Background…

Isshin is a restaurant where the chef built the menu using different parts of beef. In fact, they are well known for incorporating misuji, a very rarely used cut of the cow’s inner shoulder blade. There are only two people who work here: Hideichi Katagiri and his wife. Going there is an intimate experience and as such, booking is required in advance.

To get to Isshin, first you go to Gion, the most traditional part of Kyoto if not the whole of Japan – every time I come here it’s like going back in time with the stone paved streets and old wooden structures.  This restaurant is one of those old buildings, very tiny, which lends it a cosy atmosphere. It feels like you’re visiting someone’s home. Once you step in, the seating area is revealed to be a few small counter seats, then a small room for 4 diners at the end; that’s pretty much the whole restaurant.  

The menu…

We booked the room for our dining experience that night.  It’s a kaiseki, so a set menu, and in here, it’s all about beef. The whole course cost ¥14000, which was a very reasonable price given we got a private room and an elaborate tasting menu.  

The first course was clever, it’s “beef noodles”, but not actually noodles with beef as you would think!  Rather, the meat itself was finely cut into strips. As you eat with the chopsticks, you get the texture of noodles but it’s actually beef.  I loved it, a strong start to the meal. I found that this definitely set the tone for the rest of the night. 

Every course was enjoyable, the quality of the beef was excellent, tender and flavourful, different preparations were made according to each different part of the cow. E.g. chuck soaked in sake, thigh sous-vide served with sesame paste, tongue grilled on skewers served with spring onion, etc. Very thoughtful. The beef was also cut nicely, presented on fitting glass and ceramic plates, and every course looked appetising. Of course, it is important to have the other ingredients equally well prepared in combination with the beef. These tasty inclusions met with these high expectations. Not just the beef, even the tofu served with the salted tongue was carefully made… It was seabream milt tofu, rich in flavour and offering a nice creamy mouthfeel.  But one of the courses was a little too creative. The chef used an orange sauce, which was too fruity, too sweet, and just didn’t go well paired with a meat course.  We all found this one course unpleasant.  

Overall…

The chefs were very friendly and tried their best to communicate with us even though we knew there was no chance since we understood zero Japanese. Our understanding was just based on body language. However, the creativity didn’t need a common language to be felt. Although the menu was based on one type of meat, each course had a unique preparation and presentation such that at no point did we feel bored. Also, we greatly enjoyed the warm and traditional atmosphere of this place.  If you like beef and you’re in Japan, you can’t miss a visit to Isshin.  

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  • Hachibei (はちべー)

    January 2018