The Charmed Life
At Kyo-to in Makati, the Chef Selects Fabulous Dishes for You
Let Ryohei Kawamoto surprise you with a meticulously prepared meal at this new kaiseki restaurant.
IMAGE Patrick Martires
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There is something luxurious about sitting down at a restaurant and not having to make any decisions. For someone like myself who is usually handed a menu immediately, not only by the wait staff but just as frequently by those in my party, the idea of having absolutely no say in the dining experience that is set to unfold is not only liberating but exceptionally calming. While the absence of dialogue may be unsettling for some (relinquishing control is never easy for the food obsessed), I, on the other hand, welcome the wide latitude of possibility it brings, with an open mind and an eager palate.


Chef Ryohei Kawamoto

At Kyo-to, a new kaiseki restaurant in Legazpi Village, I am quite happy to let Ryohei Kawamoto, the former private chef of the Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines, do all the thinking and cooking for me. Chef Ryohei spent his formative culinary years training at restaurants in and around Osaka as well as at the Tsukiji market in Tokyo before heading to the Philippines five years ago. While he had always hoped to open a kaiseki restaurant of his own, little did he know that Manila would be where this entrepreneurial dream would take shape.

KAISEKI AS AN ART

As an art form, kaiseki is obsessed with the most minute of details ranging from flavors and textures to particular cooking methods, presentation, and the way each dish is served. Like a fine wine, the menu is always reflective of a time and place and is highly dependent on seasonal ingredients of the utmost quality. Built on the Japanese idea of Ichigo Ichie, which can be defined as “one opportunity, one encounter,” kaiseki is founded on the principal tenet that each of life’s moments is unique and should be honored and cherished.

At first encounter the meal may seem deceptively simple but its preparation requires much prior thought and intensive preparation—on-the-fly freestyling is not a part of a classic kaiseki chef’s vernacular. In chef Ryohei’s own words, “Whether there are 100 guests or just one, kaiseki is a conversation we have with each guest—what they see, hear, touch and taste are solely their own sensations. It is our honor to provide them with that once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

TAKE YOUR SEATS

The best seats in the house are undoubtedly in the Kappo area of the restaurant where only eight guests are accommodated at a time. From behind a short counter, guests are able to watch and interact with chef Ryohei as he prepares their meal. Private and semi-private rooms are also available and are a study in the power of elegant simplicity.

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Designed by Japanese designer Shoji Mizonkami in the spirit of the Japanese idea of Wabi Sabi or the “ability to seek splendor in imperfection, and to understand its impermanence and aspire for authenticity in all experiences,” the restaurant houses pieces of important Japanese art and ceramics from the owner’s private collection.


HOW TO ENJOY YOUR MEAL

To fully enjoy your kaiseki experience is to understand and appreciate the meticulously crafted meal presented to you. Traditionally, kaiseki is composed of nine courses, although these days there have been certain liberties extended to its practitioners and the prescribed number of dishes now depends largely on the chef. At the beginning is a sakizuke, an appetizer served with sake. This is usually followed in sequence by a nimono, a simmered dish; a mukozuke, a sashimi dish; a hassun, an expression of the season; a yakimono, a grilled course; and a hanmono, a last savory rice dish to be enjoyed before dessert.


Japanese crab with pickled cucumber and soup with thin somen noodles and grilled saba

My own experience at Kyo-to did not veer off track. We began with a delicate dish of lightly seasoned Japanese crab with pickled cucumber that did its job of awakening the palate while preparing it for the dishes soon to come. It was followed by my favorite dish of the evening, a well-balanced, tasty soup with thin somen noodles and grilled saba. It has been said that the soup course in a kaiseki meal is the most critical as it highlights the chef’s true ability through his or her dashi recipe and technique, and certainly in this dish chef Ryohei flexed some muscle as everything about it was perfect. Full of flavor, it had much finesse and while substantial on the tongue, it did not weigh down the delicate noodles or overpower the grilled fish.


Sashimi of toro, hotate, and abalone


Grilled hamachi kamayaki


Grilled ohnmi wagyu sirloin of A5 grade with a bowl of Japanese rice

The dishes that followed were just as meticulously prepared and plated on a collection of crockery that chef Ryohei has been collecting for years: sashimi of toro, hotate, and abalone; salted, grilled hamachi kamayaki; a palate cleanser of chilled baby squid; and to end the savory sequence, a grilled ohnmi wagyu sirloin of A5 grade with a bowl of Japanese rice. For dessert, I enjoyed the house made kinako ice cream and could not help but notice how its flavors wrapped themselves around the fluffy, and not-so-sticky mochi. I have always had textural issues with versions of this traditional Japanese confectionary, but when done right, as it is here, they are pillows of pure joy.

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Kinako ice cream with mochi

Ground floor, 119 C. Palanca Jr. Street, Legaspi Village, Makati, 805.7743 or 0917.596.9697

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Alicia Colby Sy
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