It turned out that I needed to go overseas next Friday as Yuye’s relative is very sick and so I had to move the trip forwards. That’s only a week away. It has thrown all of my plans out the window. Originally I wanted to write up posts and schedule them throughout the trip at 1-2 day intervals but how it is possible to write 2 months worth of content in less than a week? So, I’ve revised my plan and that is to write a few posts and schedule them every 3-4 days. Hope it still works out. :S
We were rushing everywhere across town today getting our tickets booked and getting a visa for Yuye. I swear the Visa office is making loads off us. The prices have increased (again!) by $20-30. What’s more, they now require an invitation letter regardless of whether you’ve been to China before. How silly. Hope this nonsense will get abolished soon.
Anyway, as we’re possibly going to Tokyo this time round, I thought it was a good idea to finish my 2011 Japan trip posts ASAP. I know it’s taken me a whole year to write them up! The next in line after the Takayama post was Ryori Ryokan Hanaoka. It’s the best value and one of the best meals we had throughout the whole trip. The suggestion and review came from Paul’s Travel Pics. Ryori means cooking in Japanese, how can a hotel with cooking in the its name possibly be bad?
Due to the Japan 2011 earthquake, many tourists canceled their trips and thus we had the whole hotel to ourselves. It wasn’t a small hotel either which was quite sad for the lovely owners. The room was a tatami room, a bit smaller than most of the places we’ve stayed at so far, however was very sufficient for our purposes.
It’s the only place that had the futons (blankets) already prepared, most ryokan we stayed at prepares the futons while we had dinner. This wasn’t an issue though as we didn’t need the extra space for anything. Like most tatami mat rooms, there was a dedicated area for us to put our luggage so that the mats (which are made of straw) won’t get damaged.
We were on the 3rd and top floor of the building. There was a small balcony and the view was reasonable. As there were no really tall buildings, we got to see the rooftops of local houses and the distant mountains.
The only thing I didn’t like about Hanaoka Ryokan was the lack of a fridge. This was necessary for us as we purchased a bottle of sake that needed to be chilled. Luckily for us, the weather outside was very cold so we just left it right beside the door on the balcony. I had to make sure we didn’t forget to take it inside!
Of course the usual green tea and bath robes (yukata) were provided.
The bathroom was small as per usual but a pair of comfy toilet only slippers were provided. As a custom, you’re meant to take off your ‘outside’ shoes before you enter the room and then go bare foot (or with socks) onto the tatami mats. The toilet cannot be entered with outside shoes either so a pair of slippers is provided.
We arrived at the hotel a little before dinner so there was a bit of time to admire the sake we purchased during the day. We went crazy and bought 5 bottles. They were so heavy to carry around but totally worthwhile as they were all very beautiful – not to mention very cheap compared to buying them from Australia.
A prompt phone call from reception at 7pm signalled our dinner was ready. We strolled downstairs to the dining room to find only 1 table set up – ours. The table was already full of pretty little bowls and plates filled with colourful, fresh ingredients.
Dinner was a huge 13 course kaiseki meal with the freshest seasonal ingredients which were also beautifully presented and cooked.
Course 1: The presentation on the sashimi plate was immaculate. It was so fresh and vibrant, the fish almost jumped out at me. All the sashimi pieces were naturally sweet. Not too sure what the types of fish were though.
Course 2: This clam soup came with a cute mochi ball and was clean and refreshing. It was a fantastic palate cleanser.
Course 3: This plate in the middle was absolutely stunning. It was so full of flavours and different elements that I didn’t know where to begin eating. It had nigiri sushi (sushi rice at the bottom) with cooked salmon on top, daikon which was just cooked (still crunchy), snail, edamame, cooked prawn dipped in miso and a cold tamagoyaki which had the egg white and egg yolk parts separated. The tamagoyaki was quite sweet and very interesting since I’ve never seen it made with separate egg yolk and white before. The small bowl contains seaweed in lime juice which was very sour and a bit slimy.
From this, I can see just how much love and hard work has gone into the dishes.
Course 4: Next is another cold dish which had daikon, cabbage and takuan pickles.
Course 5: Slow-cooked salmon, shiitake mushroom, celery and bamboo shoots.
Course 6: This one is an eel (anago) terrine with wasabi – a very interesting cold dish that is more fusion food than traditional Japanese.
Course 7: Another cold salad with spring onions and a white fish in honey and white miso.
Course 8: This dish is a cold nasu dengaku – eggplant in sweet miso.
Course 9: There’s no end to the dishes! Next up was the hoba miso (cooked on top of a hoba leaf) dish grilled with eggplant and Hida deef (wagyu from the Hida region). It was high grade melt in my mouth texture, cooked with capsicum, green veggies, bean shoots in miso paste. This hot dish is a specialty of the area and we had it at every meal during our stays in the Hida region.
Course 10: The chawanmushi (steamed egg) had different ingredients to the traditional type that you find in restaurants. It had the usual shiitake and prawn, but also had lily flower (also known as golden needles).
Course 11: Hot soba noodles served with soy broth and topped with seasonal veggies and seaweed. It was a filling dish as I was nearing maximum stomache potential, but it was very tasty nonetheless.
Course 12: The final dish is a dessert called shirogoma yokan (白ごま羊羹). Shirogoma means white sesame and yokan is a type of mochi like Japanese sweet made from red bean paste, agar agar and sugar. This dessert was fantastic as it was very strong in sesame flavour and wasn’t too sweet.
Course 13: I struggled to finish my fruit. The watermelon didn’t look the best but despite the colour, it was quite sweet and so was the strawberry.
Rice was also served, which was topped with dried fish and pepper corns. How can people eat both rice and noodles you ask? Well, it seems like quite a common Japanese habit as some dishes can only be eaten with rice (such as the pickles).
As you can imagine, at the conclusion of this meal, both Yuye and I were barely about to walk. We dragged our legs and our stomaches up to our room and after a few happy cups of sake and tea, we fell fast asleep. Early in the morning we received another call from reception, advising us that our breakfast was ready.
Again we were the only ones eating breakfast that day. Our lonely table in the corner gave Yuye and I an exclusive feel. It was almost like we booked out a whole restaurant! Breakfast again was a feast with an amazing 7 courses.
Course 1: The grilled hoba miso dish this time came shared as the ingredients were less – it consisted of mushrooms, spring onions and miso).
Course 2: Each person got a plate of exquisite food with grilled salmon (which was tender and succulent), seaweed, marinated Hida beef, a sweet tamagoyaki, broccoli piece, cherry tomato, fish cakes and a piece of orange. Mostly cold, this dish had so many wonderful colours and flavours.
Course 3: Another side dish, this dish was cold and came with marinated fungus, fish cake and spinach.
Course 4: It’s tradition to serve meals with pickles and these are a specialty of the Hida area.
Course 5: Doesn’t this poached egg look just SPLENDID to you? I shouldn’t call it a poached egg as it’s really an ‘onsen tamago’ – an egg that’s been cooked in hot water to the same temperature of hot spring water, which makes the egg white less cooked than poached eggs but the yolk is more cooked (essentially cooked at lower heat for longer). This version was just beautiful. The dashi broth was so clear and tasty that I drank all of it as soup. The presentation is also very intricate and elegant.
I put the egg on top of my rice and added a bit of seaweed to it. This is the best way to eat onsen tamago in my opinion. 🙂
Course 6: This tofu dish wasn’t very strong in flavour but was very silky and smooth. I love the taste of tofu as it has a natural soy flavour.
Course 7: Lucky last of the beautiful meal was the miso soup. It was hot and soothing to the soul with wild nameko mushrooms and spring onions. A perfect end to the meal.
The rice was shared as well and came in a large serving bowl.
Normally you’d expect this level of professional cooking at a high class Japanese restaurant for a hefty price.
What did we pay for I hear you ask? It was 6800Yen per person. This equates to around $80 AUD or USD per person. This includes TWO meals (breakfast and dinner) AND the accommodation! I know its location is not as central as some and requires a little bit of walking to and from the city centre and the station, BUT the meals were so good that I’d gladly stay here again, even if I have to walk twice the distance of Hanaoka!
Would I stay here again? Absolutely. The food was fantastic to say the least, the accommodation more than enough, the owners were wonderful people who genuinely cared about our wellbeing (the lady owner seemed very concerned when she felt an earthquake and asked if we were ok) and what can I say, just the best value for money.
Hanaoka Ryokan is highly recommended to anyone wanting to visit Takayama.
I didn’t mention that in the excitement of all the good food and rushing for our next destination (Shibu Onsen where the snow monkeys from BBC Planet Earth/Natural World reside), I accidentally took the room key at Hakaoka. I ended up sending the key back to them in Shibu Onsen. Luckily the postal fees were not expensive. 😀
As Paul mentioned on his site, I also booked my room at Hanaoke through JALAN. However, at the time of writing this post, I could no longer find Hanaoka on the JALAN site. The easiest way to book is probably to send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and write a brief easy to understand email in English.
Ryori Ryokan Hanaoka
2-36 Hanaokamachi, Takayama, Gifu Prefecture 506-0009 , Japan