October 2, 2017
On a rainy day in early October we were back in Kyoto. We checked into Tawaraya, one of the city’s top Ryokans and the first place in Japan that actually showed us to our room before 3PM. This place oozes understated elegance. The maze of corridors are graced with pretty nooks and original artwork, despite being rather dark on a rainy day. Service is top notch as you would expect.
Our suite had a main room with the eating area, to be turned into the bedroom after dinner, and a study area with a writing table and chair with a well beneath the table to put your feet, a very nice touch.
Both the main room and the study area face a small private garden. The room is dead quiet.
They do not have a public bath, but the tub in our private bathing room was already filled and covered to keep warm. Very small tub, but adequate even for Don.
After our return from the Nishiki Market we met our room attendant who would be serving our in-room kaiseki dinner and breakfast the next morning. A quiet gracious young woman who spoke good English.
Dinner began at 6:30 with
sweet fish (this is the fish we saw the cormorants fishing for in Inuyama) with taro and stuffed fried tofu with eggplant. Next soy milk skin in a flavorful broth – a bit slimy but better tasting than it sounds.
The very fresh sashimi course included two types of fish – trout and sea bream (tai) served with two types of soy sauce, wasabi, and flower petals to flavor the soy sauce.
Next came a plate of saba sushi (one of Don’s favorites) and
two tastes of flat fish which were a little dry.
The egg custard (chawan mushi) they did in a radish cup garnished with green beans and floating in a flavorful chicken broth.
Next a conger eel with spinach and shitake mushrooms tied in little bundles with pickles.
The meal ends with rice (which we declined) miso soup and pickles followed by tea and
fig compote for desert, a pretty pealed fig floating in an ice bath.
Everything was exquisitely presented and carefully prepared with quality ingredients, but I can’t say this was one of my favorite meals. The subtly of the flavors is lost on me. Still it was one of the best kaiseki experiences we had in Japan.
Service was very attentive, professional and the meal nicely paced. Took about an hour and half with more spacing between courses than at other ryokans which was much appreciated with so many courses. The house sake was dry and lovely with the meal.
Breakfast – We had a choice of western or Japanese and we opted for one of each. This was one of the nicest breakfasts we have had.
The Japanese breakfast included two small grilled trout accompanied by half a soft boiled egg. Small dishes of spinach with baby sardines, pickled vegies, shredded gobo – burdock root – two large chunks of soft tofu, miso with baby clams and of course rice and tea.
The western breakfast included a choice of egg and choice of breakfast meat, choice of fruit or salad, white bread with butter and jam (a toaster is brought to your room) and juice and coffee.
Overall the quality and elegance of Tawaraya is excellent but I don’t know that it was worth the extra cost. I have now had a number of the kaiseki meals and they are not my favorite dining experience. I’d do it once or twice and more if you love this kind of meal, otherwise there are many great restaurants in larger cities. In smaller cities and in the country there often isn’t another choice.
Comparing Seikoro and Tawaraya – Both ryokan experiences were fabulous. Which ryokan is right for you depends on what you are looking for.
Service – Although both have very attentive service, the service at Seikoro felt more personal. This could have been also because I spent three nights at Seikoro and only one at Tawaraya.
Still, chatting with Teiru, our room attendant at Seikoro, was one of the most memorable experiences I had in Japan. Tawaraya has a more hands off feel, which was perfect for Don who doesn’t like too much fuss. They were there when you needed them and not more.
Location – Both have excellent locations. Seikoro is closer to the temples of the southern Higashiyama area and the Keihan train line where as Tawaraya is more centrally located and closer to the subway lines.
Seikoro has a small public bath. Tawaraya only has private baths in the room.
Rooms at Tawaraya are larger and a bit nicer than even the upgraded room at Seikoro. The understated elegance at Tawaraya also gives it a more luxurious feel.
Food – Although both were quite good, Tawaraya wins here. Kaiseki may not be my favorite cuisine but there were no faults with the meals at Tawaraya. Everything was exquisite.
Cost – Tawaraya is generally more expensive but your travel dates can make a big difference in price. Mid-September was less expensive than early October. Also note that standard rooms at Tawaraya are more comparable to the upgraded rooms at Seikoro.