Not quite as formally orchestrated as kaiseki cuisine, and yet not nearly as casual as izakaya fare, kappo-ryori rests well within most diners’ comfort zone in Japan. Kappo is intimate performance art. The chef prepares each course in an open kitchen, front and center, with a seated audience. Unlike eating at an izakaya, thought is given to the progression of courses - But ultimately it is the whim of the chef to decide the dishes to be served.
In Kyoto, the cultural heart of Japan, the chefs pride themselves on being keepers of an ancient and proud culinary tradition. And thus, Kyoto-style kappo is an intriguing amalgam of comfort and adherence to the Japanese time-tested standards of seasonality and local sourcing.
At the insistence of my hotel concierge, I booked a seat at Takehisa to try kappo in Kyoto. Let’s go!!!
Simple frontage. So clean…
Inside the foyer, once shoes are taken off and traded in for slippers (very common when dining out in Japan), one is welcomed to enter a very minimalist space, adorned crisply with a wooden bar (which can seat 6-8 patrons), and an equally minimalist open kitchen. There is a back kitchen as well (behind the noren curtain).
Birru: Asahi Super Dry… “Kanpai!” and “Itadakimasu!”
Lotus “Three Ways”… Roots and flowers from two different lotus types are ground into paste. The remainder is then also fried, and then crushed to make a gritty powder. The lotus paste is then rolled into a ball (use #1) and coated with the lotus “panko” (use #2). The ball is then stewed, with lotus powder also being used as the thickener (use #3) when added to the soup base. The whole lotus sphere is then served in the warm, thick broth. I have never eaten anything remotely like this dish before, and it was just delicious beyond belief. Oishi!
Sakana (food to accompany alcohol): Matsutake mushroom with spinach and chrysanthemum petal, grilled moroko (small minnow from nearby Lake Biwa) served with nitsume, steamed taro root with red miso, pickled shimonita negi (bunching scallion) bulb, and finally “fuyu” (“persimmon”, which was actually not a persimmon at all, but rather a boiled golden-red egg yolk, filled with miso, with the “stalk” made from sculpted konbu)… An absolutely incredible assortment of yummy items. That moroko was a definite standout tasty bite - The whole platter was just terrific!
Sashimi: Sawara (Spanish mackerel) and hobo (red gunnard), served with freshly ground wasabi… Both fish were supreme in their freshness. The sawara is as good as I’ve ever tried. The hobo is a true rarity at the fish market, appearing only in early winter. Hobo possesses a fatty, luxurious flavor unlike any other fish. I feel very lucky that it was available.
A dobin tea pot is served, except there is no tea inside! Anticipation builds…
Matsutake dobin mushi, made with hamo (pike conger eel) and ginnan (ginkgo nut)… This is THE great autumn food to have in Japan! The clear yet complex broth is redolent of the forest mushroom, and the fluffy hamo gives the whole dish a hearty kick. Superb.
Take-san takes to the grill for the next dish… Smells so great!
Binchotan (oak charcoal) grilled sawara with miso baste, served with pickled myoga (Japanese ginger)… Again, the sawara makes a local appearance. More commonly prepared with cod, the miso marinade on the hikarimono skin of the sawara renders a delicately briner taste than cod when exposed to the slow steady heat of the binchotan. Excellent, excellent, excellent!
Kaki (Japanese persimmon), shiitake mushroom and konbu (seaweed) goma-ae (sesame sauce) ambrosia… A vegetarian delight!
The bowl holding the goma-ae was something to behold as well…
Stewed nishin (dried herring, from Hokkaido), with mizuna (Japanese mustard greens), nasu (Japanese eggplant) and yuzu rind… This is a famous dish, very specific to the Kyoto region. Take-san explains that the long travel distance between Kyoto and Hokkaido (where the herring is sourced) is precisely what necessitates the preservation of the herring back in the old days. Omoshiroi (interesting)!!!
Next, Chinese-style pickled cabbage and bonito seaweed are brought out in preparation for the main course…
A beautiful bowl appears…
Asari (clam) miso soup!
Kuri gohan (chestnut rice)… An earthy, sweet fragrance fills the air as the steam rises from the chestnut-laden rice! Kuri gohan is a classic fall recipe.
What a combination!
Dessert & tea: Azuki, (red bean paste) covered mochi, topped with mizuame (Japanese water taffy), served with sencha (green tea)… Tasty! Chef Take explains that traditional Japanese sweets used no milk or butter before Europeans began trading with Japan. Back then, sweetness and its consistency were imparted solely from sugar and the natural sweetness of the other starting materials (such as the red bean paste). In the old days, the wooden stick was employed both as fork and knife for this sort of dessert.
Gochisosama deshita! Kappo-ryori, Kyoto style, it appears, is at once traditional and comforting.
It should be noted that Take-san is a one-man show. He has no sous-chef(!), no dishwasher, and no servers(!). The man is talented beyond belief. He has been plying his trade at this current location for four years now. “Take ( 竹 ),” he explains, is Japanese for bamboo (and coincidentally also is his first name), whereas “hisa ( 久 )” means a sense of history. Therefore, Chef Take wishes for Takehisa to be around for much, much longer. I wholeheartedly agree.
In a city dominated by kaiseki-ryori, Takehisa offers a truly exquisite, different Kyoto dining experience. Do not miss it.
141-1 Takeyacho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
(京都府 京都市中京区 竹屋町 通室町東入亀屋町141-1)