I love a good Yakitori joint and this is one of my favourites in Kyoto – it is also one of the hardest to get into. They have a large regular following and ideally you need to know someone who speaks Japanese who can book for you – well in advance. There are a couple of small tables downstairs plus the counter if you want to see the action and upstairs has tatami seating only.
The first time I visited Yakitori Hitomi (when I was living just a few meters up the road!!) a regular who was sitting next to us at the counter insisted we try the momo shio – simply grilled thigh with salt, no sauce (tare) – which would enable us to experience the “real taste of the Kyoto chicken” – and boy did it. Wonderfully succulent chook with plenty of flavour. The chicken was expertly cooked by the owner Hitomi san who works that grill like a man possessed, albeit a relatively relaxed possessed being, ensuring the temperature is consistently optimal and there’s just enough smoke to give his wares a kiss. He turns the skewers with clockwork precision and knows, almost without looking, when to zip them off the grill and onto your plate. A little squeeze of sudachi lime and …well you simply have to try it to understand.
The tsukune below (seasoned minced chicken) – here served with spicy mustard ( but commonly served with a small egg yolk) was excellent. Although I do love a bit of raw yolk to dip in..
Above: mushrooms wrapped in bacon and Tebasaki shio (chicken wings grilled with salt – above and below).
The Karaage is also to die for as is the potato salad and the green salad – what does he put in that dressing?? and the crunch from the golden potato threads on top… mmmm.
And the piece de resistence…. Fried chicken skin above -with ponzu and grated daikon for dipping – SOOOOO good.
Every part of the chicken is used – from the cartilage to the gizzards to the parson’s nose. The livers are simmered in soy, sake andginger. They also have Kamo (duck) fillet – rare and tender and they even do small hotpots of chicken sukiyaki.
Grilled rice balls (yaki onigiri) below with pickles – a great ending to the meal with a cup of homemade chicken broth.
Oh and there is a small range of good, local sake to help wash all that chickeny goodness down. Sake is a great match for yakitori.
The local woman who recommended the momoshio also informed us that most people go to Hitomi because of the hospitality of the chef/owner – they love the food of course but just as important to them was the way they are looked after and valued as a customer. Its the type of place anyone would be proud to call their local. I have since become a bit of a regular and have really enjoyed getting to know Hitomi san and his crew a little better – they always look after us so very well and i’m most grateful.
You will find Hitomi on Nijo street just east of Kawabata street on the south side of the road. It is only open at night and is booked out about a week or so in advance so if you can find someone to make a booking for you please do so – or just take a risk and turn up – if they are busy you can try Rive Gauche French restaurant as you head back towards Kawabata street (that runs parallel to the east side of the Kamo river) – it is very good and inexpensive.