Nanzenji Harada- Back to basics
This wee new restaurant in Nanzenji, Kyoto popped up on my radar earlier this year, ”oooooo pretty”, I thought. Alas, COVID happened and dining at a restaurant became an afterthought. 6 months later, the restaurant popped back on to my radar so I decided to pay it a visit for some work research. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect since their Instagram page has no photos, their website has limited information, and none of my friends had ever visited the place. On top of that, even just to book a reservation I had to ask a trusted contact because their phone line was no longer in use, but this only made me more curious about the place. This, and also looking at their few photos on their website, the restaurant looked very pretty. My gut trusted that it’s “immaculate and sensitive design” translated to ”good food”.
So 6 months later, here I was at Harada-san’s small and mysterious restaurant that sits between two major temples in Kyoto – Nanzenji and Ginkakuji. Harada-san greeted us at the front door, a gentleman with a bow-tie, very friendly. Harada-san had been a chef for over 20 years, trained in French and Vietnamese cooking, and had just recently moved to Kyoto from Shizuoka to open his restaurant. At this point, I still didn’t know what kind of food I was going to be eating.
I went in with a very empty stomach just in case this lunch was going to be a feast. ”Please don’t think of this place as a restaurant, please think of it as some sort of experimental dining”, he said. ”Oh great”, I thought, ”I’m not even going to get to eat”. Luckily what he meant by ”experiment” was that he had created a dining experience that takes everything “back to basics” – creating dishes only using dashi (stock made from kelp and bonito).
No soy sauce, salt, pepper, mirin – nothing. I was happy that we were going to be dining on actual food but skeptical that a course meal created only with dashi was really going to hit the spot. But that’s exactly what he did – he hit the spot many times with nearly 20 dishes made only from dashi.
From seasonal vegetables to the Oyakodon finale, everything was beautifully cultivated and surprisingly full of taste. Kyoto people are known to favour lightly flavoured food, so having Kyoto blood running through me, I was very used to enjoying my food in its natural state. For those who like a little bit more kick or spice, Harada-san also provides salt and sansho pepper on the side.
I intentionally didn’t include any food photos because just like Harada-san, I wanted to remain a little mysterious so you can be surprised when you dine at his restaurant. Instead, I wanted to show you the beautiful space that initially drew me in which was designed by the architectural firm, Drawers.
This is a restaurant I recommend if you like to taste the goodness and delicacy of natural ingredients. People who like going back to basics. If you like copious amounts of flavour (no judgement at all), this is not the place for you. I’ll make sure to add a ramen restaurant next time for my friends who love a whole lot of flavour and kick.
Words: Sara Aiko
Photos: Sara Aiko