River Top Dining at Kibune

Like something from a fairytale, Kibune – in the north of Kyoto – has a magical feel. Maybe it’s the warming, yellow glow that seeps through the trees or the closeness to nature that you feel wandering past the pretty river. There’s definitely something in the air that for me at least, transported me to the pages of a storybook. 

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We were invited to lunch at Kibune by a friend. She’d mentioned about the beauty of the place and described the ‘kawadoko’ (river floor) dining, something that is common throughout Kyoto over the summer months, as even more spectacular here than in the heart of the city. Kawadoko dining really is lovely, and something that I think is quite unique to Kyoto. In the summer months restaurants lining the river will set up wooden decks on stilts that jut out into the Kamaogawa creating outdoor, over river spaces – kawadoko – to sit and eat during the warm Kyoto nights. They’re usually first floor level and have a great view along the river and of the neighbouring platforms and diners. What makes the Kawadoko special in Kibune is that these decks aren’t on first floor level, but at river level only a few feet above the cool, clear water flowing downhill. I was totally expecting this before we arrived but was still in awe at just how beautiful and serene the whole scene would be. 

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Our friend, Mayuko, booked an early dinner for us at Hyoue and text me to let me know. Her exact words were “price is a little bit expensive, but I swear you absolutely will enjoy!” – I knew it was going to be good. Hyoue is a kaiseki restaurant, kaiseki is the name for a style of cooking similar to European ‘haute cuisine’ and is very elaborate, encompassing many techniques in a multitude of courses. It’s exceptional and Kyoto is well considered the birthplace of kaiseki-ryōri. Those of you who know me know of my love of food, so obviously I could hardly contain my excitement when we arrived!
We were seated by a waitress in a beautiful, traditional yukatta. She apologised to us for not speaking English (in English) and we apologised for not speaking Japanese (in our very limited Japanese). Luckily Mayuko was at hand to translate and she explained that we were encouraged to dip our feet into the river to help us relax before our meal. Of course we obliged and also immediately regretted our decision when we felt how icy the water was! Totally not what was expected on such a hot, sunny day. After the initial shock, it was in fact really refreshing and made such a wonderful experience, sipping on sake soaking our feet before our first course arrived! 

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Wow. The food. It was just course after course of deliciousness that was definitely exaggerated by the setting (but in a wonderful way). There was duck (kamo) and eel (hamo) which was a little confusing to me when brought out one after the other, and the names sounding so similar I said that we’d “already had that course”… Oops. River fish also featured highly, one slow cooked in a rice dish with dashi and the other deep fried and served on a wooden stick to be eaten whole. By now I’ve lost my British squeamishness when it comes to Japanese food and eating brains and guts doesn’t really bother me, so much so that it was a favourite course of mine! 

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I absolutely adore Japanese food and the setting here was even more spectacular than I’d imagined. What a wonderful day with friends, one that I’ll remember for a while! 

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