Saturday, January 1, 2011

Fine Dining Review: Chihana (Kyoto, Japan)

Chihana ***

Chihana is hidden in a small alley in the Geisha district of Gion, Kyoto. Being a 3 Michelin starred  and only a 10 seater restaurant, we were pleased and fortunate to get a booking through Tong's Japanese friend well ahead of time.

Established in 1946, Chihana has remained an intimate "over the counter" style kaiseki restaurant; kaiseki being the traditional multi-course Japanese cuisine and best expressed in Kyoto.

We started with bonito sashimi cured with pears and citrus. This was an impressive start (10/10 rating).

This was followed by chicken meatball with lotus and burdock roots (7/10 rating).

Next is a multi-dish course consisting of: (1) gingko nuts gently fried and precisely seasoned, (2) whipped soy "milk", (3) local greens with sesame sauce, (4) best ever salmon roe and (5) tiny anchovy-like fishes. The salmon roes burst with intense sweet roe flavours and the tiny fishes so naturally sweet and salty; the whipped soy milk amazingly textured - creamy, fluffy and simply unbelievable. This was top-notch (10/10 rating).

Fourth course is raddish with miso dressing (7/10 rating).

The 5th course is another masterpiece; crab ball with dashi. The head chef guided me to slide the yuzu garnish into the broth for some subtle infusion. The broth is clear and not overpowering but simply sublime and sophisticated (10/10 rating).

Next is tuna and flat fish sashimi accompanied with 3 different saltening accompaniments - some salty konbu (seaweed), dried kelp and the usual soy sauce. The tuna is spectacular and best I've ever tasted and the dried kelp dazzling. The flat fish provided a completely different texture - chewy and almost crunchy sashimi texture - slightly strange but interesting (8/10 rating). I am more than impressed by Chihana's sourcing of ingredients.

Seventh course is a fish stew with red bean tofu and raddish. This is a hearty and heavy course; the fish broth exceptional (8/10).

Following this is small prawns and jullienned root vegetables. This is not your usual tempura - the batter light and accompanied by a Japanese lime and some salt to taste (7/10).

The 9th course is a vinegar, palate refreshing dish of pumpkin and raddish (6/10).

The final course is perfectly cooked rice topped with pickles and finely jullienned shiso (Japanese mint) (5/10).

We ended with a shot glass of Japanese mandarin juice.

This was a complete dining experience - perfection was aimed for in every possible way and it made sense why Chihana has 3 Michelin stars. Food sourcing is exceptional, dishes pride themselves in colour, presentation, texture and taste, cooking is precise; courses were served in beautiful antique wares and service is attentive, polite and thoughtful. Everything is fresh...very fresh.

Since it was lunch time, we did not try any sake or sochu. With the chefs observing your progress throught out each course, portion sizes are adjusted depending on how much more food you can stuff yourself with.....this is the true essence of kaiseki but not usually practised in reality. Service was so good that both the head chef and maitre d' accompanied us out all the way to the street exit whilst chatting with us on our dining and travel experience.....imagine Robuchon, Ramsay or any other 3 Michelin starred chef doing that!

Rating for Fine Dining: 18/20

By Gastronomic G.

Rating explained:
Scores 18 to 20 = *** (3 stars) = World class and close to perfection
Scores 16 to <18 = ** (2 stars) = An exceptional and special dining experience
Scores 15 to <16 = * (1 star) = Very good to great dining experience
Scores 13 to <15 = Good but not memorable
Scores 10 to <13 = Acceptable
Scores <10 = Are you sure you want to eat here?


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