Two years ago, I had the pleasure of dining at Kikunoi in Akasaka. The two Michelin star restaurant absolutely blew me away. Every other Michelin star restaurant I have dined at thereafter has not been able to surpass the quality of the dishes served at Kikunoi. Years later, I am still daydreaming about the smoked barracuda and young bluefin tuna sashimi. You can only imagine my excitement when I realized that I would be visiting Kyoto this year, home of the main Kikunoi branch. After many attempts, I was finally able to make a reservation at this three (yes, THREE) Michelin star restaurant, Kikunoi Roytei. Here is my experience in a nutshell.
Let us start with the first course, an assortment of appetizers. Pictured above is smoked salmon sushi, mustard-dressed rapini, haddock roe terrine, lotus root stuffed with mustard, cured karasumi (grey mullet roe) rolled in cuttlefish, tofu pickled in white miso and pomegranate, salad of sea cucumber and turnip. Amazing the attention to detail put into each component.
Second course: steamed cod milt with truffle sauce and chives. For those unfamiliar with cod milt, it is the seminal vesicles of the fish (or the sperm sac, simply put). It was my first time trying cod milt and although the idea of eating sperm sac isn’t exactly on top of my list, it was surprisingly delicious. All of the flavor is held in the sac which bursts in your mouth when bitten into. Tender, delicate and delicious.
Third course: Sashimi of fugu (pufferfish), fugu skin, grated radish with red pepper, chives, vinegared chrysanthemum petals, salt and Naoshichi (Japanese citrus) and ponzu. Fugu is a chewy fish with very subtle flavors, almost bland. To avoid being too tough, this sashimi was very thinly sliced.
We were instructed to make a little wrap with each slice of fugu, stuffing it with the chives, chrysanthemum, radish and fugu skin. Paired with ponzu sauce, salt and Japanese citrus, the pufferfish was elevated to the next level.
Fourth course: sashimi of yellowtail, grated mustard radish, and soy sauce. The yellowtail was absolutely beautiful, as expected; the radish was surprisingly very spicy, almost like wasabi.
Fifth course: Red tilefish steamed with grated kabura turnip, wood ear mushroom, lily bulk, mitsuba herb, fresh uni, gingko nut and wasabi. Very delicate flavors that paired together wonderfully.
Sixth course: scallop, prawn, ebi taro, and Kintoki carrot roasted in a yuzu peel with yuzu miso. Yuzu was an ingredient found repeatedly throughout the dinner. In this particular course, it really shined. This sixth course was my favorite, with intense flavors and buttery seafood.
Seventh course: strawberry wasabi sorbet. A much needed palate cleanser after the flavor intense sixth course. Reminiscent of the citrus and wasabi palate cleanser served at Kikunoi in Akasaka.
Eighth course: salad of roe-bearing crab with Japanese citrus. This salad was very similar to the one served at Kikunoi Akasaka. Although different crabs were served, they both consisted of a shell stuffed to the brim with crab meat and roe.
Ninth course: hotpot of soft shell turtle, grilled naganegi onion, sesame tofu and ginger. I will be honest with you, this dish was not a winner. I have never had turtle before and after this experience, I will most likely not have it again. It was tough, chewy and had a very strong flavor. I can say, without a doubt, the hotpot with Spanish mackerel served in the other location was significantly better.
Tenth course: Porridge of rice, cod milt, bone-in pufferfish, rice cake, yuzu, and seri herb; rolled pickled turnip, pickled daikon radish, salt-cured giant kelp. Another way of saying an elaborate bowl of porridge.
Eleventh course: Buckwheat walnut sponge cake, caramel ice cream, strawberry, Amakusa orange, caramel sauce, mint. I loved the buckwheat walnut sponge cake, so much so that I will be attempting to recreate it at home.
Finale: A bonus dish of matcha served with a citrus dessert.
The overall review? A little disappointed. Kikunoi in Akasaka had blown me away. This location was good but in my opinion, not as spectacular. It could also be that I visited during the winter when more porridge and soups are present in the menu. Would I return? Perhaps during the spring or summer. Either way, a memorable night nonetheless.
And that concludes my trip! Visit Flavors of Taiwan for a look into the wonders of Taipei.
Check out the rest of “A Taste of Japan” series:
Part 1: Tsukiji Market
Part 2: Sushi Dai
Part 3: Tokyo
Part 4: Kikunoi Akasaka
Part 5: Kyoto Pt 1
Part 6: Kyoto Pt 2
Part 7: Osaka
Part 8: Exploring Osaka