Hmmm, this one was a tough entry to write. Not because the homemade chocolate at the Kyoto Nama Chocolate Organic Tea House isn’t worth recommending. And not because the cozy tea room isn’t somewhere you could happily relax for hours on end. It’s mostly because a place this good is one I’m tempted to keep all to myself!
In all fairness, others have written glowing reviews on this place yet it still manages to remain fairly off the beaten track. It’s tucked away in the quiet museum quarter of Okazaki, due west of the Heian Shrine and hidden away down a cobbled entrance path. My husband and I had actually stopped to reference two maps to the place on our iPhones, growing a bit frustrated that it wasn’t right there, when I looked up, turned to the right and – lo and behold – it was right there. So not exactly something crowds of people are stumbling over.
Coming here is like visiting someone’s home. You take off your shoes on the polished wood veranda before slipping inside on sock feet to take a seat on a cushion at a low table in the one long tatami room. A sleepy dog was occupying the bench outside and a cat who knew exactly what he wanted (food) was prancing around the interior space. There’s a lovely garden out of the back of the dining area, which I’m sure would be great for a stroll in the warmer weather but, being November, we stayed cozied up inside.
Kyoto Nama Chocolate is the family business of Shizuoka-born Hirofumi Nakanishi – whose work as a chef has carried him to Tokyo’s finest hotels and America as well – and his Canadian-born wife Sherry, who worked as our server and cat wrangler the day we went. Obviously, given the name, the pride of the menu is Hirofumi’s fresh chocolate squares. Banish any thoughts of cloying sweetness or gooey candies. The chocolate served here packs more flavor than sugar and the squares are chewier, more like a piece of fudge than a candy. Catering to the Japanese preference for sweets with less sugar, there are both a bitter chocolate and a matcha chocolate. Our third chocolate was cut with a sweet Austrian liquor and was topped with what I could only think to term as icing, but that’s not a very adequate description. (Hence why this is not primarily a food blog. :P). I wish I could remember what exactly that fourth one was (maybe that was the one mixed with Okinawan shochu?) but suffice to say, they lasted about as long as an ice cube on a Japanese summer day.
Knowing that we’d polish off the chocolates pretty quick, I also ordered a piece of chocolate cake. I thought this would come out Japanese-sized. You know, a mere sliver of cake that lasts maybe 5 or 6 bites but manages to sate your sweet tooth. Not so. THIS is what came out from the kitchen:
By the time the cake I arrived, I was actually pleasantly full from the chocolate, but one bite and there was no way I was going to pass up a slice of pure heaven. (That and my two-year-old was chomping at the bit, er, fork to take bite after bite so of course I had to eat faster to save her from a horrible evening sugar crash. Parenting – it’s all about taking one for the team. 🙂 ) Despite it being November, the fruit on top of the cake tasted fresh, the cream was delicious, but the real star of course was the cake itself. Sweet but not aggressively so, moist but not melting, it was just an extremely good – and LARGE – piece of real chocolate cake. Couldn’t ask for me.
My husband declared the coffee to be quite good (sorry – I’ve never been a coffee drinker so I wouldn’t know) and the free tea was warming. We could have stayed for much longer than we did, but with our daughter cackling in delight every time the cat so much as moved a whisker, we decided to spare the other patrons and hustled ourselves out the door. It was a quicker visit than we would have liked but so worth it. I’d love to return.
If you want to check out the tea house for yourself, use the map on their website to help you locate them.