After nearly two weeks in Kyoto we managed to find ourselves in the neighbourhood of Hyotei and stopped by for lunch. We had been recommended to go by a Japanese colleague of a close friend of mine, and the reviews and Michelin rating helped motivate us to go.
Strolling up to the front door we were told that the lunch place next door (in the Annex building) was closed. Fortunately, as I speak and understand a little Japanese we were able to say that we were there for Kaiseki!
We were led through a beautifully arranged, miniature garden, to our private dining room, housed in a single story, small building that could have been 130 years old or more. There was no menu, as Kaiseki is a seasonal meal of the best and freshest local produce. We eagerly awaited the first course.
What followed was course after course of perfection. To a palette uninitiated into the subtleties of Kyoto's cuisine, and used to the bold richness of western fine dining, the meal may seem reserved. But to our taste it was perfectly balanced. Each ingredient was given just what it needed to shine - nothing less, and certainly nothing more.
The bill for our lunch was absolutely worth it. I wish I could eat at 3* restaurants in the west, and leave feeling as satisfied and healthy as I did upon leaving Hyotei. Instead of a reliance on fat in its various guises to carry flavour (as is mostly the case in rich western gourmet cuisine), Kaiseki, with it's roots in the Tea Ceremony, and steeped in Buddhist principles, maintains a naturalness, and fantastic balance, serving you more vegetables than rice, and more rice than fish.