I had wondered about this place for some time but it wasn't until one of the readers of my blog said they'd had a great meal here that I actually decided to give it a shot.
The restaurant space itself is on the second floor of an old machiya in Gion and holds only a small number of tables, which is fairly typical in Kyoto. Immediately I felt the restaurateur's attempt to achieve a quaintly French ambiance only made it feel pokey and more claustrophobic than it could have been. It felt a little run down and not in a good, wabi sabi kinda way. I really didn't dig the vibe at all....But had I been on a romantic date, staring into the eyes of my beloved, I probably wouldn't have noticed.
It is possible that I was being overly picky as I was dining with a friend who seemed to be annoyed by the service as soon as we stepped through the door and was offended by their music choice and requested it to be changed, which it wasn't. I would never think to ask for such a thing and thought she was pretty brave... but I had anticipated the response we might receive...
She'd kindly booked the restaurant for us and felt there was a bit of an anti foreigner sentiment at the other end of the line so I think she was on the lookout for faults - however I felt our hosts were pleasant enough and the food was also, for the most part, well executed, delicious and pretty good value (around $90 AUD for 8 courses including a palate refresher, bread and coffee).
I'm actually keen to return and experience Gion Abbesses again with fresh eyes as I have heard really good things from more than one source and I feel that my opinion that night might have been inadvertently tainted.
As I did, despite a few little settling in issues with the staff, have a great time catching up with my friend I sadly neglected to write down what we ate. I used to be able to remember every detail of every meal and I still kid myself that I can get away without jotting down the details but truth is I can't... call it menopause memory if you will. Apologies in advance -I will do my best to recall what I can.
Above was a rather pleasant fish and beetroot mousse with caviar and consomme jelly.
Below is a salad including seasonal fried seafood, petals and leaves. This seems to be a signature dish that changes slightly with each season.
Chawan mushi - steamed savoury custard with Hamo - conger eel below
A choice of donburi with roasted foie gras and seasonal mushrooms OR Lobster and eggplant with a vinegar jelly and shiso flowers
Shiso sorbet/palate refresher
Apple mille feuille with yoghurt ice cream
Mini floating island, candied sweet potato, chestnut, chocolate truffles etc
By the by.... Very full, and sparkling with bubbly, we toddled off to collect my friends car. I was surprised to be shown to a waiting room with a viewing window where it took a whole two minutes for her car to emerge from the underground car park by electronic hoist and then be moved sideways to enable us to drive out of the exit. Only in Japan.