Tucked away on a hillside in Kyoto’s Arashiyama district, Shoraian has become a destination in its own right with its tofu-based cuisine and enchanting setting. Yet is the food that good, or is the restaurant merely a tourist trap?
Arashiyama is famous for its bamboo grove, which is indeed impressive and worth seeing. Were it not for the hordes of tourists, it would be a remarkably peaceful and enjoyable place to spend time in the outskirts of the city. Located not far from it, is Shoraian. The restaurant’s location is idyllic: perched on a hillside atop the Katsura river, the setting alone is worth coming here for. Inside the dining room, one enjoys views over the river, and the valley, making for postcard-like backdrop for the meal that is to come.
With a reputation for serving tofu-based cuisine, Shoraian’s menu does indeed feature several dishes with it. The most successful dishes probably are yuba (tofu skin) served with ponzu sauce and a cube of deep-fried tofu served in broth (agedashi tofu). The delicate texture and flavour of the yuba work very well with the acidity and savoury character of the sauce. This is a refined and most enjoyable dish. Bolder in terms of flavour and texture, the agedashi tofu is delicious, if not all that special. The rest of the menu, however, feels uninspired, and dull even. Japanese beef is of poor quality, a seasonal dish inspired by a painting lacks flavour and is no more than a visual recreation of the painting, and tofu hotpot is ordinary.
With food like this and the prices charged, Shoraian’s cooking is hardly of interest. The only reason to come here is the beautiful setting, which really is postcard material. Just don’t make the mistake of ordering the big menu, and expecting revelatory dishes based on tofu.