Consisting of multiple small dishes served one by one, kaiseki cooking is highly seasonal and rarefied. This style of Japanese fine dining is what inspired nouvelle cuisine and degustation menus. For most first-time visitors to Japan interested in food, kaiseki is a must-try genre.
Kaiseki cuisine in Kyoto: Dach Chan / Shutterstock.com
In general, Kyoto is associated with kaiseki. Kaiseki restaurants here are famously expensive and in some cases unapproachable. The most feted ones are introduction-only restaurants, while there are others you can enter fairly easily. It will often be easiest to book a restaurant via your hotel concierge or an online booking service.
One rule of thumb is that you should plan ahead for kaiseki meals. Reservations are almost always essential at these restaurants, and some of the best will require them weeks if not months in advance. While there are some surprisingly affordable restaurants in town, in general, you should be prepared to dig deeper into your pockets for a truly top-notch kaiseki meal. These are, after all, the restaurants you’ll want to splash out on.
- Kitcho Arashiyama Honten (Arashiyama; expensive)
For over-the-top spare-no-expense kaiseki, Kitcho Arashiyama is THE place to go in Kyoto.
- Kikunoi (Southern Higashiyama; expensive)
World-famous kaiseki restaurant Kikunoi in Southern Higashiyama is THE mecca for gourmands looking for some of the best fine dining in the city.
- Roan Kikunoi (Southern Higashiyama; mid-range to expensive)
The sister restaurant to Kikunoi in Southern Higashiyama, 2-star Roan Kikunoi in the heart of Gion is a more unorthodox but no less delicious take on classic kaiseki. Happily, it is also the more affordable of the two!
- Guilo Guilo Hitoshina (Downtown Kyoto; mid-range)
Located in a renovated warehouse south of Gion-Shijo Station, Guilo Guilo Hitoshina offers a delicious, modern take on kaiseki cuisine at ridiculously affordable prices.
- Gion Owatari (Southern Higashiyama; expensive)
2-star kaiseki restaurant Gion Owatari is a favourite with Japanese gourmands, and no wonder – the cooking here is at once soulful and impeccable.
- Kiyamachi Sakuragawa (Downtown Kyoto; expensive)
Kiyamachi Sakuragawa is an approachable and superb spot to enter the world of kaiseki cuisine.
- Hyotei (Northern Higashiyama; expensive)
One of Kyoto’s Michelin three-star restaurants, Hyotei is one of the most attractive restaurants in Kyoto. It’s a kaiseki restaurant that makes few concessions to foreign palates.
- Hiranoya (Arashiyama; mid-range to expensive)
They simply do not make restaurants more attractive than this old teahouse near Atago Torii in Arashiyama. It’s a teahouse that doubles as a proper restaurant.
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Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass – here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- A prepaid Icoca card makes travelling around Kyoto easy – here's how
- Get travel insurance for Japan - World Nomads is well-regarded (and here's why)