We’ve seen our fair share of food lovers who plan trips to Japan just to eat at those hard-to-get-into restaurants. But have you met food lovers who make such pilgrimages to the Land of the Rising Sun up to five times a year over the last ten years?
Meet Ignatius Chan, an oenophile and owner of the 14-year-old Iggy’s at Hilton Hotel, Singapore, which snagged its first Michelin star in 2017. One of the first restaurant owners in Singapore to embrace seasonal Japanese ingredients in its modern European menu, Chan’s love for Japan knows no bounds and is only outdone by his love for wines, which the sommelier reportedly has 25,000 bottles of held in three warehouses in Singapore.
Of all the Japanese prefectures he’s visited, Chan singles out Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan, as his personal favourite. In this article, he dishes out the best eats the city has to offer.
Konnamonja at Nishiki Market
Konnamonja is a stall in Nishiki Market that is famed for its mini donuts made with soymilk. I would recommend having a box of six of donuts coupled with their intensely creamy and fresh soy milk to start the day.
Konnamonja at Nishiki Market
494 Nakauoyacho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Ogawa Coffee in Sanjo
While Ogawa Coffee has many outlets, my favourite is the one located in Sanjo for its welcoming and cosy atmosphere. I head here for the breakfast set, which has very soft and fluffy brioche-like bread with a helping of fried eggs and chicken sausage on top. It also comes with Japanese potato salad and their perfectly made coffee—whether you like their house blend Americano, a café latte or cappuccino.
96-2 Nakajimacho, Sanjo Kawaramachi-dori Higashu-iru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
This zen washoku-style restaurant has a long communal table where diners are able to enjoy rice-based dishes paired with savoury tofus in soy sauce and a rotating selection of four to five cooked dishes like grilled fish and meats, all packed in a bento set.
106-13 Gokencho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Hyotei is a historic 400-year-old restaurant that makes excellent cold porridge during the summer. Even though the porridge is plain, they are truly masters of getting the texture of the rice just right, and each grain is always very pearly-looking. The porridge is often eaten with different pickles and side dishes.
35 Nanzenji Kusagawa-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
Kyono Tsukuneya is a homey family-run restaurant with the most amazing oyako-don, fully of juicy chunks of chicken in a dashi broth,and chicken-based dishes. Their oyako-don comes with a fresh egg that you can mix on your own.
8-3 Higashimarutacho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
Serving the unique sanuki-style udon, Yamamoto Menzou is one of my personal favourites for their QQ (or al dente) noodles. They make their udon thicker so each strand has more bite. I usually order the standard udon with Japanese rice cakes, but their kare (curry-based) udon and spicy miso udon options are also popular. Prepare to queue for up to an hour.
34 Okazaki Minamigoscocho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
The two Michelin-starred Roan Kikunoi is not only historic but also offer well-priced seasonal kaiseki menus. Third generation chef-owner Yoshihiro Murata always uses the best seasonal produce like conger eel, ayu and prawns that he pairs with some of the best rice dishes I’ve tasted.
118 Saito-cho, Shijo-sagaru, Kiyamachi-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto
Chef Sakamoto’s distinctly Japanese take on fine Italian food is what makes Cenci stand out. Details like making his own mozzarella and curing hams in-house means that each dish is truly stellar. His flavours are so fine and subtle, and pastas like the sardine and fennel linguine or ayu pasta are divine.
44-7 Shogoin Entomi-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
Kyo Tsukumen Tsurukame
“This hole-in-the-wall ramen joint only seats about six people, so expect a bit of a line. Their prawn tsukumen, ramen that comes with a side of thick dipping sauce, has an intense prawn broth that is almost bisque-like. The spicy noodle soup comes with juicy char siew, and the noodles are also very QQ, or al dente.”
559 Nakanomachi, Teramachi Shijo-dori Agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
“Takocho is an oden restaurant that is more than a century old. They make excellent bites such as cheese wrapped in cabbage, duck balls, konnyaku (a Japanese chewy potato-based dish), fish cake, and even simple boiled eggs. The dashi that he makes is absolutely superb, and each dish comes with a little bit of dashi with English mustard, chopped negi and sansho pepper.”
1-237 Miyagawasuji, Kawabata-dori, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
“Tagawa is an excellent kaiseki restaurant that was opened by a chef who has worked extensively at three Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo. The specialty here are chargrilled ingredients like Hida beef, bamboo shoots and seasonal vegetables.”
575 Matsumotocho, Gokomachi-dori, Ebisugawa-agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
“Uzuraya is a great yakitori bar that is open until 1am. They make delicious chicken wings, as well as skewers of different parts of the chicken like the hearts. Always ask the staff for recommendations on sake as they have an excellent collection that is always changing. Go late, at around 10pm, when the crowd has died down.”
177-1 Yamatooji-dori Shijo Agaru 2chome, Tokiwa-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Cave de K
“Located next to the Ritz-Carlton, Cave de K is an elegant and comfortable wine bar with a private room. They specialize in Champagne and Burgundy, and have an amazing wine list that is reasonably priced. I love that they provide whole cheese platters or dessert platters once you order a bottle of wine. This is the perfect place for a nightcap after a lovely kaiseki or tempura dinner.”
Cave de K
481 Higashiikesu-cho, Kiya-cho Nijohigashi-iru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto