Lunch @ Acá 1° (Kyoto, Japan)

June 14, 2020 in Spanish by thywhaleliciousfay

One could say it was love at first sight with Aca’s crab paella when pictures of the dish started surfacing on my instagram feed. I made a mental note to self that I had to dine at Michelin-starred Aca although I wasn’t too sure how to go about it (when I needed to) because there wasn’t much information of Aca’s reservation system on the internet. And that’s back in 2017. To me, it seemed like those who dined at Aca were mostly all regulars.

But I got my small glimpse of hope when Aca joined the reservation website Omakase in second half of 2018. Yeah! And to make my reservation, I set reminders on my calendar to make sure I was on Omakase website when seats were released for Aca. Very important because having used Omakase a few times, I noticed some restaurants only put up a handful of seats. And because of that, the seats could be fully snapped up within minutes. Or seconds for the more popular restaurants.

I was unsuccessful in my first attempt at securing a seat at Aca for my February/March 2019 trip. But was super thankful that I got lucky for my March/April 2019 trip. I was going to be in Kyoto for 2 days, and Omakase only offered seat for 1 of the 2 dates I was after. And yes, I was glad my internet speed didn’t disappoint me too. Keke.

  

Located at second level, a couple was already waiting when I arrived at the restaurant. We waited quietly on the narrow flight of stairs before the staff unlocked the entrance door at 12pm sharp and welcomed us in. And in terms of seating arrangement, it was pre-assigned; The couple turned out to be friends with chef-owner Tetsuo Azuma and were led to the furthest end which had the best view as the seats were directly in front of the grill where head chef Azuma san spent most of his time at. I realised seats were not first-come-first-service first-arrive-first-sit when the staff pointed me to the counter seat nearest to the entrance instead of directing me to sit beside the couple.

And based on my overheard snippets of the long conversation between the couple and head chef Azuma san, I realised head chef Azuma san speak really good English!

Before we commenced our lunch, head chef Azuma san personally came up to the various groups to say “thank you for coming” and to check on our allergy. I mentioned my dietary restriction of ‘no beef’ and he said he could replace the beef dish with horse. Sounds good!!! And with that, I commenced my omakase lunch with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Charcoal grilled arctic surf clam (hokkigai), sea urchin and foam of seaweed and Spanish ham. I thought the sea urchin would just be the ones at the top, but no! Sea urchin was layered in between too. And the foam was really good. It contained a strong smokey taste of the ham. Yum!

2) Dish #2 (above) – Baby sweet fish (ayu) coated with a shimmery powder which the staff mentioned was used in pasta, and topped with goat milk cheese. And I really liked this. The two main ingredients of baby sweet fish and cheese paired well as the cheese toned down the bitterness of the fish.

At this point, head chef Azuma san took out 3 slabs of beef and went around to ask for the customers’ pick. One asked if they could choose 2 but he recommended not to as it will be too heavy.


3) Dish #3 (above) – Charcoal grilled big-eye snapper (kinmedai) and Jerusalem artichoke puree.

4) Dish #4 (above) – Sugar snap pea with bead-like rice grains which reminded me of what’s used for risotto. But I got to learn (while putting together this review) that this dish was a Spanish dish known as arroz caldoso, which meant brothy rice since the dish consisted of broth (bouillon) and rice. And simple it may look, but this was so good!


5) Dish #5 (above) – Served in a pot of sizzling hot sauce made with garlic and olive oil were Japanese tiger prawn and zanthoxylum piperitum. I was appreciative when staff took out his phone to google the vegetable for me when he saw my confused look. Thus, the very long and specific zanthoxylum piperitum. Or Japanese pepper, in short. Hee.

  

6) Bread (above) – And for us to enjoy the sauce, we were given bread. Yum!

7) Bread (above) – Was given a different bread when I nodded my head to additional bread. Keke.

8) Dish #6 (above) – Made with fruit tomato, this was like a refreshing palette cleanser.


  

9) Dish #7 (above) – Herbs and spring vegetables salad, and white anchovy (shirauo), paired with a hot soup dressing made with garlic and almond. And as head chef Azuma san poured the dressing over the greens, he mentioned the vegetables were done in 3 ways; Charcoal grilled, steamed and fried.

  

10) Dish #8 (above) – So while the rest had their beef, I had my horse tartare. I was really thrilled when this was presented to me because beside the crab paella, this to me was the other signature dish at Aca. And noticing my look of confusion, the staff offered to assist me with the dish which I was more than glad. And what happened next was like a theatrical performance. He removed the sesame leaves to reveal the slightly charcoal-grilled horse meatball beneath. He went on to slice it open to expose the pinkness within, and continued by placing the smoked egg yolk, bread crumbs (seasoned with garlic and jamon iberico) and black sauce (made from squid ink) onto it. With everything on the split meatball, he started to fold everything for a good 3 minutes at least. And for this dish, I had the tartare on its own first before enjoying it with the sesame leaves, and then with the toast. And I definitely liked the dish! Although to be really honest, I ain’t sure if I should have enjoyed it that much. Considering the religious reason behind my dietary restriction of ‘no beef’, I ain’t too sure if I could consume horse meat. Hmm…

  

11) Dish #9 (above) – Crab paella! The dish that I was looking forward to the most. The main ingredient used for the paella changes with seasons, and I was lucky that crab was in season when I dined in April. However, I didn’t catch what type of crab Was used; I too read that the type of crab used also changes with what’s seasonal. And I was told to have it on its own for my first bite, before having it with the lemon and mountain herb sauce. And this was so good! Whenever I had Spanish cuisine (in Singapore), I would always order paella and they usually failed to impressed. But this was unbelievably good. So when they asked if I wanted to have some for take away, I was like “yes!”

12) Dish #10 (above) – Ice cream on olive oil.

13) Dish #11 (above) – Was asked if I wanted coffee or tea, and I went with English mint rose.

14) Dish #12 (above) – Amazon cocao chocolate covered with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and chocolate crumbles, and garnished with a dried apple chip.

15) Hot tea (above) – At the start of my meal, I ordered tea for my beverage. And it was refilled once during the course of my lunch. Am honestly not too sure if I was charged for this because the drinks menu had no price. But even I was, I am sure it would have been reasonably priced. :)

16) Homemade sangria, ¥1000 (above) – Hard not to order sangria at a Spanish restaurant. Keke. And when the staff said they have hot sangria, I was totally up for it.

My lunch at Aca came up to ¥28,570 (including tax and service charge). And that excluded the ¥390 which was paid straight to Omakase for using their website to make the reservation.

And onto the big question… Would I recommend Aca? A big resounding… Yes! I was relieved (in a way that) I didn’t leave the restaurant disappointed, especially with my expectations heightened from all the raving reviews that I read prior to my visit. And I appreciated how head chef Azuma san tried his best to add a personal touch to every customers’ dining experiences. He would also personally walk us out at the end of our meals. Now… If one still doesn’t know, I am really bad at striking or continuing conversation. So I actually strategised to be the second to leave. I thought I could get away if head chef Azuma san was still occupied talking with the first group. But, no… He still managed to grab me. Haha. But I enjoyed our brief conversation. I think I became a bigger fan when he asked for my name; He wasn’t asking for the sake of asking. We were talking about something which led him to asking that. And that gave me the impression he was going to remember me. I hope? Sheepish grin.

It was also interesting that only 6 of the 8 counter seats were occupied. I was pretty sure Omakase showed all seats were taken up. So I guess maybe a pair of his regulars pulled out? It’s either that or it was done intentionally to allow himself to cope with the bigger group that was to come later; We were halfway through our meal when a group of 5 entered. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but I could (again) hear snippets of their conversation as my seat was nearest to the communal table. Realised the group was from Hong Kong, and a mutual friend had contacted head chef Azuma san.

And as a heads up, do note there has been changes to Aca since my meal in April 2019 as I write this review. Aca has closed their Kyoto-based restaurant and will be relocating to Tokyo in June 2020 (Not too sure if the opening date will be delayed because of COVID-19 pandemic). So if reservation was hard to get when they were in Kyoto, I can’t imagine how harder it’s going to be now that they are shifting to Tokyo. I just hope Aca is still on Omakase. Cause if they are, there’s always a glimpse of hope. However small it may be. Wink.

ACA 1°
2F, 55 Masuyacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto , apan (京都府 京都市中京区 桝屋町 55 白鳥ビル 2F)
+81 75 223 3002, Website, Tablelog
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 9
Mon – Sat : 12:00 – 13:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Mon – Sat : 18:00 – 21:00 (Dinner)
Value: 8
Service: 8
* Closed on Sun