The top floor of Isetan in Kyoto Station is a busy place, with many established restaurants, and tons of foot traffic passing through the station. This was especially the case on a Sunday afternoon, where every restaurant had a sizable queue out the front by 12pm. Aoi-jaya is tucked away in an inconspicuous corner, but it too had quite a queue. There were about 8 people in front of me when I joined the queue just after 12pm.
It was my second time eating here, and I knew that the food was fresh and good. Since I was stopping over in Kyoto Station to take the Shinkansen, I decided to relive my experience from two years ago. The restaurant serves mostly sets that consist of a variety of dishes, with a steamed wooden box containing seasonal vegetables as the mainstay.
During my first visit, I had a set containing slices of raw beef and vegetables in a large steamer which is then cooked at your table. I was impressed by the novelty of the methods, and how everything was meticulously arranged and all cooked properly all in one box.
This time, I opted for the Aoi set, which included mixed tempura with matcha salt, sashimi, pickles, a vegetable dish and a box of freshly steamed vegetables grown in Kyoto which comes with two dipping sauces. They also give you the choice of plain or seasoned rice with mushrooms, and miso soup or hot soba. I was thoroughly satisfied with the meal, and with the value as well. The set cost ¥1600 before tax.
Besides the food, the experience is authentic as well. The waitresses are dressed in traditional Japanese attire. They must also be used to getting English-speaking tourists as well. Each set in the menu has a detailed description of each item, which is very handy if you cannot read Japanese. The wait staff can also speak a bit of English if you need help. Even more thoughtful is that they have an allergy guide for all their food items, indicating the presence of food such as peanuts, beef and milk.
Like me, if you only have a couple of hours in transit in Kyoto and are basically confined to the station, rest assured that you can still get great tasting and authentic Kyoto cuisine at Aoi-jaya for a reasonable price.