Food & Drink | KYOTO RESTAURANTS

Bite-size orchestra gets a standing ovation at Savory in Kyoto

by J.J. O'Donoghue

Special To The Japan Times

Restaurants tend not to encourage you to play games while you eat. Customers usually pay for a solemn experience that includes an unwritten rule: The more expensive the meal, the more solemn the experience.

That being said, here’s a game you should indulge in at Savory, a downtown Kyoto restaurant on the roof of the Yaoichi Honkan complex: See how many plants and vegetables you can name growing in the rooftop garden beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows. The garden is almost in touching distance of the tables closest to the windows.

The second part to this guessing game is deciphering which plants and vegetables have made the short trip to your table via the kitchen. Luckily, Savory takes the guesswork out of this — friendly serving staff will tell you exactly where your food was procured from, whether it’s the nearby garden or a faraway farm.

On a recent visit for lunch, our amuse-bouches came in the form of an orchestra — a platter of colorful and flavorful bite-sized vegetables conducted by a “pate man” — along with smoked salmon on a spinach pancake. On the menu this was a mouthful to read, but it could best be described as smoked-salmon-sculpted “Swan Lake.” These creations could easily have been cheesy, but they weren’t. Both appetizers were playful and delicious — and photo-friendly.

There are three options on the lunch prix fixe menu ranging from ¥2,000 to just under ¥4,000 (excluding drinks). The middle option is long on details and choices, but the cheaper and more expensive options are curiously reticent. This has the effect of both underselling certain options, but also adding to the surprise. Take, for instance, the bouillon soup — a lunchtime standard that is, more often than not, a serving of salty consomme with some vegetables thrown in as an afterthought. At Savory, it came with a clam and the vegetables — as far as I could tell — were all cultivated from the garden outside, with color added in the form of nanohana (a vegetable similar to broccoli), which was fragrant and delicious. My companion had an added extra: soba pasta, meat balls and burdock root.

The cuisine at Savory is best described as “new international” (whether that aids understanding is another matter), but it owes most of its provenance, if not ingredients, to French cuisine. It’s an eclectic mix, but all dishes were well thought out and well executed.

We both chose fish for our mains. The red snapper came cloaked in bamboo leaves, which, when unveiled, revealed a bright green pool of rich kinome sauce, made from sansho leaves. My partner had the sea bass, wrapped in a gossamer-like sac of lettuce. To finish I had kale creme brulee accompanied by honey and lemon grass ice-cream — as delightful as all that came before it. At Savory they’re earnest, progressive and not above enjoying themselves.