2-star kaiseki restaurant Gion Owatari is a favourite with Japanese gourmands, and no wonder – the cooking here is at once soulful and impeccable.
Gion Owatari – image © Chris Rowthorn
Kaiseki can be an intimidating affair – a parade of dishes with dozens of ingredients unfamiliar to the average tourists, served in an environment that can feel more stern and stiff than welcoming and relaxed. But eating kaiseki in Kyoto can be a real highlight of your time in the city at the right place. For top-notch kaiseki meals with friendly service, Gion Owatari is fantastic – provided you can snag a reservation there.
It’s not just about the seasonal ingredients – that would make it sound just like every other kaiseki restaurant in town. It’s all about the details here. Instead of skipjack bonito flakes for dashi, Chef Owatari uses tuna flakes to make a distinctive yet delicate stock. One of his specialties is a gomadofu with uni, or sesame tofu with sea urchin – it’s at once delicate yet gelatinous and bouncy, having been whisked for at least an hour to achieve this texture.
Like the best kaiseki meals, dinner here hits all the high notes and will leave you full and satisfied but not overstuffed and sick. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get a little bit of the okoge during the rice course at the end of the meal – that’s the crispy rice adhering to the bottom of the claypot. It’s divine.
Unsurprisingly, reservations at Gion Owatari are difficult to secure and virtually impossible at short notice. Call your concierge and plan ahead for this one. Don’t forget your credit card.
For more Kyoto kaiseki choices, see our Best Kaiseki in Kyoto page.
Name in English:
Name in Japanese:
570-265 Gionmachi-minamigawa, Higashiyama-ku
Non-smoking area: Completely Non-Smoking
3min walk from Higashiyama Yasui Bus Stop, Kyoto City Bus 206 from Kyoto Station
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
- World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world