France Kaiseki Pontochō-Misoguigawa owner and head chef, Teruo Inoue
Imagine a number of pieces of Kyoto ware / Kiyomizu ware, adorned in rich gold and exquisitely decorated. Beautifully arranged inside of the ware is a fresh take on classic French cuisine, made by a proud chef who both honors tradition and does not shy from innovation. This is the scene at Misoguigawa, a noted French restaurant in Kyoto’s Pontochō district, a place emblematic of the city’s glamorous night life. Owner and head chef Teruo Inoue is a fifty-year veteran of this street. He has charmed hundreds of people, including those of the highest stations, with the proficiency of his skill and his preeminent good taste.
“The cuisine that we put out at Misoguigawa might look totally new at a glance, but it is fundamentally traditional French cuisine. However, we serve it in the traditional Japanese Kaiseki style. I call this combination ‘French Kaiseki’.”
The culinary cultures of two different countries, combined in a manner that cherishes their respective traditions, and resurrected as a new cuisine. It is no surprise that, in Chef Inoue’s capable hands, Kyoto ware / Kiyomizu ware also takes on a new expression.
French Cuisine in the Japanese Kaiseki Style
In 1964, the year that Tokyo hosted the first Olympic Games to take place in an Asian city, Chef Inoue entered Tokyo Kaikan, the oldest Japanese institution offering training in French cuisine. He learned the fundamentals of French cooking from Raymond Oliver, the owner and head chef of the famous Paris restaurant, Le Grand Véfour. After accumulating a wealth of experience cooking for gatherings of state guests from all over the world, in 1981, Chef Inoue opened Misoguigawa. For its location he selected a townhouse of over 120 years in age, situated in the Pontochō district.
“At first I had planned to rebuild the place in a Western style, but when I thought about the feel of the surrounding city, I decided to renovate the building as it stood. After that, when thinking about what kind of restaurant I wanted to create, I hit upon the idea of offering French cuisine—my specialty—in the traditional Japanese Kaiseki style.”
The Kaiseki style of cuisine at Misoguigawa is not just about creating a genuine Japanese atmosphere and serving the food in Kyoto ware / Kiyomizu ware.
“Just as the French courses proceed in a certain way, Kaiseki also has a characteristic flow. We were asking, how do we integrate the French food that we are making into the Kaiseki style? How do we create an experience of quality for the customer? At this time, there were no other places that were doing anything like this, so we had to search for answers ourselves. It was difficult when we first opened.”
Serving Innovative Cuisine on Kyoto Ware / Kiyomizu Ware
As Chef Inoue says, the French and Kaiseki cuisines proceed in entirely different ways. For instance, unlike in the French style, Kaiseki has no definite main dish, and is arranged so that rice and miso soup are eaten before dessert.
“We began by recreating the procession of Kaiseki dishes, except without anything in them. Then we thought about what sort of cuisine would be best in each dish. Kaiseki employs a variety of different dishes, and they provide a common link of sorts. For instance, for a Kaiseki bowl we use a soup, for a small, intermediary dish we prepare a light palate cleanser, for the rice that comes after the meal we use fromage, and instead of a jelly or fruit dish we use a French dessert. There are very similar parts, so you could say that in itself became the basic idea from which we constructed ‘French Kaiseki’.”
The food presented at Misoguigawa is ultimately classic French cuisine, but it has also felt the influence of Kaiseki.
“Certainly, there are instances when the plating and the food don’t mesh well. For example, if you put something with a showy sauce in a bowl that has been highly decorated, the competing effects cancel each other out. Because of this I’ve sometimes asked the kiln to fire porcelain for me with an undecorated center. This is possible because we use Kiyomizu ware, so each article is handmade individually.”
Encountering a New Charm in the Traditional
The experience of tasting Misoguigawa’s French cuisine presented in the Kaiseki style is something more special than just eating beautifully arranged, delicious food. At Misoguigawa, a tradition that is already well-known can be experienced as something totally fresh. And the Kyoto ware / Kiyomizu ware born out of years of Kyoto tradition takes on an entirely new expression under Chef Inoue’s skillful treatment.
“Kiyomizu ware includes a lot of different types of dishes, but in all of them a unified excellence and delicacy can be felt. Certainly part of it comes from the exquisite decoration and the exceptional time and labor that goes into the ware. On the other hand, sometimes it is in a minor irregularity or a slight imbalance that a deeper delicacy becomes apparent.”
“As Kiyomizu ware is something that has been raised out of the history of Kyoto, it carries a powerful image of being rooted in tradition. However, if we can find a new sense of fascination through this encounter with traditional French cuisine, then I think that’s where the real joy is.”
Born in Tokyo in 1947. Owner and Head Chef of Misoguigawa. In 1964, entered Tokyo Kaikan, the Japanese culinary institution with the longest history in French cuisine. After building a breadth of experience, opened “Pontochōō Misoguigawa” in 1981. Is a member of many organizations, including L’Académie Culinaire de France, which has its headquarters in Paris. Designated a Modern Master Craftsman by the government of Kyoto in 2004, and in 2006 received the Order of Agricultural Merit from the Republic of France.
Sanjo-sagaru, Pontochō-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-8011
11:30 ～ 15:00 (Last order 13:30)
17:30 ～ 22:30 (Last order 20:30)