For my first restaurant review of 2017, we're in Canterbury checking out Kyoto, a new restaurant that has purchased the space previously occupied by Little Joe's Deli right by the Cathedral that I've visited for lunch a couple of times over the past few weeks. As you'd expect from a restaurant called Kyoto, it's a sushi bar, but actually, everything else on the menu that does not involve raw fish and Japanese rice actually some pretty great and authentic Korean food. Not what you'd expect from a building built into the Precinct walls. Korean has to be one of my favourite cuisines, so obviously I'm over the moon that I can now get dishes that are not Tamago's fantastic kimchee ramen without having to make them myself or hop on a plane to L.A.'s Koreatown.
Downstairs has been changed the most, with a semi open kitchen, the menu up on the wall, and a bit of a sushi bar so the sushi chef working there can bring the freshly made rolls straight to the table. Upstairs, everything is pretty much the same as it has always been, right down to the colour scheme and the table football, but with the addition of Korean language newspapers, and big television screens playing K-pop music videos.
Just a few things to note before we move onto the food: Kyoto is cash only, so make sure you go to the cash machine first. To give you an idea of how much you'll need, on our first visit we had a small portion (5 pieces) of Korean Fried Chicken, a California roll and a Veggie Bibimbap, and on our second visit we again had the Korean Fried Chicken, a Veggie Bibimbap, and a bowl of Kimchee Fried Rice, and both meals came in at just over £20. Also, along with some Korean favourites and a good made to order sushi list, some rather wonderful looking steamed buns stuffed with Korean meats and sauces are on the menu. I've managed to track down a couple of people who have had them on Instagram - and they look delicious - but both lunchtimes I visited they were not available, so don't hold out any hopes of trying them when you visit.
You order at the counter and take a number, and choose your drinks from the fridge then. They have a mixture of Western soft drinks, water, and Asian fridge items. When I'm being good, I love a good iced Oolong, but as I've got a cold at the moment, I treated myself on Friday to something utterly delicious (but not to everyones tastes, you have to love Asian artificial flavours!) - a Korean grape soda, with little jellied grape pieces in. It sounds odd I know, it is something you either love or loathe!
One of my ultimate comfort foods is a bowl of Kimchee Fried Rice. I'll be posting my recipe for how I make it at home soon, but this one is a great introduction, topped with a fried egg and some dried seaweed, and served with a salad topped with their house really spicy sauce (which, as you can see, also comes with the Korean Fried Chicken). This is a bowl if you love slightly spicy fried rice, and you need a good introduction to the flavour of kimchee. If you love a kimchee heavy bowlful (I put loads in mine as I love it so much) you might find this a bit disappointing as it does not pick up as much of the funky flavour, but it is still really good.
Our Veggie Bibimbap's were different on each visit. Now, before we talk about it, another note on your visit. All of you food won't come at the same time, and if you ask how long a dish is going to be when one of you has all of your food, and your companion is just sitting there watching you enjoy your rice bowl, the staff treat you like you're being unreasonable. This was on our second visit, however. The first time we went, the staff were really lovely and helpful.
So, the Bibimbap's. For the uninitiated, it's a traditional Korean rice bowl (usually served in a hot stone bowl) with different sauces and pickles on top (usually whatever you've got in the fridge from making other Korean dishes), and a raw egg cracked into the middle. You're then supposed to mix it all together before you eat, and the egg will cook in the residual heat from the bowl to help form the sauce. Aside from the more Western presentation, both bowls we had tasted really authentic, and made for a fantastic lunchtime option. The egg was less set on our first bowl which I preferred as it was more authentic, but I'd seriously recommend this as your starter into Korean food if you've never had it before. Oh, and another thing. At Kyoto you're expected to eat with chopsticks, though on our second visit, spoons were available also!
By way of sides, on one visit I had a little side of kimchee (I told you I'm obsessed) and it was fantastic, better quality than the kimchee I usually buy and keep in my fridge, possibly homemade. Also, Kyoto makes the best Korean Fried Chicken I've ever had. Again it was different each time I visited: on our first visit, it consisted of juicy, tender chunks of thigh in a perfectly crispy coating, covered with a very more-ish ginger and soy coating (chilli is also available). On our second trip, we had bone in legs and wings, as well as thigh pieces. It was easier to eat the boneless chunks, but both portions were bloody delicious, and I don't recommend you visit without ordering some to share. They also make a salad box with it, if you want a meal that is more familiar to get to grips with Korean eating - you'll get Western preparations with Asian flavours.
While I'm all about the Korean food, I could not review Kyoto without trying some sushi. I want to go back for more because some of their rolls look really exciting, but as I was eating with my mother who had never really had sushi before, I ordered something safe: a California roll. No raw fish, or unfamiliar flavours. The rice was good, it was at the right temperature, and the avocado was perfectly ripe. It was also presented beautifully. Okay, so it was not the most perfect sushi I've ever had, but given the options in Canterbury - horrible supermarket sushi, average Waitrose sushi, and average restaurant sushi at Mister Miyagi - Kyoto is the place to go in town to actually enjoy some sushi, and I will be going back for it.
Kyoto is not perfect. The service is patchy, and all of the menu is not always available, but what you do get is delicious, quite authentic Korean food and sushi for a good price right in the city centre, which is enough to get me very, very excited. It should get you excited too. Now, has anyone tried Canterbury's other new, slightly Korean restaurant The Korean Cowgirl yet, which sells a mixture of Korean food and Southern Barbecue (?) - the menu looks okay, but I've been told that the food is rather salty?