New Karasuma Izakaya
I’m painfully aware of how fortunate I am to travel and eat for work. I get to chow down in some of the most wonderful establishments around the globe. Mostly in Japan these days. Whether I’m researching for my tours, actually hosting my tours or having some time to myself pre or post tour – I eat extremely well.
I love fancy restaurants, places that make you feel special and excited for days before you get there – you know, the kind of joints you bother getting frocked up for. But I also love casual, don’t have to think, easy eats over a half decent sake or a chu-hai when I really want to relax.
New Karasuma (You’ll also see it written as Nikarasuma) is an Izakaya I stumbled upon when I was alone one night pre-tour. It’s a real neighbourhood joint and at first I felt a little intimidated – even though I’ve lived in Kyoto and have been travelling super-regularly to Japan for over 30 years. I took a deep breath and slid back the doors. It was early eve and only one or two other folk sitting up at the counter.
As always the look on the face of my hosts was ‘oh bugger, are we going to be able to communicate with this foreigner’ but also as per usual – once I’d sat down and spoken a few words of Japanese they were at completely at ease – relieved. In fact, if I hadn’t spoken Japanese this would have been the kind of place they’d have welcomed me as soon as I’d attempted to order my first drink.
They just want to know you are there to relax and enjoy. The happy, young crew don’t seem to be bothered about being taken terribly seriously. The food is simple and tasty. Probably best for a few snacks over drinks with friends rather than a place you enjoy a whole meal over but in this instance, being on my own – and just around the corner from my hotel – I did just that.
The portions were fairly large and I absolutely over-ordered – in the name of research of course. I didn’t really need to eat an entire plate of deep-fried chicken skin to myself but it would have been rude to waste it.
The sashimi tuna was actually much better than I’d anticipated and the pan-seared beef with garlic and butter full of flavour and umami.
The fried burdock was a tasty little snack and the cool cucumber and cabbage helped process all the rich foods I’d inadvertently chosen… ok been drawn to on this occasion.
Here’s a link to the New Karasuma – and for visual reference – above and below shows the outside of the shop. You’ll find it on Bukkoji Dori just east of Karasuma dori and about 2 blocks south of Shijo Dori. Counter seating downstairs but I believe there is more room upstairs. I’d say it gets busy later in the evening as it is open to 1am – a rarity in Kyoto town.
If you want somewhere away from the crowds and aren’t overly fussy with your grub – check this place out early evening for a few drinks and plenty of atmosphere.