Reine Des Pres, a pocket sized French Restaurant in Kyoto, is particularly popular with ladies who lunch and couples who give each other perfect red roses on Valentine’s Day.
It’s situated a little north of the main city hub in a street that runs south from Marutamachi dori. Just east of Kawaramachi dori.
The venue is a local haunt not regularly visited by foreigners and therefore little English is spoken – but if you speak French everything will be hunkoire doroire… And unless you are very fussy with your food – you’ll probably enjoy it even if you don’t know all the components of the dish you are eating.
As is typical in Japan – French cuisine here is lighter in style than you might experience in French restaurants in France or other parts of the world. Measured quantities and lighter saucing, plus the particular combination of ingredients across the meal all help to ensure you don’t waddle out feeling over-fed and embarrassingly gassy. Or is that just me?
Now I did enjoy this meal but I must confess it probably wasn’t as much as I was hoping to. To be fair, the most likely cause of this is due to me being at the tail end of a rotten stomach flu and had I not already cancelled once I would not have dragged myself out of bed – I raced through my lunch and in doing so didn’t really get to appreciate it as I might have. However, I reckon if I liked it – even though I was feeling really off – it must have been pretty damn fine. Sadly I was in too much of a hurry to get back to bed to have made a true assessment of the matter. Tragic I know.
Let me also add that my visit was back in early 2016 so I’m posting this over a year down the track and I certainly can’t vouch for the menu as it currently stands but most reviews are extremely positive. So I shall be returning!
The soft cooked egg with spiced cream and maple was appropriately rich and gooey – an homage to the chef’s time at Arpege Restaurant in Paris. Sadly this dish is one that you see copied several times over in Kyoto restaurants and I’m not sure this was the most successful translation – for me it was just a little too sweet. However I’ve not had the original so perhaps it is perfect!Service was friendly but quiet and really the only way to go when the restaurant has just 2 tables (sitting a maximum of 10) in close proximity. Plating was pared back but sophisticated. The surrounding space simply styled so as not to take away attention from the food. As I was dining on my own the experience felt akin to a guided meditation. A wee amuse bouche of sashimi squid, shungiku (edible chrysanthemum), micro herbs and the Japanese equivalent of bottarga – Karasumi – grated over the top.
The bread arrived in a wooden box sitting on a hot stone until you are ready to eat it. I mean seriously – who would wait? It was warm and delicious. I very much enjoyed the generous (for Japan) butter portion and fell in love with the butter plate – the restaurant is lucky to still have it in their possession.
Another dish of raw seafood – showing off the chef’s talent for choosing and preparing very fine fish foods! This time it was raw scallop, arkshell clam (which I personally prefer raw than cooked) and red daikon with yuzu dressing. Fresh, zippy, spot on. Above was my dish of the day – perfectly cooked flounder with clams and a squid ink and scallop cracker with a light, foamy buttery sauce.
Very nicely cooked roast chicken breast and thigh with micro shiso and dehydrated black olives
A pre-dessert of yoghurt and honey sorbet with cumquat was refreshing and made a lovely transition from main to dessert as you might expect.
Having said that – the ‘main’ dessert was a very light interpretation of a Tarte Tatin – a very pleasant surprise. Sitting on a thin pastry wafer was a slice of apple mizu-yokan – an elegant style of Japanese wagashi – or confectionary usually made with sweetened beans and agar agar to form a firm jelly. This version used caramelised apple in place of the beans. Drizzled with a creamy caramel sauce. It was really quite something. I’m a sucker for the richness of a buttery, sticky tarte tatin but this was so full of flavour and texture without being overly sweet or rich and it absolutely worked – not an easy accomplishment. Very good coffee came with mignardises curiously including a sweet rusk (very popular in Japan for a few years running for some reason).
The lunch course is currently at just under 6500 yen for 9 courses – which doesn’t make it the cheapest French lunch in town but it’s definitely one of the best.
Restaurants in Japan are often where you least expect to find one – so you can easily walk straight by your destination if you don’t know what you are looking for. Here’s the front door – from me to you! Enjoy
If you’d like to dine with us at Zenbu Tours – Don’t forget to check out our tour pages for the 2018 Schedule!
And if you fancy the Japanese aesthetic you might like to take a peek at our sister site – ZENBU HOME – a collection of beautiful Japanese objects for self or home.