we were booked for 2 nights at Gettoan ryokan 月灯庵 at yufuin 汤布院. Gettoan ryokan & its kaiseki dinners had very good reviews, and we were expecting a very good dinner on the first evening we checked into the ryokan on 25.1.2015.
it turned out to be really disappointing. i would say this dinner was below just about every ryokan dinner i had in tohoku (we visited just before the tsunami, sadly cannot go back now), and way below (say) mikuni or hachi or kuriya in singapore.
i need to add here though that the japanese breakfast the next day was excellent (& the day after too) & the shabu shabu kaiseki on our second night 26.1.2015 was just exquisite, par excellence, so i term this a tale of 2 dinners. ^^
the sensai was ok, but really unexciting for this class of ryokan (i.e. very expensive ryokan). the mini kaiseki lunch at kuriya had far better sensai (前菜). and the omakase lunch at GOTO had just as good sakizuke(先附).
the foie gras flavoured tofu dish was a nice dish, but really average by japanese kaiseki standards, non descript really.
the sashimi moriawase (kampachi, tai maybe?? & hirame) was an immense let down, completely substandard. for me, even sun with moon sashimi is much better standard than this! sashimi was not sweet & was tough – a really low grade cut!
there was a egg, yuba pot with veg. i would give same assessment as the foie gras tofu…underwhelming, just like the entire dinner.
the clear soup came with a nice tasty piece of fish, maybe snapper? anyway for this dish alone, maybe one could say “normal service resumes??” but this was a non-substantial by-the-way dish in a kaiseki.
of course the bungo wagyu ishiyaki 丰后和牛石烧 was just excellent. like my wife said, ishiyaki is self service & they did gave a very good beef cut. in a good or at least par-for-the-course kaiseki, one expects to taste good cooking, some creativity & great matching of taste. those were non existent in this dinner!
other than the bungo wagyu ishiyaki 丰后和牛石烧, the ochazuke (お茶漬け) was the only other dish throughout the dinner that we consider of good standards. the kampachi cut was good & could be taken as sashimi or slightly poached with the rice. the yuzu miso paste was great & the dashi 上汤was just excellent! a very good dish.
the dessert was just as bad. any dessert in sun with moon would be better!
one comment on the service. the overall service of the ryokan was top notch as expected of any ryokans of this standard. we were assigned a server who spoke very good english & we were kind of expecting top level service.
but the service was really superficial! the server tried to get us to order red wine instead of sake claiming that the dishes suited wine better. i would say none of the dishes qualified at all as western or fusion & why would one take red or white wine instead of sake for a japanese dinner, they were just not very good japanese food! & it was quite blatant way to get us to spend more money. this the first & only time we encountered that in japan. even in Singapore these days, server will advise you NOT to order things you don’t need/want!
and worse, after the beef before ochazuke she asked us whether we wanted tea. we asked for ocha & was later billed 950yen! of course it was not about the money. she did not tell us it was chargeable, and the way she asked it was evident that she did not intend to reveal it was chargeable. immediately after the ochazuke, we were served another ocha, this one free. does that make any sense??
for me it was a lowly tactic suited for yesteryears, like london chinatown in the 1970s, not a top class ryokan in Japan, or for that matter any ordinary restaurants in Singapore.
fortunately for us, the ryokan redeemed itself the next few meals. we were asked again the next dinner if we wanted tea by the same server, again w/o telling us it was chargeable! some bad habits just do not go away!