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Gion Nanba @ Kyoto

Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese meal and kyoto is famed for that. We decided to combine both a Michelin star experience with a kaiseki in Kyoto since we had the opportunity to. Booking one, was an experience by itself. The website stated clearly reservations were only possible via phone or online. After several attempts at booking, my heart jumped for joy when the screen read "successful email sent".

Table for two, private dining room, kaiseki lunch. Clutching onto my reservation, I was silly enough not to print a map of its location but then again, they did not provide it on the website. Netizens gave vague directions to the effect of "opposite Starbucks, in a small alley."

What makes Kyoto out of this world charming is its tiny alleys and the possibilities that you can uncover. We made it through a couple of alleys and met a couple of dumbfounded people, I was close to losing hope. Try as they did to help us out, I was thankful for them trying so hard.


Well of course, we made it there eventually if not this entry would not have been possible so yes, it is really the alley right across the road from Starbucks.


It is the first stop down the alley and the only sign of recognition was Nanba that I grew to recognize by the second day into the trip.

Pulling open the door, I was greeted by a kimono clad lady.

"Gion Nanba?" I was half sure we found the place but was worried she did not understand, afterall the website did say they only spoke Japanese on premise.

She nodded and showed me to my room. The outfit was small, sitting 12 at best. No wonder reservations are highly recommended.


Even the chopsticks were wrapped!


Brown rice tea to cleanse the palette before the meal began.


Hot towels were given to warm our hands from the chilly weather...officiating the start of the meal.


I can barely contain the excitement.


Tofu in two kinds (original and yuzu)

A friend urged me to try tofu in Kyoto instead of Tokyo and I am so glad I did. Handmade tofu with the consistency of our soyabeancurd (only mushier and more silken), this was totally melt in the mouth. Chewing is absolutely unnecessary. What hit me in the face was the numerous flavours put together in one dish. Yuzu was intense inspite of the savoury tones, while the original flavour was lighter and cleaner to taste. I loved how the meal started off with a punch.



Hot steaming noodles soaking in a hearty savoury broth with a well seasoned slab of eel on top. Unlike the usual sweetened eel I'm familiar with, this was less flavourful, just naturally sweet. 


Sashimi Platter (Ika, Hirami, Yellowtail)

Freshness is never questioned when fish is served so fresh, neither did I. I usually shun ika but eating it raw and so fresh made me rethink my decision. It tastes so different from how it looks! The traslucent flesh disintegrates to a starchy mess but I am so loving the way it melted away!


The Best of Autumn

Adorned with autumn leaves, this was way too pretty to even start eating!


Grilled fish with the loveliest crispy layer and firmest flesh. Torched to such perfection, I just wish the chunk did not disappear so fast.

The sweet yellow block next to it was assumed to be made of corn.


Sitted so daintily behind was sushi, I remember it being so fresh and chewy.


Crab salad packed with so much flavour from the sea, it won Kani Doraku hands and pants down. The sweetness exuded is truly different. I loved the crabmeat chunks painstakingly removed from the shells by the chef.


This was a first. What looked like braised mushrooms was actually namako (sea cucumber) and topped with grated radish.

Sea cucumber had a certain bite to it, the more I chewed the faster it disintegrated. Chewy sea cucumber paired with crunchy asparagus and juicy grated radish. Simple flavours yet the textures that were put together were mindblowing.


Japanese Radish Soup with Yuzu Sauce and Shrimp

Yuzu played a huge part in lighting up this dish. Rich and intense was the sauce in the otherwise sweet clear broth peppered with yuzu. The prawn was expectedly fresh with the crunchy seasonal vegetable. The bland looking block at the bottom of the bowl tasted like fishcake without the bounce. Something I would expect in oden, a winter soup dish.


Pickles are hardly my thing, as much as I appreciate the effort put into preparing the trio (daikon, turnip, sea kelp) , I did not enjoy this that much.


Scallops tossed in rice is barely as simple as it looks. I can eat this everyday for the rest of my life if I can. Japanese rice has its hold over me, the rounder grains are chewier and starchier than the usual ones we have on the dining table. Flavourful diced scallops with tairagiru rice (fish rice) never tasted better.


Mushroom miso soup so rich, this brought the meal to greater heights. I was already impressed with the chef for showcasing the various types of broths, with varying degrees of tastes.


My first plate of Japanese dessert that was not to the tunes of parfait or pudding. Vanilla Bean icecream, raspberry mousse and melon. I'd love to think of it as yubari melon but whatever breed it is, it was mad delicious. Just that cube was enough to send me to fruit paradise and back. The incredibly juicy block got the tongue dancing. Raspberry mousse with all the curd and sweet-sourness was the ideal yogurt. And lastly, vanilla bean icecream...rounded off the dessert platter on such a perfect note, I was scraping the plate for more.


When you think they'd stop at one, they serve up the finale...standing ovation I say.


Red Bean Manju, I wouldn't call it a highclass red bean bun but it is!


Green tea to compete the meal.


Two and a half hours of magic and well paced dishes...Japanese cuisine was never as intriguing as this before. Gion Namba presents a playful meal balancing well between intense and mild flavours, lovely effort on their part! Service is unquestionable, so polite and welcoming. The ladies took effort to explain each dish inspite of the language barrier...language books did the trick! One of them even praised Singapore for our casinos, she expressed a desire to come here for them.

I was surprised to find Chef Osamu Nanba standing outside their shop and it took me so long to realise he was not there by chance. He was waiting for us to bid us goodbye. After several sayonaras and bowing, we walked out of the alley. I stole a secret glance and the chef was still bowing! I was overwhelmed by their level of service, service from the heart with much sincerity.

Unforgettable, is barely suffice to remember this meal. Surprises galore throughout. Worth the michelin star bestowed onto it, Gion Nanba...make this a must visit if you do go to Kyoto. Sugoi ne!

Gion Nanba

A foodie born to eat, shop and travel. Forced to work.


  1. The tofu sounds very intriguing! never thought about the combination of yuzu and tofu before :D

  2. @ oysterdiaries: yes it was! never knew tofu could taste this way...with yuzu it was absolutely stunning!

  3. nice post! Tofu is one of the main specialities of Kyoto and I think another way to make reservations is through your lodgings (e.g hostels, ryokans or hotels)

  4. @ xinli: thanks! i enjoyed reading ur japan posts too though im a silent reader. heex. yah i know but we weren't staying in that made it difficult.

  5. thanks! ooo no wonder looking forward to more posts about Japan and food heh

  6. Planning to try this, it looks really goood!