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Inakatei: Local Kyoto cuisine heavy on the fish and veg

by J.J. O'Donoghue

When faced with a six-page menu allied with a supplementary page loaded with specials and all in a language that makes less sense to you than abstract art, what do you do? Get up and leave is one answer, as proven by the nearby holidaying couple, American I assumed by accent and attire, who left shortly after sitting down owing to their zero comprehension of the menu at Inakatei.

While I understand their frustration, I also sympathize with restaurateurs. Translating menus into English is a pain in the derrière, and travel should be about adventure, coupled with occasionally making a fool of yourself. It’s a pity that the visiting Americans who had come this far departed, because the hospitality at Inakatei is literally overflowing — as witnessed when you order sake. The waitress overfilled my cup, nihonshu pouring into the saucer beneath, so that when I lapped it up, catlike, it spilled all over my pants. See what I mean about making a fool of yourself? Still, it’s the little things like this that make restaurant visits memorable.

Likewise, the bell contraption used to call the servers was equally unforgettable for its similarity to a cleaning brush used in a toilet. Function definitely trumped style.

Inakatei is a gem of an izakaya. Obansai (Kyoto home-style cooking) features heavily, but not exclusively, on the menu. And if it’s fish you’ve come in search of, which we had owing to a pescetarian companion, then you won’t be left wanting, well, except for more. The obansai menu starts at ¥480 and most dishes are a little pricier, but the portions are generous. The maguro no kakuni was delicious; succulent cubes of braised tuna. I could probably eat anything that’s been braised slowly for an age; there is so much depth and flavor, and then it’s all over in an instant. Likewise anything that’s been tataki‘d, the technique of lightly pounding meat or fish before a quick grilling. On paper this sounds odd, but as with the salmon no tataki the technique enhances the flavor of the fish.

There was a lot more fish on the specials menu — sea bream, horse mackerel, fugu, shishamo — but we concentrated for the remainder on vegetable-based dishes, of which there were plenty. Of note were a lotus-root dish, pulped and rolled into tsukune (meatball)-like dumplings served with yuba (tofu skin) in soy milk with possibly a hint of dashi. Also the kabocha korokke (pumpkin croquette), while about five times the price of its street-served brethren, was in a different league, owing especially to the addition of cumin. As for drinks, there’s a nice range of local sakes, and though it’s a busy spot the staff manage to do a great job of appearing unhurried.

We were cast a little adrift, seated as we were in a rather dull annex (hence the weird bell). If it’s not too busy try to get a seat in the small but cozy main restaurant, and remember: Try not to spill sake on your pants.

Minami-gawa, Higashi-iru, Higashi no Toin, Bukkoji-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto; 050-5868-3870; open 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 5-10:30 p.m. (closed Sun. and hols); nearest stations Kawaramachi, Karasuma, Gojo; dinner ¥2,000-3,000 per head (plus drinks); smoking OK; no English spoken; no English menu.