Arriving at Suiran 翠岚, Kyoto / First Dinner at Tempura Matsu 松

Japan has always been some kind of a fantasy to me. All the literatures, movies, animations and art tells the story of a highly civilised and sophisticated society. Everything they do, seemed like they do in perfection. So I was extremely excited about visiting Kyoto, the historical capital of Japan. 

First day we arrived at Kyoto, we headed straight outside the buzzing city of Kyoto and arrived at the serene surrounding of Arashiyama 岚山, where our first hotel were. Suiran 翠岚 is a new hotel as part of the Starwood luxury collection. Situated in the heart of Arashiyama, right next to the Katsura River 桂川 opposite of the beautiful leafy mountain of Arashiyama. 
Upon arriving at the hotel, we were greeted by the lady ambassador, who waited at the front door as our taxi pulled up, in her beautiful, silky, turquoise kimono. She welcomed us to the hotel with the softest, most heart-melting voice. Green tea with a variaty of little bites of traditional pastry were immediately served to us at the reception, easing away the tiredness from all the traveling. 
Our room (the Yuzunoha Deluxe Room) is spacious and had a great flow between the indoor and the outdoor spaces. The sitting area is connected to a garden area with wooden decking by floor to ceiling glass doors. The weather temperature in autumn is perfect for sitting out for a cup of tea, while admiring the changing colours of all the leaves. 

I immediately changed into the Yukata provided on the bed. It’s a simpler, more casual version of the full set of kimono, and is something equivalent, sort of, to a bathrobe. (and like a bathrobe, it’s not really appropriate to wear your yukata in public areas)

The marble tiled bathroom is facilitated with all the modern technologies a bathroom should ever need. But also perfected with elements of the traditional culture. 

The shower room connected to an open-air natural hot spring bath tub. The water is natural full of minerals, and proper hot. It’s supposed to do wonders to your skin and help relieve sore muscles. I couldn’t resist trying the water, had a quick 5 minutes dip (amazing result on my skin!) and got ready for our first dinner reservation.

I found this restaurant, Tempura Matsu, 松through the travel/food/lifestyle blog of Ikumi Chan (in Chinese, link here). If you’re a foodie traveling to Japan, her blog could be a great guide. 

The restaurant was nothing fancy/ appealing on the outside. The house was a little dark with just a lantern telling you it was open for business. Not 100% sure it was the place we booked, we stepped in and were immediately welcomed by the hostess, and confirmed our booking for two at the counter. 

No ordering was needed as everyone had already chosen a set menu to go for when they made the booking. So we spent good times choosing a drink and admiring all the chefs working with different curious equipments in the kitchen(the perks of counter seatings). Everything was so different and interesting, we felt like two little kids. 

Stomach grumbling from the heavenly smell coming from around the restaurant, our first dish soon came: Charcoal grilled mackerel garnished with salmon roe, with a small fig and walnut salad on the side. Extremely appetising on the palate, the fish had a wonderful smokiness and was salted from the flavour of the salmon roe. 

Washed down on a whim with the Chablis, we went on to the next dish: Deep fried sea bream with skin, parsnip crisp, pomegranate and ginkgo fruit. Lovely crispy textures, mixed with the refreshing taste of the fruits, and the fish inside was kept tender and had a great natural umami. 

Next up, it was the epic oyster Dobin Mushi. Normally a seafood soup steamed in a special teapot, with chicken/shrimp/mushroom, this one in front of us was the deluxe version of it. 

The soup packed all the amazing flavour of the sea, and I drank it off a teacup with green Tobiko around the edges. When the soup was finished, we moved on to have the oyster and mushrooms in the original shell of the oyster. And although cooked, none of the flavour was lost in oyster. It was just as sweet and sumptuous as you can ever imagine for any oyster. And the texture reminded me just of what my skin felt like coming out of the hot spring tub in Suiran.

After the soup, there was the snapper(seasonal fish) sashimi and crab(also just in season) ball with yuzu vinegar dressing, both fresh and sweet, went down extremely well with the wine too. 

A young chef came out briefly from the back kitchen and showed us the toro(tuna belly) we were going to served that evening. The colour and marbling of the meat had my love at first sight. Then it was sliced and lightly grilled just to bring out the gorgeous aroma of the fish fat. 

Thinking we were having seared toro for the next dish, a boiling rice congee was suddenly brought up to the table unexpectedly. 

And then two trays of different types of fresh sea urchin(my absolute favourite!)came next. And those babes were being almost too generously scooped onto the congee(knowing how one piece of sea urchin sushi would cost near £10 in London, my racing heartbeat couldn’t be contained). Stirred together, the toro topped on there, one after another, and finally with some sea urchin congee over it and lots of white sesame to garnish. 

…Orgasm right there.

Ordered a second round of drink, sake came served in a natural treated bamboo flask. I didn’t think of myself as a sake lover up till that point. I always found it too sweet and overpowering some of the dishes. But right there, the real sake flipped my mind. The sake was far less sweeter than what we normally would have outside of Japan. And you can choose dry/smooth/sweet depending on your preference. I went for a dry, and it tasted just like a little sweeter & stronger version of that Chablis we had. A perfect second round drink for some more meaty & strong flavoured dishes. 

Talking about meat, our individual shabu shabu(beef hotpot) were ready steaming in front of us. Thickly sliced beef were briefly dipped in the boiling broth, cooked with just the remaining heat from the soup, with the centre still tender and rare. Then beaten egg was pour generously on top of the soup, adding thickness and texture to the soup, and creating this protective, smooth layer around the beef. Finely chopped chive finally topped the soup. I munched on the beef, slurped all the soup not leaving anything behind. I was truly merciless. I was unstoppable.

Then the tempura came. Tempura was part of the name of the restaurant, so naturally their tempura was one of what they are most proud of, and they were topnotch. Only the most seasonal ingredients could make it to the selection. And for late autumn, it was the season for yam, aubergine, and snappers. 

Thinking it was a perfect ending to the dinner with their renowned tempuras. I was so surprised by another dish coming over my way, and what looked like an… ice cube? As it got closer and put down in front of me, I realised it was cold udon noodles served, well, ice cold. After such an extravagant dinner like that, a cold udon did actually make more sense than one in a hot soup at that point.  

I stirred the egg into the broth with the noodles, had all of it in what must felt like 5 seconds. Tasted the broth (our chef encouraged me to), and licked the ice bowl (as if you could resist that). 

I was all very much in my happy place then. And we thanked our chef, watched him prep for the next day killing/skinning/filleting eels alive in front of us, while enjoying some rice ball dessert with plum powder and drinking oolong tea. And was just thinking, what a bewildering and amazing world I was in!

With our rounded tummies, we walked back to our hotel (a pleasant 20 minutes walk), feeling completely unreal yet comfortable with this surrounding of picturesque mountain, river, trees and houses…

Still suffering a little from the jet lag, we called it a night just after getting back to our big, white, fluffy hotel bed. 

I personally simply cannot recommend these places more, and they both are of great popularity. So if you want to experience either Suiran or Tempura Matsu, please book, very much in advance to avoid disappointment.