Not long before I left for Kyoto last month, I ordered a new book entitled Kyoto Machiya Restaurant Guide by long-time Kyoto resident Judith Clancy. The book highlights cafes and restaurants that are housed in old-style wooden machiya houses. These atmospheric dining spaces make for the perfect lunch or dinner away from the crowds and a unique experience to be remembered. Thanks to Ms Clancy’s suggestions, I enjoyed two great meals in converted machiya during my last visit but the one that blew me away was Zezekan Pocchiri.
From the name, you’d never guess that this restaurant serves Chinese cuisine. And not just the Chinese food you may know from home (which for me, as an American, generally implies greasy egg rolls and pork fried rice). No matter the quality, I’m usually not a huge fan of Chinese cuisine. I’ll eat it, mind you, but I won’t go out of my way to seek it out. But when an overcrowded bus and a ¥1600 lunch set conspired to bring me to Zezekan Pocchiri’s door, I brought my appetite and happily tucked in.
Before you get to feast on the very very good food, you get to feast on the restaurant’s decor. Decked out in tasteful silks, latticed woodwork and furniture, and the occasional Chinese antique, this machiya feels like a wealthy 19th Chinese merchant’s home rather than the former kimono dealer it once was. It would have been a shame if I had been sat in the front room (lovely though it is) but thankfully I was walked to the back of the restaurant, where the old kimono storehouse (or kura) has been turned into a dining area. By the room was book-ended by beautiful gardens, one I’d call pocketsized and the other a rather decent space. When I wasn’t soaking in the atmosphere of the dining room itself, I had an unobstructed view of the garden where a small cherry tree was threatening to bloom.
When the food came, though, I couldn’t look anywhere else. Zezekan Pocchiri’s lunch bento (served in a beautiful lacquer box) is both a visual and culinary feast. My six “main” offerings consisted of things like gyoza and eggroll, braised eggplant, chili-spiced sweet and sour shrimp, fried fish in a delicious honey glaze, chicken and vegetable and a yuba (tofu skin) dish. Couple that with a steaming bowl of egg drop soul and a sizable bowl of rice and this was a steal at only ¥1600.
There’s a whole menu I barely glanced at (though I do remember it being exclusively in Japanese) and while you can order other dishes, the lunchtime bento is a safe bet and the variety of tastes is sure to please any palate. Even if you’re not a fan of Chinese cuisine, stop in for a bite – this just might change your mind.