Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese multi-course dinner serving traditional dishes arranged in a beautiful way in lacquer boxes (bento) or small bowls. It’s a highly refined style of cooking that was taken before a tea ceremony. Kaiseki dinners are kept simple yet artistic, keeping in mind the Japanese concepts of wabi (simplicity and quietness) and sabi (unstudied elegance). Many restaurants nowadays specialize in Kaiseki cooking.
There is even a special etiquette for serving the different courses and also for the chronological order of eating (or drinking) the courses. I actually bought a book on Japanese food (ahem foodie alarm!) but I was so overwhelmed with our lunch that I completely forgot about the right order.
Kaiseki lunch at Omotenashi Dining Fukutei
Even though Kyoto is THE place to try out Kaiseki dining I had picked out a place for lunch at Himeji city. We had planned to visit the beautiful white castle of Himeji-jô and as per usual I had looked up places in advance where we could get lunch. I usually do this when traveling but about fifty percent of the time we end up in another place because it looked nice, too.
I was a bit surprised when I read about Kaiseki lunch for just about ¥ 1,620 (just about 12 €) in Himeji. So I decided that we just had to stop by and try to get a Kaiseki lunch here. I expected the restaurant to be quite crowded as I know that the Japanese are crazy about excellent food and are prepared to wait in line for one hour for lunch. But luckily, we didn’t have to wait even five minutes and were seated close to the entrance.
The Omotenashi Dining Fukutei is a very elegant and refined restaurant and at first, I thought we came to the wrong place since I couldn’t believe that the lunch could be this affordable. They had different lunch sets which were customized with seasonal dishes and I chose the set for ¥ 1,620.
I’ve always loved the Japanese way of serving food with all the cute bowls and plates and love for details. My lunch was served on a bit wooden tray with a two-level lacquered basket in the middle containing small bowls with sashimi and vegetable side dishes. There was also some tempura (fried vegetables), pickled vegetables, miso soup, a fishball (I think) with a shrimp and spinach and, of course, rice.
I guess it is not a full Kaiseki menu, especially since it was offered as a lunch set, so I really want to try a full Kaiseki dinner next time I’m in Japan. Even so, the lunch set was quite excellent, the flavors very well put together and the dishes harmonizing with each other.
I was a little bit disappointed about the dessert, however. It consisted of a matcha (green tea) pudding that tasted like nothing special. I did like the arrangement, though.
In Japan, you usually pay at the entrance of the restaurant, not at the table. So while we were standing there and waiting patiently for the cashier, I noticed some awards that were discreetly hung on the wall behind the cashier. With my limited Japanese I made out that this place was awarded several times for only using local resources, keeping their cooking with their seasons and thus work environmentally friendly. Another good reason to visit the Omotenashi Dining Fukutei restaurant in Himeji!
If you are out here, exploring the Himeji castle, this is the place to go and get some rest after exploring! Take some time to enjoy your lunch here and then take a stroll through the shopping arcade and continue exploring the cute little shops scattered throughout the arcade.
How to get here
Visiting the small town of Himeji and its famous castle is well worth a visit, it only takes about 45 minutes from Kyoto with the Shinkansen bullet train to get there. The costs will be around ¥ 2,270 for the train ride and ¥ 3,120 for a seat reservation (one-way). I would recommend getting a Japan Rail Pass since this would cover the entire train ride and all seat reservations on the bullet trains. If you don’t have a pass, you can also take the JR Special Rapid Service to Kamigori and get off at Himeji station. It will take about 1,5 hrs and costs are going to be ¥ 2,270 (one-way). Use the Hyperdia website to help you plan your itineraries in Japan!