It’s thirsty work lurking around Kyoto’s Gion for that elusive geiko/maiko shot – and when I take friends or clients to Hanamikoji at the witching hour (less and less these days as it has become so crazy busy!) I often like to combine it with a post voyeur-time stroll along Pontocho alley, gloriously illuminated by paper lanterns and neon signs.
Not only does it provide another great atmospheric Kyoto photo-op but Pontocho is full of watering holes and more than a handful of places to stop for a bite to eat or a full blown, wallet exploding meal. It IS however, hit and miss, in regards to quality. A healthy tourist trade in the area means there are a few places that might not provide quite the same standard found in most Kyoto eateries.
A good spot is worth knowing about so I will pop just a couple on for now and keep adding as I find more. Consider this a starter list! I had another couple of places on the original version of this post but they have since changed hands so have pulled them off until I can return and check them out… so many places… so little time…
Can’t help loving – Hello Dolly Whiskey Bar – with its quaint decor , occasional live Jazz and old-time vibe. They happen to serve up a rather decent Whiskey Sour. On the eastern side of Pontocho. Look for the pic of Doris!
But one of my favourite old school bars in the area is Achakocha Shot bar run by the owner Morimoto san. There is a ‘the cover charge’ before you start drinking but if you want some peace and quiet with your sipping its probably worth paying the 1000 yen. The drinks aren’t cheap either however you do get a few little nibbles with each glass and charming, personalised service.
the numbers on the bottles show the price per glass of that particular tipple…
About half way up, on the west side of Pontocho you will find this display of veggies – there are several similar displays on the street so look for the hand-painted ingredient/special – like the red fish outline as per above. As you will see in the shot below – on the far right hand side of the display is a signpost with an arrow which basically tells you to take the next alleyway to the west -then you will find an entrance way with steep stairs to walk up.
Once inside they do in fact have a partially English menu.
The food is fresh and flavoursome, nothing too scary for those just introducing themselves to Japanese food but there’s also also enough on the menu to keep the well initiated interested.
sweet, raw vegetables and chunky miso
flight of sake with a cool, crisp cucumber – great in the warmer months
Grilled mackerel with onion and myoga ( native ginger bud)
Very rare chicken with ponzu dipping sauce, daikon, ginger and spring onions
Grill your own vegetables and tofu on the hibachi
the makings of TKG (tamago kake gohan) above and mixed below. I am addicted to this simple, wholesome dish of raw egg on hot rice and salty kombu strips or soy
Korean style (shijimi) Vegetable omelette with vinegar dipping sauce
Matsutake mushroom tempura (autumn special)
A few other Pontocho eateries of note :
Ukiya Soba – look for the Pontocho main shop menu on this site – if you are keen (brave) for a taste sensation – go for the Ukisoba topped with natto (sticky /slimy fermented soy beans) and whisked, frothy raw egg… sounds strange but I find it rather delicious) . Quick, easy, nutritious noodle lunch or dinner!
Yakiniku Hiro (see the pontocho location) – a great fun spot where you grill your own beef (meat and organs if you like ) – great quality at reasonable prices. Fun night out over a few beers!
Misosuigawa (special occasion French/ Japanese in a lovely setting with charming service overlooking the river – this isn’t my favourite French food in Kyoto but if you are in the area… but as an overall experience it is rather pleasant) . Better in the day time if you have a riverside table.
You will find the heart of Pontocho alley running North /South between Sanjo dori and Shijo dori (streets) – running parallel to the Kamogawa river on it’s western side.
If you are interested in travelling to Japan for a foodie experience of lifetime why not take a peek at one of my Kyoto Cuisine and Culture Tours?