While more restaurants specializing in degustation and tasting menus have sprouted in Manila to serve guests with curiouser palates, there are lesser known places that keep a straight focus on traditional kaiseki -- a Japanese multi-course meal that showcases the masterful Japanese technique alongside the best seasonal ingredients.
To have a Japanese restaurant completely dedicated to kaiseki in the metro -- that is even much rare. And if it's a well-balanced, simply delicious traditional kaiseki you seek, then Kyo-to is going to be your new favorite hidden gem where time slows down and every bite is purposefully savored.
Kyo-to is located at the ground floor of Coyiuto House building, and is the first restaurant of the Coyiuto family (say the restaurant name out slowly—notice the wordplay?). The entrance to the establishment is unassuming with no bright and bold signage that on our first visit, we missed it. Inside, small hallways lead you to private and semi-private rooms, all brightly lit and warm. The best seats in this thirty-seater space is at the Kappo, Kyo-to's eight-seater counter where guests can interact with Chef Ryohei and experience kaiseki firsthand.
Kaiseki dining at Kyo-to is a delight, in a sense that it gives you a calming happiness--a satisfaction that isn't explosive but rather leaving you truly appreciative of your excellent meal. There's a sense of trust and wonder in the meal, the diner leaving the chef truly in charge of dinner and awaiting for whatever food is served course by course. There are of course the skills and techniques that are expected to shine during a kaiseki, each dish showcasing a method as the meal progresses. But the element of surprise and discovering the chef's signature style is always a great thing for the curious and adventurous.
Kyo-to currently offers a kaiseki dinner of P5,200 per person (Set menu of 5 courses), the menu changing as the season does in Japan. Your authentic kaiseki dinner at the restaurant is by the hands of Chef Ryohei Kawamoto who spent eight years at Kitcho in Osaka. From being the dishwasher, he worked hard until he earned his way up to prepare mukozuke, a seasonal sashimi course that is deemed as the highest honor in the kitchen. Chef Ryohei then relocated to Tokyo, and later to the Philippines when he had the opportunity to be the private chef of the Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines for three years. Now, with Kyo-to, he has a kaiseki restaurant to call his own.
And a memorable kaiseki experience it is. With every course of our meal, there is a noticable, delicious restraint--each morsel and careful bite of food giving you slow and steady waves of flavor and texture rather than hard-hitting flavor punches. The food never staggeringly overwhelms; it calmly awakens the appetite. Our kaiseki begins with appetizer, which sets the tone for the entire meal. This season, the kaiseki begins with a duo of Japanese Crab with Cucumber Vinegar Jelly and Hamachi Konbu, just delicately seasoned, flavors bright on the palate.
It was followed by a course of sashimi, boasting of the superb freshness of the seafood. If I could eat sashimi everyday, I would, and if it were as perfect as this Toro, Scallop, Squid, and Uni, I won't have bad days any longer. Tuna incredibly fatty and soft it melts in your mouth, followed by scallops impossibly juicy and sweet, chased by succulent ika and the freshest sea urchin.
The next two courses highlighted fish in different ways, and both masterfully done. The soup, Somen Noodles and Saba in a Dashi Broth, is dreamy comfort food. The thin noodles swim around a very clean and light broth with subtle saltiness, and it is topped with one piece of perfectly cooked mackerel. For the next course, our fish is grilled and served with rice -- it's a simplistic description of the dish, because the execution aces in technique and finesse. Grilled Fish and Japanese White Rice has two slices of Katsuo (swordfish) wonderfully seasoned (subtle, as always, never heavy-handed) served with pickles, and small cup of Japanese rice so fluffy that it is impossible to ignore. The fish and the rice are made for each other, and every mouthful of both will deliciously prove it.
We end our Kyo-to kaiseki with dessert, and it seals our meal deliciously to leave us satisfied--satisfaction not in that we were left extremely full, but in the fact that we were fed very well with the very best. A scoop of homemade ice cream is gently kissed by kinako (soy powder), red bean, and matcha powder, while homemade mochi balls, chewy and delicately sweet, add texture in every bite. It also has just a touch of kuromitsu, light and easy, that rounds everything up perfectly.
Our kaiseki meal doesn't end with a bang--it doesn't need to call attention to itself. It ends like a graceful bow, that signature Japanese hospitality and impeccable quality that will keep your dining experience a memorable one.
Kyo-to is located at the ground floor of Coyiuto House, 119 C. Palanca Street, Legaspi Village, Makati (look for the Prudential Guarantee signage). The restaurant is open for dinner from Tuesday to Sunday, 5pm to 10pm (closed Monday). Kaiseki dinner (P5,200 per person, seasonal) is by reservations only, call 805-7743 and email email@example.com. Visit www.ryoteikyoto.ph, like Kyo-to on Facebook (kyo.toph), and follow on Instagram (@kyo.toph).