Review: Kyoto Kitchen Winchester “a dining experience like no other”

For a city of about 45,000 inhabitants, WinchesterThe culinary scene punches way above its weight.

Just walk 10 minutes to discover a strong Asian influence in the former capital, with chains and independent restaurants offering cuisines from across the continent.

Whether you opt for an award-winning curry from Rimjhim or choose to sample what the city’s Nepali community has to offer via Taste of Gurkhas, there’s plenty to excite your taste buds and expand your palate.

But the focus of today’s review is a restaurant that delivers a truly unique dining experience – and the story of how its owner went to great lengths to deliver it.

Earlier this year, Kyoto Kitchen’s Miff Kayum flew over seven hours and 3,500 miles to Toronto to meet and interview its new chef, Paul Onami.

After confirming the capture of her new star man, Miff told me that the chef ranks among the “top five percent” of Japanese cooks in the world – which is no small feat considering the complexity and intricacy of the country’s many styles and disciplines.

At the time, Miff commented that I should come and try her food once the chef was settled. Being an avowed foodie with a soft spot for sushi, I hastily agreed, and for now, that was it.

Fast forward a few weeks and I received a call from a very excited Miff, who told me the chef had exceeded his already high expectations, describing his food as being on a “different level”.

A date was agreed and of course I arrived at the Parchment Street restaurant brimming with excitement for what was to come.

For those of you who have visited Kyoto Kitchen over the years, you already know that the quaint and traditional interior immediately transports you to a remote country on the edge of the South Downs National Park.

Miff served me a Japanese green tea from a kyusu and we talked more in depth about how a chef living and working in Toronto had found himself practicing his craft in this intimate Winchester spot.

He told me that in the post-Brexit and Covid landscape, high-level chefs were rare, and his search had led him to cast his net far and wide in hopes of bringing a high-end dining experience in style south london. of the capital.

Once the chef was suggested to Miff by an agent covering that part of the world, he explained that they shared several video calls together and mostly talked about food for hours.

“But in this industry, the proof is in the pudding,” he said. Miff went on to explain that he had booked an Airbnb in Toronto with his family, where the chef cooked them all a multi-course test meal, from marinade to plating in a small kitchen with just a hot plate. four burners.

“I remember thinking, wow, if he can create that with what he has here, imagine what he could do in a professional kitchen,” he added.

As he spoke, his enthusiasm and passion for the project was palpable. He admitted he took pride in serving the chef’s food and said they had worked hard to refine the menu to best complement the chef’s specialty – Kaiseki cuisine.

Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese multi-course dinner that relies on a selection of skills and techniques, with an emphasis on sourcing local and seasonal ingredients.

READ MORE: First class photos of Winchester and Romsey

The chef’s attention, Miff tells me, has been to add his own modern twist to the style while incorporating as much of the finest Hampshire produce as possible.

After working up an appetite after a long conversation about food, Miff disappeared into the kitchen to grab my first course – kobujime salmon with smoked black cod croquettes.

The seasonal aspect of Kaiseki Cuisine was immediately apparent as the plate was beautifully garnished with an autumn leaf. But as Miff rightly pointed out earlier, the proof is in the pudding.

Now I don’t pretend to be a food critic, nor do I have as fine a palette as some of the people the chef will have cooked for during his distinguished career, but after just a few bites he had quickly won another applause.

The richness and depth of the black cod croquettes were delicately balanced with a refreshing salmon acidity that cut through the rest of the flavors and delivered a secondary flavor at just the right time.

Hampshire Chronicle:

After deconstructing the first plate with almost embarrassing speed, Miff approached the table with a hopeful smile. He already knew the food was sublime, he didn’t need my approval, but I was eager to provide it anyway in gratitude for what I had received.

Next comes a pumpkin soup with winter chanterelle and miso mousse. Another instant hit. The gradual heat of the soup pulled me into the dish and slowly cleared my airways with a gentle spice breeze.

Hampshire Chronicle:

Miff had compared watching the chef cook to observing an artist with a paintbrush, and as each masterpiece emerged from the kitchen, I dispatched it at an equal pace; wagyu beef so tender it pinched at the light grip of a chopstick, grilled black cod that shimmered on the plate, and Isobean scallop age that surged with layers of flavor with every crack.

SEE ALSO: Kyoto Kitchen owner Miff Kayum announces capture of ‘world-class’ Japanese chef from Toronto

Hampshire Chronicle:

And of course, fresh wasabi from The Wasabi Company at Alresford had to appear.

I told Miff that I was quickly running out of superlatives to describe the food – and I wasn’t kidding. As the meal was coming to an end, I asked him about the dishes I had received.

Some of these were to be added to the menu while others were just some of the many specialties the chef enjoyed creating while testing a new market for ingredients.

And even though there were mousses, jellies and pickles that I had never encountered before, nothing on any of the plates was superfluous. Everyone played a very important role in each spectacular scene.

While it might be a different style of dining than many people have experienced before – as it was for me – there was nothing pompous, pretentious or self-serving. important in the project in which Miff and the chef jointly embarked.

When the chef joined me at the table, my feelings for them were confirmed. He recalled a 13-seat open restaurant he owned and ran with his late wife in Japan.

As someone who has worked and eaten in some of the best kitchens in the world, I was surprised that he would choose to remember this restaurant.

Hampshire Chronicle:

But then it hit me. Coming from a family steeped in culinary history, the chef’s motivation was his passion for food and his license to be creative and do things his own way.

His restaurant in Japan allowed him to do this, as did Miff. “The only reason I came here is because of Miff,” he told me. “Every chef wants that freedom to work with quality ingredients. That’s what it’s all about.”

However, he also paid homage to Winchester and its new surroundings, comparing the city to Kyoto itself. Beyond the obvious historical similarity, with Kyoto also the former capital of his country, he praised the intimacy and culture of the two regions.

I left completely sold by Kyoto Kitchen. While cynics may see this as a greedy journalist filling his boots in exchange for a glowing review, it’s anything but.

I was truly blown away from start to finish with the whole experience, and the dedication and passion for their craft was infectious.

It’s worth adding that this is not a pay-per-view, nor an exercise in scratching, it’s a genuine review of an independent restaurant that has gone the extra mile to bring something special to Winchester.

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