Hoshinoya, Kyoto: A sylvan paradise


  20.11.16    Japan


Hoshinoya is one of Japan’s foremost upscale hospitality brands, mixing Japanese aesthetics and service with sublime ryokan design. In their newly-opened Tokyo property, this means 84 rooms over 18 floors. The word ‘haven’ is way overused in the hospitality industry, but Hoshinoya truly embodies it: walking in the building, just a few minutes away from Tokyo station, truly transplants you somewhere completely unexpected.

Although Tokyo was just a quick tour, I subsequently headed to one of their other properties outside Kyoto to stay the night for my birthday. It’s difficult to overstate how elegant the experience is. You get met at an ancient stone pier by their own wooden launch and taken slowly upriver until the ryokan emerges from the late summer foliage.

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Breathtaking rooms overlook the river, with trees framing every angle in an Instagram dream. The whole point is total relaxation, forging a connection with the natural world, even briefly. So there’s no TV, no entertainment rooms and even wifi seems intrusive.

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Dinner is served in an elegant, contemporary dining room whose stone design motifs makes a change from the wood everywhere else. With champagne and saké, a delicate little amuse of corn pudding with sweet shrimps and consommé set the tone – this would be a dinner high on aesthetics. Then a selection of tiny, perfect bites, each of which condensed flavour and texture of bigger dishes.

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Charcoal grilled sweet trout came in its own little verdant barbecue. Every table needs one.

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More charcoal – binchotan, of course – had kissed the sensational wagyu.

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Finally, seasoned rice with charcoal-grilled eel, grated yam and condiments came in a heavy black stoneware pot.

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A sublime finish came with the delightfully-named: ‘melange parfait with the method of mojito’. So light, so elegant, so much flavour in such a discreet serving. And yes, it tasted exactly like the best mojito you can imagine.

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If dinner was an experience, then breakfast was extraordinary. Not only the most generous in quantity, but also by far the healthiest I can remember eating. No wonder longevity is so prevalent here. Fish, tofu, eggs, salad, congee, fruit. A dietician’s dream.

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Event that was trumped, however, by waking up to see a new friend foraging across the water:

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While a post breakfast stroll was just the dictionary definition of morning calm.

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Of course, this being Japan, service was utterly flawless and wholly genuine. Nowhere more so than during our departure back downstream, where the team on the waterside deck remained bowed for a full five minutes until our boat had completely disappeared around the corner.