French Michelin Dining in Kyoto

Late last year, Michelin announced its star list for Kyoto. As soon as it came out I downloaded it and started planning dinners and lunches. I love good food, so I was excited. Kyoto, surprisingly, is home to a number of amazing French restaurants and so I sat and deliberated, settling on La Famille Morinaga as our next culinary adventure.

Tucked away down a tiny side street, the restaurant is pretty hard to find, we needed a map and impeccable eyesight to find the minimalist sign at the side of the door. LFM is housed in a renovated machiya and has a lovely warm atmosphere when you enter, the room filled with the scent of fresh bread with secret sizzling sounds and a whiff of garlic and onions sautéing in butter drifting from the kitchen. Heavenly.

As we sat we were given the day’s menu, we were told that it changes everyday depending on what can be purchased at the market that morning. Our menu looked good. I was pleased. December means crab, turnip and chestnut season, three of my favourite foods and all three made an appearance so it was time to pick the wine, obviously whilst perusing the menu with a glass of champagne for inspiration. We asked the Sommelier what he’d recommend and luckily for us there was a wine pairing option. All French, all delicious.

The food was exceptional. The amuse bouche a trio of seafood that was melt in the mouth perfect. Scallops with caviar, crab in a yuzu jelly and the freshest and thinnest sashimi of sea bream with lightly pickled Kyo-vegetables that offset the sweetness of the fish like a dream.

The foie gras was topped with truffles (always a winner) and sat on top a bed of roasted Jerusalem artichokes, drizzled with a fino reduction that was nicely sweet and rich with a sharpness that cut through the fatty foie gras. Divine.

The next three fish courses were light and delicious. Each cooked so that the juicy flakes fell apart and there was more than a little butter in the sauce. Completely decadent but brilliantly measured, the portions sizes were exactly so that as you took the last bite you wished you had an iota more to savour the flavour but really any extra would be an indulgence that was not necessary. The fried sage on the sea bream was the crispiest I’ve ever seen and I’m still jealous to this day that mine has never been, or will never be that good.

Lamb in Japan is something of a rareity, so that came next, just trumping the duck and beef to the top.Pretty and pink on a bed of stewed sweet onions and crispy roast potatoes, it felt as though it fell from the bone as soon as the silver prong of my fork moved even an inch towards the plate, without the need to actually skewer the succulent piece of meat.

Finally, and usually my least favourite part of the meal, the puddings. It started with some sweet ice flavored with fresh persimmon. More a palate cleanser than a pudding, this was exactly what I need after the lovely lamb oils in the previous dish. It was naturally sweet and the almost frozen persimmon had a jelly like consistency that was totally unexpected and reminiscent of pudding on a hot summer’s day when I was ten, only far more sophisticated.

Not being a sweet fan, the Mont Blanc chestnuts were my least well-liked dish. The cream slightly over sweet for my taste, but the dark chocolate ganache added a bitterness that worked nicely with it. Even still, I couldn’t quite manage mine and it went as seconds to the husband who happily wolfed it down with a glass of Armagnac, so good that he ordered another on arrival of our ‘fancy biscuits’, which were indeed very fancy and almost as big as our main dessert.

Some of the finest French food I’ve had outside of France but no surprise when the chef, Morinaga-san lived and trained there for over ten years. A real treat and highly recommended.

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