Almost everyone who had been to Ogata are uncontrollably attracted by historical appearance of Machiya, so did I. Stepping into its wooden sliding door, a simple and modern Japanese interior greeted us, as well as a warm welcome by the couple of Chef Ogata. In the following two hours, Ogata brought us the best meal i have had in Kyoto so far. (By Aug.2016)
Seating at the 8-seat-counter, the French window allows a view of a small Japanese yard, this exquisite design brings senses of living creations and spaciousness. Without any unnecessary furnishings except a painting on the wall and an antique, the countertop was also neat and clean. Chef Ogata is so thoughtful that he devotes particular care to every trivialities for a perfect dining experience. Likewise, Ogata's dishes formed a delightful contrast with the simple and elegant amabiance - gentille and smooth like pure spring water.
Chef Ogata Toshirou started his culinary journey at the famous Ryokan Hiiragiya (柊家). Since 1995, he devoted to another top Kaiseki restaurant called Wakuden (和久傳). Ogata-san spent the following 13 years with Wakuden, from which he gradually gained a lot of royal guests and finally brought the birth of Ogata in late 2008. Ogata soon becomes one of the most popular Kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto. It was later granted by Michelin Guide with two stars.
Ogata-san was recognised by some Japanese as a poet or even Chopin in Japanese cuisine. His food is unique and arguably a triton of the minnows - full of artistry and heartfelt, the water-smooth pace allows guest to be impressed and moved as the first second.
We were seated at the private room which has a full view of the small yard. Chef Ogata can also observe us from the window on the left side of the yard to grasp the pace of serving dishes. After confirming our dietary request and allergies, the meal is about to start.
1. 飯蒸しと海苔 / Steamed Rice with Seaweed
The first dish to arrive was some steamed rice served in a large lotus leaf, seaweed was served on the side to be topped onto the warm rice. A very refreshing bite to awaken the taste buds.
Water is a fateful factor in Kaiseki, the quality of water is not only affects the charisma of the dish, but also directly affects the texture and flavors of the food. Chef Ogata uses over 140kg natural spring water from a supplier to satisfy the daily consumption for his cooking. For other ingredients like fish and vegetables, Ogata-san handpicks the best from trusted suppliers everyday to assure the top quality.
2. すっぽんとすっぽんだしのゼリー / Turtule jelly & Skin
Followed by an amazing dish of jelly of turtle's broth with sliced of braised turtle skin to give an extra soft and chewy texture. The jelly has wonderful depth of flavors, it was quite refreshing to cool us down from the summer heat. The lotus-shaped spoon was so delicate that i almost want to take it home. (just kidding :p)
3. 鯛の刺身と細切りのきゅうり / Tai with Sliced Cucumber
Next we had Tai (snapper) sashimi with sliced cucumber, it was a very creative dish which too brings a refreshing breeze by using ice blocks to keep the dish cold. The fish was fresh and clean, the cucumbers as a second helper works well too.
4.1 鱧 鱧肝の塩 / Hamo with Home-blended Salt
Followed by well-sliced Hamo (fresh water eel) sashimi, served with seaweed, wasabi and homemade-blended salt with hamo's liver. Despite the mild sweetness from the top quality hamo itself, i cannot get the point why there were so many bones in the hamo which were difficult to eat even for my Japanese regular friends.
4.2 鱧の肝 / Hamo's liver
Although the previous sashimi part was not really satisfying, we really enjoyed the grilled hamo's liver. Nicely-glazed with a layer of sweet soy sauce and finish with some sansho (japanese pepper) powder, the hamo's liver was indeed delicious with a bouncy texture.
5. 蒸し鮑と茄子の炊き合わせ / Steamed Abalone with Eggplant
I had a lot of abalone dishes as well as eggplants during this trip, each has its own merits to be loved. But if I had to choose my favourite one, this one from Ogata definitely beat my heart. The abalone was perfectly-steamed to an incredibly tender and soft texture, its natural aroma matches so well with the hint of yuzu flakes on the top. What surprised me more was actually the local eggplant, so creamy and sweet just like ripe fruits - i can eat this everyday.
6. 琵琶湖の鰻 山椒の実 / Unagi from Biwako lake, Sansho Sauce
This dish reminds of 3*Yukimura in Tokyo where is also very famous for Sansho dishes. I had a similar dish with Ayu at Yukimura last year but Ogata's was much more favored by us. The natural unagi (eel) was succulent and flavorful on its own, the sauce has a sweet twist with a hint of pepper to lift the tastes of the unagi. Divine.
7. 雲丹と昆布 / Uni with Kombu
Sea urchin with kelp, the last dish to cleanse our palate before the arrival of carbs. The uni was extraordinary sweet and creamy with kelp to beef up the oceanic flavors. It left a lip-smacking aftertaste to impress us.
8. 鱧わんたん 自家製ラー油 / Hamo Wontons, with Homemade Spicy Oil
As a pure Chinese, i was really surprised to have wontons at Ogata. Same clean water base, same thinness of the wonton skin, and same smell when it was cooked (we don't use hamo filling though!). I was somehow quite moved when chef's wife was cooking the wonton, which reminds me of my mom. This indeed gives me a feeling of being treated at their home. The taste of the wonton was very pure but the natural umami of the hamo (fresh water eel) made it up. It was really delectable with homemade spicy oil.
9.1 鯖寿司 / Saba-zushi
Unlike most kaiseki restaurants, Ogata serves three kinds of main dishes for us to choose from: Saba-zushi, steamed rice with clams and baby ginger, and homemade soba noodles. We requested for smaller portion of each so that we can try all of them.
Everyone's favorite was saba-zushi, which was honestly the best i have ever had. The saba itself was well-processed with high flavors, the shari underneath also has a perfect balance, it was scrumptious with crispy seaweed.
9.2 牡蠣と新姜の炊き込み御飯 / Steamed Rice with Clams and New Ginger
Followed by steamed claypot rice with clams and new ginger, it comes with smoked trout and pickles.
9.2 へしこ と 香の物
9.3 十割蕎麦 / Jyu-wari Soba
Ogata's homemade soba with 100% buckwheat flour was another love. The soba was chewy and you can feel the rough particles inside as well, really tasty with soba sauce.
10. 水羊羹 / Mizu-yokan
Yōkan (羊羹) is a traditonal Japanese jellied sweet made of red bean paste, agar and sugar. Two main types of Yokan includes neri yōkan and mizu yōkan. "Mizu" means "water" in Japanese, and Mizu-yokan is made of more water to create a softer and smoother texture. Compare to my favorite mizu-yokan from Matsukawa, Tokyo, Ogata's is denser and firmer but still luscious enough to bring a sweet ending.
Based on my previous experienced with several famous Michelin-starred Japanese restaurants in Kyoto, the food were mostly much lower than what i expected. I am a big believer that Tokyo is the capital of food especially Japanese cuisines. While i really enjoyed the meal at Ogata, besides the unacceptable bones in sashimi (for our liking), the rest of the dishes were scrumptious. It was a pity that Ogata's famous Ayu (sweet fish) dish was not available on the day, since there are so many reasons to come back at Ogata, i don't mind to leave it for the next time!
Address: 726 Shinkamanzacho, Shijo-dori Shinmachi Nishi iru Hitosujime Roji Minami, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto
Hours: 18:00-23:00, closed on Mondays
Budget: Omakase 22,680-28,080 JPY