Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Isozumi and her sister Isomatsu

Hard to get into. Even when you have a booking. But worth sticking around to find out why.
Isozumi is a lively izakaya in Kyoto's downtown area with a youthful staff, clientele and simple but well executed izakaya fare. Extremely fresh, flavoursome seasonal ingredients are not mucked around with. It is a happy place with a strong local following - an eclectic, casual crowd who 'get'  the team and I suspect might be there every week just to hang out with them.  Well, the dudes behind the counter ARE kinda cool - especially for Kyoto where things can tend to be a little reserved. Although I have to say I'm discovering more and more joints like this in Kyoto town....which is exciting. 

Did we feel old?.... a little - but that was our issue not theirs.
We had one hour to order and be fed and outta there (due to mix up with our booking) - which we almost managed to achieve. Well, we were in fact out of there in an hour but merely shuffled 2 meters across the laneway to their sister restaurant Isomatsu where we were served our last course  - a tasty, albeit relatively light version of,  Oden.  And whilst waiting we threw down a drink or two - myself going for the modern, frosty fresh juice and wine cocktail in place of the chu-hai I was after. Better than I was expecting. 

Jumping back a little  - the salad above, a textural starting point for our meal was loaded with greens, wafer thin slices of simmered pork bellly, crisp vegetable chips and a umami packed dressing.
We quickly hopped on to the whole grilled onion - sweeter than a kiss. 
Followed by a plate of fresh tofu topped with finely shredded yamaimo (sticky mountain yam), avocado and nori over which we  drizzled a well balanced soy. Love the creamy/salty combination of this and once again the textural play was key - as you'll find repeated all over Japan. 
As bamboo shoots were in season we ran into them at every meal but I wasn't complaining. For those of you who have not experienced the joy of fresh, young bamboo shoots - do yourself a favour and get to Japan sometime in the spring - they are baby bum tender and sweet as corn...literally, they taste like sweet corn....  served with a bit of Kinome salt. Perfection.
This modern version of Nasu Dengaku (eggplant with dengaku miso dressing) highlighted the full flavour of the quality eggplant by simply dotting over with the rich sauce instead of covering the whole thing -this was such a simple dish but it made me very happy.  Eggplantalicious. 
A few more sticks  - this time pork belly grilled, with lemon.. Again. simple/good. 
So now is about the time we were politely rolled over to Isomatsu. A bit less rustic in its decor than Isozumi and, going by the general vibe, seemingly trying to attract a different, perhaps slightly more upmarket, clientele than her free and easy sister. If you didn't know they were related you would not be able to tell although each had their charms.
We were waiting on one last course from across the road - which took some time, maybe it lost its way  - I don't know. So not to appear rude we ordered drinks as mentioned above. We were already too full to order any more food.
The drink below is water..... but I love the red glow so had to include the pic. I don't care, it's my blog and I'll post if I want to.  I'm not sure whether it was my imagination or the fact I downed my frosty wine cocktail too quickly - but I think the water glasses had a different colour in the base of each.  If only I'd taken more photos I'd know.... I'll just have to go return and try their food. If Isomatsu is owned by the same people as Isozumi then I reckon it will be pretty decent. So if you can't get into one - turn yourself around and head into the opposite door.
Mmmmmm.... Oden. A warming hotpot of various ingredients (meats, seafood, eggs, vegetables etc) simmered in good dashi. Variations are are many as there are cooks in Japan.

If you are keen for a foodie adventure in Japan with moi - check out my tours page HERE.


  1. Mmm, looks delicious! I hope the spring tours went well. Are these two izakaya any relation to Isoya, up by the Royal Hotel near Shiyakushomae? Went there in April and loved it, all the fresh veggies and firefly squid.

  2. Hello Mandy! yes, they are part of the same restaurant group - I've tried to get into Isoya a couple of times (by just dropping in) and it has always been booked out! That was before I knew they were related -now I know to book at any of them -very popular!