Izakaya in Kyoto; Shinme 神馬、京都

japanese cake

Recently we were in Kyoto 京都, a city not to be missed on a trip to Japan. This time we finally got to go to Shinme 神馬 which was recommended by Mark Robinson some time ago.  Fortunately, I managed to “reserve” the counter. It was far from our hotel at Kyoto station. Although the taxi cab driver knew where Shinme was, it was a long ride and the driver’s lecture on Kyoto history and geography got fairly old long before the end of the ride. The izakaya had a very unassuming store front. Stepping inside was like going back in time. The inside reeked of Showa era 昭和 (an era of the previous emperor, 1928-1989); the decor, the advertisements, the clientele (including us).

Shinme - 2 (1)

We bellied up to the counter and an older fellow came out and initially interacted with me but was kind of unfriendly for the remainder of our stay, not the type to chit-chat and provide information. We were not sure if he is the owner but could be. He spent a fair amount of time, while we were there, in front of the old cash register tucked into a nook in the front of the store. He also occasionally came out and interacted with the customers especially a select group, we assumed, were the regulars. We noticed that while he used the drawer on the cash register to store money, he  relied on a calculator or abacus to ring up sales. There was no menu and I had to read hand written cards hanging on the walls to order sake and food. Some were difficult to decipher. The serving staff, in contrast to the Showa immersion experience, were young and efficient. Relics of old grills and other instruments of food preparation moldered long unused behind the counter. At some point in the past, at least, Yakitori must have been cooked there but “Yakidai” 焼き台 grill was not used any longer. The space was used only for the preparation of sake.

Shinme - 4 (1)

We ordered cold sake from Kyoto. The Otoshi was rather nice; composed of rice noodles on the bottom with onsen tamago, two grilled hamo (conger ell) pieces, okra, and shrimp in dashi broth.

Shinme - 1

We did not take pictures but we had a sashimi assortment including uni from Hokakido. We had a grilled fish, boiled firefly squid with sumiso sauce (The picture below is after we had eaten 2/3 of it. The serving was much larger than this). We ordered more dishes but our memories are foggy. We had more sake.

Shinme - 3

How was this place? It is not bad. The food was good but the total lack of interaction with the people preparing the dishes left an emptiness to the experience (the kitchen is in the back totally isolated from the customers). Since we like to stay in the hotel at the station when we visit Kyoto, the distance and lack of convenient transportation besides taxi is another negative. So, we still like “Akagaki-ya” 赤垣屋 better, although we have not been there for some time. I tried to secure the counter but they do not take reservation for counter just for tables. We staggered out of the door after paying the bill (about $180?) to the fellow at the cash register and took a taxi back to our hotel.

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