The perfect pot of steaming hot…

…UDON! That’s what I ate during a trip out “hiking” last weekend. At this time of year, everyone goes autumn foliage crazy in Japan – everyone wants to see the momiji or kouyou. We decided to venture to Kibune and Kurama in the north of Kyoto.

It turned out that we were a little too early as most of the leaves were still green:

Kibune is still green

The reddest thing we saw was this fellow – who is actually a tengu, a dangerous mountain and forest spirit. I would definitely run if I bumped into one of these at night.

What a mighty fine nose he has...

We attempted some serious climbing up a very steep path and crazy roots.

Jungle roots
The path was steep....
The view from My Kurama

The views were worth it. But it was just as well we’d manage to find some udon before we went up there. All the restaurants in Kibune were expensive kaiseki places which charged over 3,000円 for a meal, which contained a variety of dishes that we didn’t want to eat.

Fortunately, we were lucky to spot an udon and soba place, where you could sit on little benches outside, spying on the street:

Kibune village
Steaming hot kitsune udon

I got a steaming hot bowl of kitsune udon – that is fried sliced tofu, floating with thick udon noodles in a dashi (fish stock) broth. It was only 500円 and I got myself a shiitake mushroom and processed fish sausage too! (I was more excited about the former than the latter to be honest!) Although I’ve never been too keen on “wet” noodles, it was the perfect dish to warm me up and give me just the right amount of energy for the climb. I discovered after my trip to Fushimi Inari that it’s not a good idea to eat too much if you plan on climbing anything!

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.



The Royal Palace of Cake

I felt the title should be capitalised, as if to shout royalty’s name. For this could be a palace. A staggering four-storeys high, this white-walled cake-castle has more lights than a town square Christmas tree (you can see a photo at night here).

The palace is actually a café. And when we saw it, we were hooked: we absolutely had to eat cake there. When we saw that a cake and coffee set was only 650円, we returned post haste.

The Place: Swiss Rhone 

The Food: A variety of European cakes; cake and coffee set (with home-made ice cream)

As this is a food blog, I should probably start with the food. But for once in my life, I was more taken with the interior of a café than the menu.

The owner was inspired by European architecture and style, particularly Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and collected artefacts accordingly.

Here are some photos so you can the idea of the wooden planes, hot air balloons, cherubs, rocking horses etc.

Now it wasn’t too long before our cakes and coffees arrived. I chose chocolate cake and Calle chose cherry chocolate cake. Both came on beautifully old-fashioned ornate tea crockery.

Chocolate sponge cake
Chocolate cherry cake

I went straight for the home-made vanilla ice-cream which had the lightest of flavours and was an absolute delight.

Sadly, “light” flavours aren’t always a good thing and when it comes to chocolate cake, I want HEAVY chocolate flavour. My cake just merged into a mush of sponge and cream in my mouth. It was almost like eating air – not enough substance. Calle’s cherry cake suffered from a similar affliction – it was fantastic when you came across a cherry, but without, it just evaporated. It wasn’t unpleasant – it just didn’t touch the sides of a cake craving. It left me wanting more – it left me wanting stodgyness.

Overall 3.5/5

Visit for the fantastic décor and an amazing value cake set.

Food quality 2.5/5 – The cakes were of good quality but they lacked taste. The home-made ice cream saved it.

Value for money 5/5 –  cake sets are normally from 650円 upwards, with plenty at the 800円 mark. With ice-cream included and amazing crockery, the value was incredible

Atmosphere 4/5 – Although the shop was well-frequented, we were the only people in the café. It didn’t matter when we had two little men popped out a clock to announce 5pm. In essence, the ornaments will keep you company.

Service 4/5 – Prompt service plus a brief explanation about the history of the place.

How to find it:

There are two but I recommend going to the main one (as the other is just in a department store ie. no big fun palace)

Copy and paste this into Google maps:


As you come out of Yamashina JR station, walk down towards the main road. Just before the giant Racto department store building, turn right. You will be on a small road which runs parallel to the main road, Sanjo Dori. Carry on walking straight for about 10 minutes. The cake palace will be on your left. You can’t miss it.

Final note: Why are there purple smiley faces hanging from the outside? That doesn’t look very European – it looks more Japanese.

Well done, careful observer. You’re absolutely right. Those aren’t purple smiley balloons or plums as I assumed. It’s the Yamashina-ku Aubergine Festival! And every shop is covered in them. One even found its way upstairs into the café….

Around the world in half a day

3rd November is yet another National Holiday in Japan. They have about 12 a year, more than most countries, and my theory is that it’s because of their insane work ethic which leaves many people, some of my friends included, working 17 hours a day in Tokyo.

What to do with a holiday? Well, the answer was EAT.

Kyoto International Community Foundation is a large organisation not far from where I live and it’s where I’ve just start taking Japanese lessons (for free!) They were holding an open day, promising food and entertainment from around the world. Well, we didn’t get much past the food to be honest.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: food from stalls is never as good as it looks. I decided to visit “Germany” which was perhaps a mistake in itself, given my recollections of German food. However, they promised good quality looking sausages and potato salad. How could I resist? The two sausages in the picture were quite small but they looked so tasty and potato salad….mmm……

NOT. Firstly, when I went to buy the plate advertised for 400 円 they charged me an extra 100 円 for a second sausage. I believe that’s called false advertising, and I believe it’s illegal in the UK. Next, when I examined my potato salad, it looked very strange indeed. It didn’t appear to have any potatoes in it. Nor did it seem to be covered in mayonnaise. Instead, I got some doughy pasta balls mixed in with sauerkraut. Not impressed.

We then spent 25 minute queuing for a mutton kebab which was sized for hungry two year-olds. At least it was delicious.

Mutton kebab
Sesame and lemon dressing. Delicious.
There's no delicate way to go about this...

I particularly liked the Japanese interpretation of French cuisine. What do the French eat? Omelettes! Fois gras! Let’s mix the two together! (Apparently some recipes for this do exist on the Internet but the thought of the combination turns my stomach. What do you think?)

Mangez comme les français!

If you go down to Fushimi-Inari…

….you’ll be bombarded by all kinds of tourist traps. Because after all, you’re in Japan and you’re in Kyoto, one of Japan’s top tourist destinations.

Fushimi-Inari is a shrine that has thousands of orange torii (Japanese-style gates that you can walk through) stretching 4km up the mountain, through forest and cemeteries. It’s stunning, peaceful and even mystical.

The street at the bottom, however, is graced with all kinds of trinkets and bowls of udon (fat white Japanese noodles) for over 1,000円, even if they do serve some inari (rice in fried, sweetened tofu pouches) in order to be in-keeping with the name.

We’d cycled for several kilometres and had several more kilometres to go. I was prepared to shell out a few extra yen if it meant I got full on tastier food. The strategy paid off.

The Place: Kanoco

The Food: Ridiculously large teishoku  (set lunch) and udon

This caught my attention and I had to have it…..

Delicious lunch set, 1500円

It was sitting in the window, quite blatantly giving my stomach the eye and I knew it was going to be love at first sight. Or rather, I knew this once I’d checked the price and that my stomach was not making a high maintenance commitment.

At 1,500円 for a large lunch set, the price was only 200 – 300円 higher than the udon places. And you bet that this lunch set was LARGE. Not only did it include all the food pictured there, but it came with a perfectly balanced cream of sweetcorn soup and a coffee.

Now you might be looking at the lunch set a little confused. Is that fried pork, salad, rice, vegetables and a hamburger? Wait! Is that hamburger on spaghetti?

Yes, yes it is. The Japanese have a very interesting take on food when it comes to combinations. And when I first arrived out here I was more than a little surprised at things I saw placed together. But now it is the most natural thing in the world that hamburgers – and all other kinds of fried things – should come on top of spaghetti. Served with rice as well, of course.

As to the actual taste of the food… it was delicious! Everything was of exceptional quality and home-made. Even the fried pork had incredibly home-made tasting batter and was proper meat, as opposed to the reformed grey patty that sometimes appears. And believe it or not, the steamed vegetables are well-worth a mention: cooked to perfection, the flavours stood out charmingly.

My only criticism would be that the salad had a rather strong Caesar dressing, which smothered the taste of the actual vegetables. But given that salad with lettuce and tomato is not terribly common served in Japan, I was thrilled to have it.

Calle, my vegetarian partner, had the kitsune udon (udon with fried tofu pouches). I should point out that all udon dishes are made with dashi (Japanese fish stock) which tends to be shoved into almost everything and therefore means very few things are truly veggie. It’s a compromise for Calle, I guess. His dish was also very tasty, and included a well-grilled rice cake. The dish erred on the overly sweet side but still packed plenty of flavour and the dashi didn’t overpower, thank goodness.

Kitsune Udon, 750 円

To top the eating experience off, the interior was beautifully designed.

Overall 5/5
I would visit again, no hesitations. Even if the amount of food did make it a struggle to walk up the shrine.

Food quality 5/5 – Very well prepared and exceptional ingredients.

Value for money 5/5 – Compared to what else was on offer, it was amazing. No actually, I would pay 1,500円 for this food anywhere!

Atmosphere 3/5 – It was fairly quiet but I imagine it to be great dining at night.

Service 4/5 – Staff were very helpful and kept us well topped up with tea.

How to find it:

Facing downhill at the bottom of the Fushimi-Inari complex, there is a little street full of tourist shops and restaurants to your right. Walk down it until you hit the main street. Turn right. Kanoco will be on your left. Look out for the entrance and the food display.