When thinking about Japanese cuisine what jump to mind are the usual suspects, sushi, noodles are well known grounds globally, but as a variations on the theme of making and serving meals is a type of cuisine which roots extended in the Middle Ages called “Kaiseki”
Historically, “Kaiseki” or “Kaiseki riori” (riori standing for meal) was considered very simple, almost a frugal way of eating and was adopted mainly by monks but in more recent times it became an art form balancing taste, texture, appearance, compositions and colors.
There are plenty of variations and technical terms about how “Kaiseki” meals can be served but simply put, the menu is typically divided in courses which can be preordered.
This method of preordering make it for a convenient way to dine out especially when on a tight schedule, and an easy way to introduce friends or work colleagues to this fascinating style of cuisine. It is also a very healthy choice of eating, being usually made from varieties of vegetables, tofu, seafood and sometimes meats depending on the restaurant of choice. Ultimately it all add up to a perfectly harmonized culinary experience where each individual item is carefully balanced not to overwhelm the others, yet not to lose his unique traits.
There are places all over Japan famous for “Kaiseki” especially in the Kansai region, however in Tokyo “Insho-tei (韻松亭)” in Ueno park is one of the oldest Japanese style restaurant offering Kaiseki style food since 1875.
Prices are reasonable if comparing cost/performance with other similar venues, and overall satisfactory as far as service and cleanliness.
Courses start from 3600 yen, including appetizer, steam dish, a main dish and rice with miso soup, to be finished with dessert and Japanese okara tea. A child menu (1680 yen) are available and if you have allergy dislikes or preferences, adjustments can be made from an original course to match your needs.
In “Insho-tei” lunch or dinner menus differ in price and volume but conceptually remain the same, so if this is your first experience in this kind of restaurant, start from lunch and see how you like it.
In addition, each party has his own private room which can accommodate small or large groups. Each room is also conveniently equipped with intercom system in case of needed assistance or to place a drink order.
The waiting staffs wear Japanese garment type of clothing and are well trained, but are not able to speak English. However we manage to order beers and “Shochu” (Japanese liquor often associate with kaiseki cuisine) and also to get a group snapshot taken by one of the waitress.
If you decide to visit this place I’ll advise on making a reservation first (even though walk-ins are welcome) and preorder your meals eventually adjusting the menu to your needs or requests. When you are finished with your meal, take a stroll in the park, where street artists entertain with all kind of performances (especially on week-end) and even take a boat ride on the nearby lake.