For most of us, the first meal of the day is also the fastest, a quick bite or perhaps just some java on the run. But why the hurry? Slow down, breathe, take your time, reward yourself. This is a good half of the pleasure of getting to break your morning fast at Kishin.
That and the setting itself: Kishin lies in leafy, low-rise Kamakura, housed in a handsome two-story minka — an old-school timber-frame building — in a residential area surrounded by forested hilltops. Follow the stepping stones to the simple white-cotton noren half-curtain, slide open the door and enter tranquility.
Take your seat at the counter and observe the calm, purposeful action in the open kitchen that forms the focus of the compact dining room. You will be served tea — not green, but a russet infusion prepared from black beans grown in the fertile Tamba area of Hyogo Prefecture — to sip on as you wait for your meal to be prepared.
The building blocks of the full Japanese breakfast are fixed: rice, soup, fish, vegetables and pickles. These are the fundamentals of Kishin’s basic ¥2,500 menu, which is served through lunchtime. You can supplement it with extras — egg, nattō (fermented soybeans), organic sausages, even fried potatoes — from the small a la carte menu.
The rice, bought direct from organic farmers in Yamagata Prefecture, is not served from a standard rice cooker. Instead it is prepared to order once you have sat down. Cooked in large, chunky donabe hot pots, it’s a process that takes 20 minutes at a minimum — do not arrive too ravenous — but the flavor is incomparable, from the first moist risotto-like bite to the final crust at the bottom of the pot.
The meal opens with a small dish of seasonal local vegetables. You will also get a small portion of fish — currently salmon steamed between fragrant sheets of cedar wood. But the main bulk of your meal comes from the soup. Choose between a light seafood-tomato broth; shōjin (vegetarian) kenchin-jiru, a clear soup containing plenty of vegetables; and a warming miso soup made with chicken and a local heirloom variety of daikon radish.
Those who know Kishin’s first outlet, in Kyoto’s historic Gion district, will find many similarities here. The menus at both sites are supervised by chef Atsushi Nakahigashi, who worked for several years in New York before returning to Kyoto where his father runs the wonderful, esteemed (and Michelin-starred) Sojiki Nakahigashi. While Atsushi was fully involved when Kishin Kamakura first opened in April, these days he is mostly at his new restaurant in Tokyo.
Where the Kamakura branch breaks new ground is that it also opens in the evenings on weekends, functioning in a very mellow izakaya tavern mode with a good selection of premium sake to complement the excellent side dishes. Just as with the main breakfast menu, both food and service are refined and deeply satisfying. It is always best to book ahead online to reserve your place.
Aet breakfast/lunch ¥2,500, bar time a la carte; Japanese menu; a little English spoken
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5