Friday, 8 March 2013

Gyoshintei, Nikko

Most of the guide books have Gyoshintei as the top joint in town for a feed and is classed as high end but worthy of splashing out on. By most guides books I mean two. We have the Lonely Planet and Rough Guides.

Armed with the address and the tiny next to useless maps in the guide books we set out to find Gyoshintei. I head in what I hope is the general direction. If we turn left here does that look right? How about this way? I'll keep going because I can't turn around yet? Does that look like a Ryokan? Is the restaurant in a Ryokan? Ooh, big hotel, let's ask there.

I asked the concierge at the hotel if he knew where Gyoshintei was. It was getting a little late for Nikko now so I was worried we were going to miss our window. The concierge indicated to a car park and I took him to mean the building behind it or possibly the building behind that one. We were in a dark forested part of town so it was hard to find or see anything but I managed to find the entrance to the car park. I ran up a path to the first building and then on to the second. The path was steep and made up of large stones. In daylight it might have been a delightful Japanese garden. In the dim light I was sure I was going to break my leg. Thankfully the second building had the ubiquitous restauranty curtains hanging from the door so I was pretty sure I was in the right place. I poked my head in and asked the hostess if it was Gyoshintei, were open and could they take a child too. They always seem to be surprised to see you but she quickly said "hai" and I said I would go get my wife and child.

Considering it looked like a very traditional style restaurant with tatami mats I expected to sit on the floor but we were lead into the main hall of the restaurant with proper tables and chairs. My knees were grateful. We were also the only customers. This Nikko closing early thing must really be true. If they'd already had customers tonight they'd already gone. Remember this was a Friday night in a big tourist town. Maybe the tourists don't arrive till Saturday?

We were given a choice of set menus. I think the price ranged from Y3900 up to Y8400. I think we settled on the Y5700 (about $60) kaiseki course.

The speciality of the house is Yuba. Strips of yummy soy bean curd. It has a similar consistency to the layer of skin on milk after you boiled the milk; a little thicker though. It came served a couple of ways, rolled up like a roll of sticky tape and shredded strips for example. Man, I am sold. It is delicious. It has a slight milky creamy flavour. Georgia thought it was yummy too. Yuba is regional speciality. I think we have found the best place in Nikko to get it though.
Away Daddy, no photo.

If this is the top-end "worth a splurge" restaurant in town how cheap are the cheap to mid-range restaurants? The meal was superb. Each course couldn't have tasted fresher or have been tastier. And for 60 bucks it was a steal. I'm almost embarrassed to have paid so little. It is not the done thing to tip in Japanese restaurants so how do express your delight with the meal? I generally bow and say over and over "totemo oishi" (very delicious) and "arigato gozeimasu" (thank you very much).

Again we shared with Georgia and she loved the Yuba and rice. Sashimi disappeared quickly too. No sooner has she picked it up and it is seemingly inhaled.

We seemed to fly through the courses. It was a little over an hour from the time we sat down to the till our hostess brought us the bill (okanjo). By the way, I say hostess rather than waitress because the hostesses in restaurants like this are more than servers of food. They welcome you, they serve the food, they are maitre-de and sommelier. They make you feel at home.
When it was time to go we put on our shoes and Georgia waved goodbye. Our hostess even brought the cook out to say bye bye to Georgia.
Update: I've since read a review in Fodors that said the restaurant closes at 7pm. We got there a little after than. Hopefully our little faux pas hasn't set back Nikko Australian relations too much. Almost every review says it is a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant. Holy shit. They're right, almost every course was veggie. Except for the fish. For some definitions of vegetarian fish is probably a a vegetable. How did I not notice on the night? Maybe it was the shear deliciousness of most of the dishes. I can't tell you enough how good that Yuba was.

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