This is the second post on my recent food eating adventures to Japan. All other posts can be found here
E likes to joke that even though she’s the local, she’s known none of the places that I’ve been suggesting to try while we are in Japan. Ever since our trip was confirmed, I was sending her links and pleas for “can we please try this place??!!” One of these places is Shoraian. I was extremely keen after reading Tiny Urban Kitchen’s blog post on it and thankfully, Y was able to make a booking for us when he went back to Japan in February. Yes, we made a restaurant booking for July in February. That’s how much I wanted to try it.
There was a bit of a confusion the day before when we called to confirm our lunch timing but the reservation was mixed up with another date. Luckily, we were able to sort that out and the following day, we set out bright and early to Arashiyama, where the restaurant is located. Since our lunch was booked for 1.30pm, we spent the morning wondering around the bamboo grove and even took a rickshaw ride around town!
Having read enough blog posts on the potential difficulty of getting to Shoraian, I felt quite conscious of taking the easiest and not the shortest route. Thankfully, our rickshaw puller driver knew where it was, so he dropped us as close as possible and told us how to get there. The easiest way is to follow the river all the way to the end. Even when the road changes to gravel and there are other staircases appearing to your right, keep going straight. Then you will see that the road ahead is blocked and there is a staircase leading up. This is the staircase. Shoraian is about 30m above.
We were very surprised when we got shown to a private room. WOW. Imagine, a private air conditioned space overlooking the river. Total score!. The server informed us (or rather E) that the restaurant used to be a holiday villa of sorts for rich families. It was deliberately built at this particular location where cars could not access it directly and visitors would be guaranteed a semblance of seclusion and quiet.
We had the Shorai menu and this is what we were served:
Aperitif of Umeshu (plum wine) and chilled tofu with wolfberry and Okinawan salt
Appetizer dish – 8 dishes of roast duck, hamo (pike eel), Ayu (sweetfish), scallop and octopus, prawn with a tofu-like paste, salmon and eggplant, squash, mochi with yuzu. I really loved all the components of this dish. Each component was perfectly cooked and well seasoned. We finished this in no time.
Seasonal dish – winter melon with chicken mince, dashi jelly and cucumber. The owner of Shoraian is also a master of painting and caligraphy. Each month, they have a theme based on postcards painted by the owner. This month’s theme was based on water. I must say that the visual aspect of this dish was truly amazing. The arrangement of the food really felt like it was resembling the Ōi River.
Yudofu (Tofu soup) – Refills at 500 yen extra. This was a really simple dish of tofu, hot water, shoyu dipping sauce. However, this was one of the best ways to taste the simple textures of the tofu and this is where the skill of Shoraian really shines through. The tofu was firm, yet silky soft and very light.
For dessert, we were served tofu ice cream with cinammon and hojicha (which is fast becoming one of my favourite Japanese teas). The tofu ice cream was really really delicious. I wished that we could have been given a bigger scoop!
We were actually able to enjoy our dessert in the bigger tatami room (with a better view) as we were told by the lady server that the party had cancelled their booking at the last minute (so very sad! All that food gone to waste). The service was really great, the lady server really went out of her way to make us feel as comfortable as possible. For 2 people, we paid about 4500 yen each (including tax).
Notes: Do make a booking. The lady server told us that the restaurant is very popular among foreigners. E explained that the prices here are a little expensive for lunch by Japanese standards. Hence, while the food was indeed brilliant, it’s not a place where one might expect to be inundated with locals. If you can, do try to get a private tatami room and perhaps confirm your booking once you reach Japan so that you don’t run into any potential difficulties like we nearly did.
Add: Kanyuchinai, Sagakamenoocho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto 616-8386, Kyoto Prefecture