Kaiseki or kaiseki-yori is a Japanese word that roughly translates to a dish that appeases hunger and warms the stomach. Broadly categorized into court, samurai, temple, and tea ceremony cuisines, Kaiseki has two main styles; the banquet for a get-together or the simple meal served at a tea ceremony (cha-kaiseki).
Essentially, Kaiseki is a sequence of small, aesthetically arranged dishes and also refers to the collection of skills and techniques required to prepare such meals, and its style has influenced the world of fine cuisine significantly.
Modern Kaiseki is inspired by ancient traditional Japanese haute cuisine, which was served at different seasons and contexts through centuries. It has two notable influences – the first was the ritual banquets held by the court during the Heian period (794-1159) where wide varieties of foods were enjoyed over several hours. Over time, these banquets became much simpler, metamorphosing into high-class meals served with tea.
The other influence was the ancient Zen Buddhist monks who warded off hunger by tying a small hot stone around the belly area. Sen no Rikyu, a 16-century tea votary combined this concept with the contemporary tea ceremony of his time to create the idea of serving simple meals at tea ceremonies. The idea soon developed into meals which restaurants served to patrons of Tokyo’s red light district and the travelers that visited the temples in Kyoto.
Today, what initially started as a tea served with rice, miso soup, vinegared fish salad, boiled vegetables, and roasted fish or meat has evolved into a diverse, 7-14 course meal that is often served with alcohol and sometimes, tea.
With that said, my favorite Kaiseki experiences in Tokyo are listed and ranked below
If you like beef, this is one of the best kaiseki menus in town. It offers a high-end experience mixing beef and seafood in small portions to taste flavors one has never been exposed to. We ate here with some friends upon a return trip to Tokyo in 2019.
If you like Tofu, this is one of the best kaiseki menus in town. It is located right under the Tokyo tower, so it makes for a tourist spot where tourists can enjoy a delectable dinner at a decent price. The place offers a fine dining experience with a pleasant ambience.
The tofu served here is so fresh that melts in your mouth. Being a Michelin Star restaurant, their specialty is Tosui Tofu. This celebrated Tofu can be eaten together with rich soy milk and a special broth. It is a traditional Japanese Kaiseki cuisine with seasonal Hassun and Otsukuri for the best in Japanese flavor. But the dinner is not only tofu, it is actually a very Japanese style set dinner with sushi, vegetables, and other varieties of side dishes. There is only one many tofu serving at the very end.
Here’s a tip: if you are planning to visit Tokyo then you must reserve your seats perhaps months before touching down Tokyo. It is hard to find a place without a reservation.
Here’s the listing of what we opted for the least expensive choice – the “Hana” menu which was around 10,000 yen per person. By no means did this leave us short of food, and everything was beautifully cooked and presented. The gracious kimono-clad waitstaff paired with it some delicious and relatively inexpensive sakes, which made it all go down very easily.
The restaurant enjoys spacious grounds and a garden despite its convenient downtown location with view of Tokyo Tower. Originally, the restaurant building itself was the part of a 200-year-old brewery, and later it was moved here.
You can find their contact details here: http://www.ukai.co.jp/shiba/
#4 KAISEKI In Kyoto (Try these spots for Kaiseki)
Kaiseki dishes started in Kyoto and are quite famous there. You must reserve well ahead of time.
Kenniji Gion Maruyama
566-15 Komatsucho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0811, Japan
Shijo Hanami-koji Higashi-Hairu | Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0073, Japan
Higashi Shinbashi Yamatooji dori, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
179-2 Zaimokucho, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 604-8017, Japan
#4 KAISEKI AT TATEYAMA KOKUSAI HOTEL
As mentioned Kaiseki is all about comfort and feeling at ease. Kaiseki here was traditional and delicious. We stopped here before hiking to the Alphine Route in Toyama. Astonishingly, it came with the hotel room. The overall experience was superficial. I highly recommend this place.
Kaiseki, at this place is heavy on the pocket as are most places so treat yourself on a special trip to Japan.