[Kyoto] Roan Kikunoi: Worthy of its 2 Michelin Stars

Perfection. There can only be one word to describe my experience at two-Michelin stars Roan Kikunoi in Kyoto. From food to service and ambiance, this place is as perfect as they come. Whenever I travel, I like to treat myself to a fine-dining meal. The nine-course lunch at Roan Kikunoi was by far my favourite. For our lunch, the nine-course Kaiseki meal came to S$108.08 per person (after credit card charged.) I repeat. 2 Michelin Stars. 9 courses with not a single course disappointing. S$108. With every single dish as beautifully arranged and garnished, often with real leaves and flowers, as well as edible garnishes designed to resemble natural plants and animals. We totally lucked out! Roan Kikunoi was a superb choice. Thank you to our Airbnb hosts for the recommendation and helping us secure a table.

A Kaiseki menu means it changes with the seasons, and with the chef’s whims while the flow of the meal adheres to Japanese traditions. Our menu that afternoon was an Early Spring one which meant loads of floral and citrusy elements like Yuzu. The three hour lunch was beautifully orchestrated and paced  nicely leaving us pampered, satisfied, and feeling thoroughly justified for indulging in something so extravagant!  

Roan Kikunoi is located in a traditional Kyo-Machiya townhouse in the heart of Gion. While utterly charming, it also meant paper-thin walls. If you are unlucky, like us, your dining neighbours will be loud-speaking ones from a certain country my ancestors came from. At least we had the splendid food to distract us. Upon arrival in our private room on the second floor, we were greeted with two menus. One in Japanese and an English translated menu.

Our meal began with an Aperitif & Amuse: Sake with fragrance of plum blossoms. This was served to us in a shallow bowl which we were told to cusp with two hands. 

It looked like water but could not be further. 

The sake tasted so pleasant and light with a floral aftertaste. I was so memorized by the change in flavours that I found myself sipping this ever so slowly just so I could experience it over again and again. For the first (and probably only) time during the trip, I was the last to finish.

Next came a beautiful two-tier lacquer box which contained our Hassun (八寸)/ Appetizers. 

Seriously, how gorgeous is this box?! 

In it contained (from left) Poached egg-bearing octopus, Warabi (mochi), bamboo shoot squid and Udo stalk in Kinome (prickly ash leaf bud) sauce. On the right: Shirauo-Sushi, rape, Yurine (lily bulb) petals with Salmon roe, carrot leaf. Just look at the variety of textures, flavours and colours. Every component was a delight. We were ready for more after this!

They reversed the order of our amuse and appetizer course. For our Amuse/ Sakizuke(先附) course, a Steamed cod milt Tofu in Sanpokan-grapefuit, Ponzu

Next up was our Sashimi/ Mukōzuke (向付): Tai (red sea bream), Spanish mackerel with Ponzu jelly, seawwed, curled Udo stalk and carrot, Wasabi

The underside of the Spanish Mackerel Sashimi.

Woah this was surprising! I would never think to pair  Spanish mackerel sashimi with ponzu but Roan Kikunoi knew it would go perfectly well together and it worked. A fine pairing.  

Next up was Futamono (蓋物) or lidded dish, essentially soup   

Minced duck, Yomogi (Japanese mugwort) dumpling, Kujo green onion, Kuwai (arrowhead root), giant turnip slice, Yuzu, carrot, gold leaf.

  

After lidded dish came Yakimono (焼物)/ Grilled course: Karei (flat fish) topped with egg yolk and rape 

This was the best fish any of us have ever had!!! Weeks later, we were still talking about this gorgeous oily fish with its silky smooth flesh. The Karei flat fish had a rich grilled taste and the flesh glimmered under the light. So gooodddd. How did they do it?! I would never think to pair an oily fish with egg yolks but again, this worked like a charm.

Next came the Fried course: Japanese taro with cracker. Finely mashed yam paste coated with a delicate yuzu-crust.

Then a man walked into our room and just sat at the end of the table. No words were uttered but he presented our Tome-wan (止椀) course which consists of either a miso-based or vegetable soup served with rice. We got the Rice with Crab and Carrot Soup combination.

After letting me take a picture, he proceeded to mix the rice dish. 
   

Accompanied by Carrot Soup with Fu (wheat gluten) and Japanese pickles. The Crab rice was indescribably good. Words fail me so I am going to try my best to describe the magic in my mouth. The plump loose rice was imbued with a strong but not overwhelming crab flavor with bits of crab strands. The rice clearly had been cooking in a crab broth for a while. The crispy brown bits at the bottom were a joy to chew on too. We took away the leftover in a beautiful wooden box and the next evening, it was even more flavourful. Rice never tasted more luxurious and good. Bravo Roan Kikunoi. 

The cherry orange Carrot Soup was full-on in a fresh carrot tasting way. It tasted like it was just plucked from the ground that morning. The wheat gluten tasted just like mochi. Kyoto-ians have an obsession with mochi and gluten that I will never understand. The Japanese Pickles were unlike the traditional vinegared radish as they contained meat!

For desserts/ Mizumono (水物): Baked apple, milk ice cream with Soy-caramel sauce(!) The might look like a solid cube but the moment our forks went into it, it broke away and was actually mashed up. Sweet milk ice cream with an unusual but wonderful combination of caramel with shoyu. I would never think to pair caramel and shoyu but the subtle shoyu aftertaste offset any cloying caramel flavor. If I was floating before, I was probably in heaven at this point.

  
Roan Kikunoi has got to be the best fine-dining meal of my life. Every course as perfect and surprising as the next with neither a single disappointing dish. After Roan, I have a newfound respect for Japanese Kaiseki and Michelin stars! Now my goal is to aim for a three star in Japan for I’m sure the Japanese strict standards will ensure every penny will be worth it.

露庵 菊の井Roan Kikunoi
118 Saito-cho, Shijo-sagaru, Kiyamachi-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto-fu, Japan

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