A Restaurant Guide to Kyoto and Osaka
Kyoto and Osaka are both located in the same province in Japan called the Kansai region, which is known to be a food destination. This region also includes the city of Kobe – which you’ve most definitely heard of for its famous Kobe beef – and Nara, the birthplace of Sake.
Most travel guides, like Michelin for instance, seem to combine Kyoto and Osaka into one chapter, and that’s because both cities are only an hour train ride apart and should be visited during the same trip. Funnily enough, both cities couldn’t be more different from one another. Kyoto is all about the past and its traditions, mixing beauty with peace and zen, whilst Osaka is a sort of strange and hectic futuristic world. Their one similarity: delicious food.
Just like our guide to Tokyo, please note that this a very limited list of recommended places and we do plan to expand it!
This small restaurant can only seat about 10 guests at the counter, with a view on Master Yuki’s (owner and only staff member of the restaurant) work and impressive collection of tableware. He specialises in fish and vegetables and as we were unable to read his Japanese menu, he prepared a selection of daily specials, and then carefully selected different plates from his collection to match the food he just made. Not only was the entire meal delicious but Yuki is one of the most welcoming and nicest chefs we’ve ever met – (which is quite the compliment as everyone in Japan is already so friendly).
He also has a great sake selection and we very much enjoyed the bottle of sparkling Sawaya Matsumoto Shuhari Gohyakumangoku saké.
This restaurant specialises in Obanzai, which is a traditional type of cooking method, native to Kyoto. For the cuisine to be Obanzai, ingredients must be seasonal and produced locally and must have a no-waste policy, where every part of an ingredient is used in one way or another.
When we got there, a very sweet elderly couple welcomed us and sat us at the counter where we were presented a selection of dishes which we had to choose from (interesting choice of menu format but very convenient for non-Japanese speakers). All dishes were fish and vegetable focused and served with lots of delicious sauces and broths. The restaurant felt very homey and the chef and his wife were very attentive to our needs, likes and dislikes. If felt just like a meal at our grandparents’ house.
Kyoto is a spiritual city full of temples and the one thing we couldn’t help but notice was all the shops selling DELICIOUS matcha soft ice cream around the temples, where tourists and monks queue for the refreshing snack. If we had to recommend just one shop (and believe us we went to quite a few) it would be Kouroan, which is next to the Daitoku-ji temple. They pour a matcha coulis on top of their soft-serve, which is mind-blowing.
This tiny kitchen specialises in Takoyaki, which literally translates to grilled or cooked octopus. The octopus is cut into pieces, dipped in pancake batter, and is then cooked in a waffle grill which gives its pieces a round shape.
Osaka is known for this dish, but we particularly enjoyed Takoriki’s as we found it more refined than the ones founds in more touristy places. Their flavours range from regular to cheese to fried, served with tartar sauce or with omelette. Toppings vary from regular to wasabi mayonnaise and soy sauce mayonnaise and we, of course, tried all of them.
Takoriki is also known to pair their Takoyaki with Champagne. They have a short but impressive selection of the bubbly juice (which had us wondering why they’re only open during the day, as they’d make a killing if they considered being open for dinner).
Restaurants in Osaka are definitely more modern and trendier and Aozora Blue – with its neon sign above its small Udon workshop – is no exception. We personally particularly like Udon noodles for their thickness and chewy texture. Here, they are either served in a hot broth or with a cold dipping sauce and some tempura. We thoroughly enjoyed this dish whilst admiring the cooks kneading the dough.
If you don’t eat pork, this place is not for you, but those who fancy a good Tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlets) are in for a treat! These do look slightly different than the traditional recipe: the meat looks more tender and the crust is thinner and darker, which could suggest that it incorporates more spices. It’s a shame that the chef couldn’t speak English but he seemed extremely pleased when he saw our faces light up after tasting his dish.
He also serves deep fried tomatoes with that same crust, which we very much recommend!