Gion Rohan, Kyoto

Gion Rohan was on our radar during our visit to Kyoto in April earlier but we did not make any reservations and was turned away at the door. This time round, we made efforts to secure a reservation but was not without issues. The restaurant explained that they could only offer us a set menu (instead of ala carte) due to language barrier. This under-the-radar restaurant was in fact listed in the Michelin Bib Gourmand list.

We were seated at the counter seats near the entrance of the hall. Upon arrival there was a sheet of English notice placed at our area which stated that the set course comprises of two appetizers, sashimi, main dish, rice and miso soup. The ala carte menu written in Japanese was placed on other seats. As we were the only diners at the counter, the atmosphere seemed solemn and made us felt kinda nervous as it was obvious that the place was not prepared to host non-Japanese speaking diners.

Nonetheless we were promptly served our first appetizer which was steamed gobo and the second appetizer of fried fish followed by a platter of sashimi.

We shortlisted this place as they are known for their signature Mackerel Sandwich, which apparently is the only one in Kyoto.  It was clear that the signature dish was not in the set course menu. After assessing the situation, we showed the picture of the Mackerel Sandwich and asked if we could order it as ala carte? Thankfully the Chef obliged.

By this time, the seats next to us were already occupied by a group of Japanese diners. The friendly guy commented “Saba sando is a good choice“. I was glad that he could speak English and was nice to initiate a conversation!

Here’s the famed Saba sando which was made upon order right before our eyes. We saw them toasting the soft white bread over the stove before layering on the lightly pickled mackerel and serving it to us. It was a really unique sandwich as it was definitely the first time I ever eaten such a special dish. While Kyoto’s Saba sushi is a must try, this sandwich version is equally amazing.

Having someone who could converse in English sitting next to us certainly helped warmed the ambience. I am lucky to be able to meet such a friendly gentleman as most Japs are pretty reserved and refrain from disturbing others in public.

In fact he went on to ask where we came from and how we got to know of this place. He shared that this tiny eatery is a hidden gem that only locals know of. I guessed most of the customers are regulars. The Chef even asked him to check with us, to give honest feedback about the meal.

I was most satisfied with the Saba sando and the Beef Sukiyaki. The tender and juicy beef served on a hot pan with a raw egg was divine. Comparatively I thought the charcoal-grilled beef was slightly dry.

Nonetheless it was a good meal. If we could, I would prefer to go with the ala carte menu where we could choose – maybe from photos of the signature items they could offer. The set course items were certainly not too filling and we would be happy if we could order more items from the ala carte menu.

Gion Rohan
1F, 232, Nijuikken-cho, Kyoto-shi Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
京都府京都市東山区廿一軒町232 1F
Tel: 075-533-7665

Earlier photos taken:

Missed this tiny Yasaka Koshin-do located in the Higashiyama in the vicinity of Kiyomizu-dera. It would be easy to walk right by this tiny temple without even noticing it if not for spotting pictures of the colourful “balls” hung off the roof on instagram. The temple is dedicated to Shomen Kongo, a guardian warrior, and to the three wise monkeys. The three monkeys in the attitude of “not hearing, not seeing, not talking” are a part of the Kōshin faith.

The hut is hung with kukurizaru – the coloured balls of fabric are supposed to represent monkeys, with feet and hands bound. It represents the control of the playful and desire-driven creature everyone has inside his body. In Kōshin belief if you put your desire inside one of the color balls that represent the monkey it will help you to make that desire vanish.  Because desires are what keep wishes from coming true, your wish will be granted and you will also become a better person.

The Kiyomizu-dera area is often very crowded and I was not keen to brave the crowd to go through this touristy stretch. However I was eager to visit the colourful temple and to see the latest Starbucks housed in a townhouse (machiya). The charm of this outlet lies in having an iconic America coffee chain housed inside a traditional wooden structure machiya with tatami flooring inside. This outlet was said to be so popular that you need to go queue for tickets in the morning and come back during your allocated slot.

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