Food & Drink | KYOTO RESTAURANTS

Jiki Miyazawa keeps the focus on the food

by J.J. O'Donoghue

Special To The Japan Times

After the excess of the holidays, the exactitude and temperance of lunch at Jiki Miyazawa was a welcome treat.

It is only a few days into the new year when I dine at this single-counter restaurant, and the holiday still appears to be guiding the fare: The colors are stark, but resonate warmth and comfort.

I don’t know the precise origins of kappō-dining: A row of diners seated before a chef (or chefs) facing off like a pair of chess pros, often in a narrow space — but it gives you an immediacy bordering on stalking. As we proceed through this eight-course lunch, chef Takamoto Izumi remains one move ahead preparing the next plates, explaining dishes and quietly, but sternly, dispatching his workers to their chores and stations. More often than not, and in that classic Japanese manner, this is achieved more so by inferences and actions, such as the slightest scowl.

Lunch opens with an apertif, which is a sweet sake served in a tiny wooden saucer. This is immediately followed by kaburamushi (mashed turnip) on a bed of bream topped with grated wasabi. What a delicate triptych: the tang of the turnip contrasting with the sharpness of the wasabi and steadied by the succulent bite of sea bream. Ozōni (a traditional New Year’s soup) follows, tied together, in a decorative sense, with chisha (a fibrous lettuce). As I pull the mochi (pounded rice cake) apart, Izumi slices a fillet of sea bream into thin carpaccio slices and seasons them with shiso (perilla) and nori (seaweed).

The next serving proves to be my favorite — not just for its wonderful, simple flavor, but also for how it is served. The dish it comes in is a beautiful piece of tableware that probably should have come with some kind of security tag so that customers don’t “accidentally” walk out with it. On the dish is a square of tofu, which has been charred over a coal fire and served with a thick sesame sauce, all topped with ground sesame. It’s a small serving, but it is pure bliss.

There’s one more substantial dish, albeit in moderation: nabe (hot pot) featuring only two greens — mizuna (a nettle-like plant) and kujō negi (a kind of leek) — lightly fried in sesame oil and served in a dashi, topped with jakko (small fry). As the meal winds down we are served two bite-size portions of different quality rice. My eating companions prove more knowledgeable in discerning between the taste and texture of both, and the second serving is a slight winner in their estimation. The rice is rounded off with an assortment of tsukemono (pickled vegetables).

Dessert is unsurprising and simple: Izumi had been slicing strawberries and mikan (mandarin orange) earlier on. The surprise, for me anyway, is a bowl of macha green tea, prepared by Izumi for each patron.

At Jiki Miyazawa there’s no art on the walls, no music, no waiters, no elaborate chandeliers nor water features: The only menu I see is for drinks. But when you take away all that is extraneous and get up close to food and chefs of this quality, it is an intensely worthwhile experience.

553-1, Sakaimachi, Shijo-agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto; 075-213-1326; www.jiki-miyazawa.com; nearest stations, Subway Karosuma, Kawaramachi; open lunch 12 noon till 2 p.m., dinner 5:30 p.m. till 9 p.m.; closed Thursdays; lunch ¥5,000 (excluding drinks); no smoking; Japanese menu; some English spoken.