Kyoto’s Grand Café Fauchon wows with an all-vegan menu combining local ingredients with French cuisine

As culinary hotspots go, few countries can compete with Japan. Travellers head here not only for traditional fare, like sushi or okonomiyaki, but to see what unique spins local chefs have put on other cuisines, with Tokyo-style Neapolitan pizza and French fine dining among the standouts.

It can be difficult to make a name for yourself in this landscape. Not so for Fauchon L’Hôtel Kyoto, which opened in 2021 in the Shimogyo Ward.

A Parisian import, the Fauchon brand dates back to 1886 and is known globally for its confectionary and tea blends. The hotel in Kyoto – only the company’s second – showcases these sweet treats across its Salon de Thé and Pâtisserie & Boutique but truly flexes its gastronomic muscles at Grand Café Fauchon. Here, Chef de Cuisine Keiichiro Hayashi is at the helm of the culinary offering, which focuses on seasonal, local ingredients to create superb French plates for hotel guests and outside visitors alike.

On the hotel’s top floor, the restaurant looks out to Mount Higashiyama. While your eyes may be drawn to the view, glance up and you’ll spot ‘champagne bubbles’ hovering overhead. The décor pays tribute to the perlage of the Italian sparkling wine, but we’re gracing the halls of this restaurant for the sake pairing menu.

Both French and Japanese cuisines aren’t exactly known for their vegetarian options, so as a non-meat-eater, I felt an unsurprising sense of trepidation before dining here. We needn’t have worried — rather than seeing my dietary requirements as an inconvenience, Chef Hayashi viewed creating the menu as an opportunity. In fact, following on from our visit, the vegan tasting menu has made its way into the restaurant’s permanent offering.

The evening began with an introduction to the five glasses of Tsuki no Katsura sake to be imbibed alongside the six-course menu. Fauchon L’Hôtel Kyoto has teamed up with the 350-year-old sake brewery in Fushimi, Kyoto, to offer guests a short – but memorable – way to familiarise themselves with the iconic beverage. The glasses run from dry to sweet and include both filtered and unfiltered varieties, as well as Junmai Nigori-Zake, known as the champagne of sake. We imagine both connoisseurs, and laymen such as ourselves, will learn something over the course of the dinner.

Shortly after the sake is poured, our dining experience begins with marinated melon with fennel and port wine. Served in a glass more often used for prawn cocktails, the dish is light and refreshing. Everything is beautifully plated, and the next course – a green vegetable table – is a feast for the other senses, too, with the scent of mint and lemon zest hitting you as soon as it touches down on the table. The couscous is fluffy, while the vegetables retain their crunch.

The most surprising dish of the evening is the avocado babloua and tomato coulis. The tartness of the coulis works incredibly well with the creaminess of the avocado, and it’s a rather unique spin on two ingredients that are typically paired together atop a slice of toast.

Moving away from French plates and into Japanese cuisine, the spring tempura is perfectly crisp while not losing any of the fresh flavours of the vegetables within. It’s a masterclass in why Japanese tempura is vastly superior to other battered foods.

The final savoury dish of the evening comes in the form of a risotto with mushrooms and summer truffles. While delightful, we do wish the chef had been a bit more adventurous with the biggest plate of the evening, given risottos have been the star of vegetarian menus around the world for more than a decade now.

Dessert promises a strawberry tiramisu with caramel ice cream, and while it delivers on the latter, the former is far from your traditional Italian coffee pudding — it’s far creamier. We enjoy it nonetheless, but perhaps a different name should be given to the dish to avoid the risk of disappointing tiramisu traditionalists.

In a country equally known for its quality fish as its cuts of premium meats, our evening at Grand Café Fauchon proved that a great chef needs neither to impress. But if you are in town for fresh fish or Omi beef, we imagine whatever Chef Hayashi serves up will prove to be an all-round fantastic gourmet experience.