Eating at Kyoto is a humbling experience. Kyoto being not the Japanese city, but a small restaurant in Gurgaon serving, you guessed it, Japanese food. It’s a quiet place in all respects; the guests are subdued, the decor is simple, the service is gentle. It’s a restaurant where one turns their phone to silent automatically out of respect for the place. You won’t find any oriental or Japanese bright painting or art on the walls. There’s no fancy furniture. What you have instead is a sense of calm all around. Kyoto does have private Japanese styled sitting booths and Karaoke available on the first floor (also this is the smoking area), but even then there’s certain serenity to the place. There was no loud music, not even the instrumental Asian music that at times restaurants will play to apparently enhance the ambiance. Kyoto does however have a lovely little bookshelf filled with Japanese Manga, alas all in the original language.
If the ambience doesn’t tell you, the shelves of Manga make it clear that the customer base is primarily Japanese. Gurgaon having become the expatriate capital of the nation, small eateries like this are opening up in unassuming spots – Kyoto is located at SCO 20, Sector 15 Part II Market in Gurgaon – serving authentic cuisine (Korean, Chinese, Japanese, etc.) to a very specific customer base. Since they go about their business without much fan fare, finding out about them is usually by word of mouth or by chance.
The menu at Kyoto is extensive with a healthy mixture of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. There’s a nice combination of sushi, tempura, various noodles, miso soup, and both wet and dry dishes. If you are a vegetarian, it is always best to mention that in the beginning, specifying that you also do not want fish. Kyoto also serves Shōchū, a Japanese hard liquor which I had for the first time in my life – considering it’s the first time I heard about it. Served in ice water with a dash of lemon, it didn’t have the kick as one would expect from something hard. Still, it went well with the food. The service was quite fast and quantities are certainly favourable when you consider receiving 12 pieces of good sized vegetarian sushi for around Rs. 400,-
Going vegetarian – I’m trying to cut down on my non-vegetarian intake as much as possible – the first dish to arrive was the Fried Tofu standing like a monolith (or four) in a black pool of soya sauce. The frying was very gentle which meant there was no real crunch to the tofu and it kept its silky texture intact. The Pickle Sushi and the Cucumber Sushi – as simple as they might sound and look – had well cooked rice and were rolled with care. It’s a different story that I butchered them myself, trying to pick them with chopsticks. I must however mention that the Wasabi that accompanied was really good and one of the strongest I’ve had locally; so-much-so that it was difficult to eat without diluting it with the soya sauce.
The lightness of the fried tofu continued with the vegetarian tempura that had a really thin batter on miscellaneous vegetables, which thankfully lacked any oiliness to them. This lightness in the food was probably why by the end of it another dish had to be ordered and thus Stir Fried Vegetarian Soba Noodles landed up on the table. Thick, long, chewy, slightly hard, but yummy, I enjoyed the noodles in this simple and slightly crunchy – because of the onions – avatar.
Kyoto is the place to visit when you want to have a quiet meal that comes close to being authentic and simultaneously isn’t too heavy on the stomach. I believe that I ate to my heart’s content and yet didn’t feel bloated as I generally do after a good meal. Quite possible a top contender to be considered in the “Hidden Gems’” restaurant list of the city, Kyoto is worth a try if you enjoy some no-fuss Japanese food.