Regular readers will notice that this site has of late been pretty bereft of proper restaurant reviews. There are a few reasons for this, but the biggest is that the chief editor – that would be me – has recently just not felt so excited about eating out. And part of the reason for this lack of interest in eating out is what in the past I have called the “Tom George Clone” effect, namely the fact that so many new restaurants in town seem to be uninspiring knockoffs of Budapest’s eternal temple of “see and be seen” eating.
This may also explain why I have been of mixed minds about Kyoto (follow link for contact details and user feedback), the swanky Japanese eatery which opened last year in partnership with the owners (or one of the owners of) TG. But however much I want to say no to Kyoto, I can’t, because it works so well – well enough to explain why people keep looking to TG as the model for making a good high-end restaurant in Budapest.
At this point I have been to Kyoto on several occasions, and have tried to sample a representative variety of dishes on the menu. Which has not been easy, as the menu is one of those exercises in excess you so often experience in ambitious Hungarian restaurants. But while this would normally make me cranky – the 100-page menu is usually a flashing red warning sign – in Kyoto’s case it is actually a plus, as most Japanese restaurants in Budapest tend to be very limited in their offerings. Meanwhile, I have not experienced at Kyoto any of the normal problems associated with far-reaching menus, most notably baffled waiters and long waits while the folks in the kitchen
go out and buy the ingredients try to remember how to make a certain rarely-ordered dish.
Before saying anything about the overall quality of the food, I must first confess that, despite having first gotten into Japanese back in the early 1980s, I still don’t consider myself a connoisseur of this fine cuisine. So I don’t know if Kyoto’s food is “better” than that of, say, Fuji, which is said by some authorities to be the top Japanese eatery in town. All I can say is that it all seems pretty good (and fresh) to me, and the (mostly non-Japanese) cooks in the open-plan kitchen look like they are paying close attention to what they are doing.
And again, if you are sick of the same old sushi/sashimi combo for two – their version (Ft 9,860/€36.80) is in the third pic from the top – you’ll have more than enough options. The tuna “blue lagoon” (Ft 3,800) pictured above and to the left of the combo boat consists of a nice serving of seared tuna with a tasty sauce, and went swimmingly with the plate of nicely crunchy fried squid (Ft 2,200) on the right.
While singing the praises of the restaurant’s large variety of à la carte rolls, I will offer one warning. Note that some of them are of the cooked variety, and that, if you are not careful, you might end up feeling like you’ve just eaten at a fish fry rather than a sushi bar. That said, the variety is more than welcome.
As for the service, on all of my visits it has been top-notch. Unfortunately, my top-notch waiters all had to settle for a tip of just over 10%, as service is added to the bill, and I have a longstanding “cruel but fair” policy of punishing restaurants that do this by only throwing on a few hundred HUFs extra, no matter how good the service is. Meanwhile, I have heard reports that things are not so friendly, or efficient, at the bar.
Speaking of the bar, I was happy to see on one occasion that they were offering a selection of fun cocktail options for under Ft 1,000, which seems like a bargain in place like this. And speaking of bargains, I’d say Kyoto could almost be considered one. Okay, sure, it’s not cheap by any standard (well, except maybe Moscow’s; on one occasion I was seated next to a pair of blind-drunk Russians who seemed delighted with the prices). But I certainly can’t say I feel like I’ve been taken for a ride.
And the reason for this is that, taken as a whole, the Kyoto “experience” does give you that special buzz you only get in a high-end restaurant run by people who know what they are doing. For your Ft 10,000-Ft 15,000 you get location (a very picturesque spot overlooking the Chain Bridge), good food and service, some welcome extras (Kyoto-branded packets of refreshing towels actually made from cloth) and prime people-watching. (“While it ain’t the rooftop bar at the Peninsula, it’s pretty good sightseeing,” is how one friend put it.) If you haven’t done so already, go experience it for yourself.