Getting a seat at Sojiki Nakahigashi is not easy: one has to show up in person one month in advance of the desired day of the reservation in order to make the booking and receive the “ticket” that you then present when you come here for the meal. This policy has the positive side effect that the restaurant seems to be populated by regulars who mostly seem to know one another. This makes the atmosphere here incredibly warm, and it almost feels like a neighbourhood restaurant that one would ought to go to as often as possible.
The moment the food starts to appear, it becomes evident that this is a very special place and not your average restaurant around the corner. Local vegetables and herbs foraged by the chef in the mountains around Kyoto feature heavily, making the food here fairly light and aromatic. Dishes such as local kamo aubergine served with fried aubergine-skin, white miso and sancho leaf show that this is a kitchen that manages to elevate even fairly pedestrian products and combinations to new heights. The steamed meaty aubergine’s flesh contrasts with the crunchy skin and almost floral, peppery shiso leaves, whilst the miso gives the dish richness without making it feel heavy. Equally remarkable is miso soup with potatoes. The soup, made from a mix of red and white miso is served with a quenelle of potato ragout and a spiral of deep-fried potato. What sounds fairly simple and uninspiring turns out to be remarkably deeply flavoured. The potatoes have an intensity of flavour that we have never experienced elsewhere. The textural harmony of the dish is equally captivating.
That Sojiki Nakahigashi excels with simple, but precise combinations even shows in the dessert: a stewed plum is served with a plum foam (!) and basil sorbet. The plum seems to burst with flavour, and has a complexity that allies savoury, sour and sweet elements with the freshness of the basil sorbet. Whilst desserts in Japan can sometimes be purely based on fruit of the highest quality, this shows that this kitchen does things seriously from A-Z.
Describing the food at Sojiki Nakahigashi is not easy. A number of products used are rarely – if ever – seen outside of Kyoto, and the combinations are simple and incredibly harmonious. There are no luxury products used here and consequently the prices are very fair. What one ultimately takes away from a meal here, is an experience that is complete: Mr. Nakahigashi and his team’s warm welcome, the supremely refined food and the atmosphere that feels just as natural as the dishes themselves do. That is something not a lot of restaurants on this planet can do.