its cooked). The chairs were at the wrong height for the table and so the gas machinery underneath stuck painfully into our knees whilst we painfully blinked at each other in a painfully overlit room. 0% privacy. 0% atmosphere. 50% romance (we were united through out mutual disappointment).

The food might be excellent, I told myself. I duly ordered the steak set and boyfriend took the tofu and tempura set.

A meal that barely even massaged my stomach...
Tofu and tempura set

Now I actually can’t be bothered to describe the food in too much detail. No-one wants a low-down on rubbish. But here goes in a nutshell…

The steak: it was actually quite tasty – but I think that was mainly bacuase the Japanese believe in the need for fat in meat and this piece was wonderfully marbled with it. It sadly was very small and served with ponzu sauce. The Wikipedia definition is as follows: “Ponzu  is a citrus-based sauce commonly used in Japanese cuisine. It is tart, with a thin, watery consistency and a light yellow color.” The experiential definition is: it tasted awful – it was so sour and overpouring that in no way should one ever annihilate the taste of steak with it.
– An additional note: yes my broccoli really is dipped in mayonnaise.

The tofu: surprisingly good for tofu – the soy milk sauce had a lightly balanced flavour.

The tempura: bland and boring.

The salad: distinctly average, especially since the Japanese can create some really tasty dressings.

The miso soup: bitter, acrid and probably the worst I’ve had in Japan so far (excluding a fast-food Chinese joint).

The pudding: take a look. Does that look satisfying to you? It’s macha (green tea) mousse. It was…inoffensive.

All the time, plinky-plonky “traditional” Japanese music kept jarring in the background whilst the lights kept grinning down on us which sharpened rays.

Overall 1.5/5

Don’t bother going – you’ll leave hungry and poor.

Food quality 2/5 – The steak and tofu were all right; all other “courses” were average to less-than-average.

Value for money 1/5 – 9000円 – 4500円 per meal. Kaiseki prices can be much steeper. But for this miserable rubbish? Ridiculous.

Atmosphere 1/5 – I wanted to give it 0 but the waitresses were dressed nicely in kimono. 1 point then.

Service 2/5 – Glasses were never refilled with water. When boyfriend went to pay, the old  man messed up the payment as credit cards are a rare newfangled invention in Japan. The result was that the guy got short-tempered and shouted at another woman without apologising for keeping us waiting.


I was still hungry so my evening didn’t stop there. First of all,we emerged from the glaring place into the night time just in time to spot TWO geishas coming from opposite directions down the road. Here is a very shaky snap of one:

Yes my photography skills aren't excellent but it's a geisha!

And here’s a perfect example of a Japanese shop:

There's a new blockbuster title right there...

Our evening ended….well you can see where. And guess what? We still weren’t in luck. There was only one crepe left so we shared one between two, before heading back. Hungry. And feeling distinctly unromanced.


Author: Phoebe Amoroso

Phoebe Amoroso is a Tokyo-based reporter, multimedia journalist and storyteller. Hailing from the UK, she moved to Japan in 2014 and has since been shouting about the country to all who will listen. She divides her time between covering breaking news and producing feature stories for TV; writing about everything from business and tech to food and travel; and guiding hungry visitors who want to sample the best of Japanese cuisine. When not working and/or eating, she can often be found running up a mountain or cycling by the sea.

2 thoughts on “Romance and rare meat”

  1. A year and a few days later I had pretty much the same impressions.
    The kids (young) seemed happy with their steak, they said it was good, but then
    again even they were still hungry (and they didn’t have to pay the US$50 each).
    My wife was trying to enjoy it, but apparently I couldn’t mask my disappointment.
    My expections were much higher.

    1. I’m so sorry you didn’t find my blog post sooner! I think it’s very hard to know where to go in Japan and I was just starting to find good places, when I had to return to the UK.

      I hope you have better luck next time!

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