Kaneyo Historic Kyoto Unagi Eel Restaurant かねよ 京都鰻屋さん
Kaneyo is a long-loved Kyoto eel joint thoroughly from another time and the grilled eel dishes are excellent.
Eating Out on Eel Day
On Eel Day we visited Kaneyo, one of the most famous unagi restaurants in all of Kyoto. Kaneyo is centrally located near Sanjo-Kawaramachi (intersection/neighborhood) and the Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcade.
To learn more about the history and development of ‘Eel Day’, please see this article.
Kaneyo Storefront and Takeout Eel Day Bento For Sale
The dude on the right is selling unaju (unagi bento) on Eel Day. On the left, in the window is where the unagi are grilled.
Kaneyo opened in the Taisho period and has been in business for more than 100 years now. The Taisho period was a very interesting time for Japan because the country had technologically modernized however, culturally it was still purely Japanese (now it is not).
Walking into Kaneyo is to step back in time. The atmosphere, the staff, the service, the building, everything is from a different time. Kaneyo’s traditional sense is not at all sophisticated.
Everything is out of kilter about the place. Walking up the steps to the second floor is an unnerving experience. The second floor space itself is seriously warped with age. If you were to set a ball on the floor, it would roll away, and in which direction it may be difficult to foresee. The first floor has a terrazzo floor and columns that do not look just handmade, but hand-hewn! There is one large wooden round table on the first floor that is warped and worn and polished with what I imagined to be decades of elbows and eel grease. Bottled beer is kept in a tub of ice water rather than a refrigerator.
I had heard about Kaneyo for years, walked and biked past it many times, but I had never been inside. When Paku lead me in the only think that I could think was, ‘eel joint’ (as opposed to eel restaurant).
As unagi cannot yet be completely farm raised, unagi is not cheap. We paid 1,600 yen each for our eel bowls. The servings are not especially large, either. They do offer a lunch time meal for 950 yen. This price range is on par with other unagi restaurants though.
I had unagidon (unagi donburi) and Paku had unagi kinshi which unagidon with a big square omelet on top. The presentation is dramatic and while the unagi is excellent, we thought that the egg was rather tasteless. In Kyoto, egg cooked in this way should have lots of dashi in it for flavor.
Kaneyo cooks its eel over charcoal, which can be seen in the front window.
While this joint is a bit run down, the service gruff (but fairly friendly), there are more elegant places for unagi in Kyoto but there is a definite charm about Kaneyo. That blue-collar Taisho Japan is something that is surely not long for the world. If you are in Kyoto and up for unagi you probably want to put Kaneyo on your itinerary.
A lacquered bowl filled with a modest portion of rice is topped with grilled unagi. This goes extremely well with beer. The little bamboo vessel on the rice holds sansho which is sprinkled on the donburi. By the way, the tsukemono (on the right) is terrible.
Unagi Donburi – detail
Notice the sansho sprinkled on the unagi.
Unagi Kinshi Don
This is a great dish, it arrives at your table just like this.
Unagi Kinshi Don – detail
Again, while very beautiful, the egg was less than delicious.
Unagi Kinshi Don – detail
The rice and unagi sort of steams under the hot, wet egg covering.
There is a waterfall outside in the little garden too.
The weirdly warped table and over-abundant staff.
Kaneyo Storefront – detail
We didn’t snap any piks of the second floor dining space, but if you look closely you can see how the columns and beams are not quite square with the world.
English website: no
English menu: no
Location and Access: Approximately 10 minutes walk from Kawaramachi Station (Hankyu Railway), Sanjo Station (both Keian Railway and Subway Tozai Line)
Address: Kyoto-shi Nakagyo-ku Shinkyogoku Rokkaku (京都市中京区新京極六角)
www.jin.ne.jp/kaneyo (Japanese language only)
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