One of the most important things to do when planning for our holidays to Japan is deciding on our meals. As a result, I would be researching the Internet for weeks and consulting my friends for dining recommendations. Then I would schedule all our meals carefully to maximise the number of excellent restaurants that we could try throughout out stay. Total FOMO at play here. This meant that we ate very good (and usually expensive) meals for lunch and dinner every day during our holiday.
We have stopped scheduling our meals in recent trips. We might make one or two reservations at a nice restaurant and that is about it. I think it is age. I no longer find it enjoyable to eat two good meals everyday for between 7 to 10 days. My gut needs a break.
In our Feb trip to Kyoto, we made only one reservation – at Ristorante Gion 245 which is our favourite Japanese-Italian place just several doors down the street from our hotel. On our first night in Kyoto, I Googled the Internet for “izakaya in Kyoto” and a number of results came up. I picked the one closest to our hotel, which is Gion Yuki Izakaya, located close to Gion along Shijo-dori. It was a weekday night and we managed to get a table fairly easily at 5.30pm without a reservation. This was my first visit to an izakaya in Kyoto and I was not sure what to expect in terms of the food.
One of the things that I like about an izakaya is the vibe and atmosphere. It is casual, fun and boisterous. I don’t have to observe any form of decorum, or worry about table manners. Just eat, be merry and watch the chefs in action in the kitchen.
What is your choice of beverage in an izakaya? Mine is a whisky highball and my better half prefers a draft beer.
I need not worry. ‘Cos the food at Gion Yuki Izakaya was excellent! I enjoyed everything that we ordered that night which was plenty for two – we had sashimi moriawase, kaki furai (deep-fried oysters), nama shirako (raw fish milt), gyusuji nikomi (braised beef tendon). I wanted sashimi but was hesitant as I wasn’t sure about the quality of sashimi in an izakaya. Again, I need not worry – the sashimi was very fresh and one of the best I have eaten in Japan.
This nama shirako in ponzu was lovely, simply lovely. It was super fresh and the portion was so generous, I actually felt that there was too much to eat. I like tempura shirako too but that is usually a hit-and-miss as it isn’t easy to get tempura shirako right.
Duck breast is one of my better half’s favourite things to eat. Not surprising, we ordered two portions of this well-seasoned and succulent duck breast in one seating.
Japanese tomatoes are so sweet and delicious, and I could easily eat piles of tomatoes with a pinch of salt.
I have always read about how filling a sake cup until it overflows signals wealth and generosity of the restaurant. However, I have never experienced this practice in Japan until recently when I was in a Sapporo izakaya last year. and more recently, in Gion Yuki Izakaya. It feels really nice to see your sake cup being filled to the brim and with more in the saucer.
I always order gyu suji nikomi whenever I see the item on the menu at an izakaya. This is an izakya staple which I hardly see in other Japanese restaurants.
We went back to Gion Yuki Izakaya again for dinner on our last night in Kyoto. It was a Saturday evening and the queue outside Gion Yuki Izakaya was insane! We queued in the cold outside the izakaya for a good 90 mins before we were shown into the restaurant. I have never before queued so long at a restaurant. So this is really a first for me. We repeated some of the items we ate on our first visit and tried some new items like nasu dengaku (fabulously good) and marinated jelly-fish (also good).
I can’t put all the food photos on this blog post as it would make this post waaaaaay too long, but all that appear here are the ones that we really liked.
Gion Yuki Izakaya (or Gion Yuuki) (遊亀祇園店)
111-1 Tominagacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0078, Japan
Reservation is a MUST.