I'll start by qualifying this review... this is my first kaiseki meal in Japan, so I have little basis for comparison there. But it is not my first meal at a Michelin starred restaurant, so my review is based objectively on comparing this to other "starred" restaurants, as well as my subjective preference for the food I was served. My final basis for comparison is the price I paid for the meal, which sets a level of expectation going in.
Subjectively, I think there's an art to simplicity in food preparation to highlight and enhance the natural flavor of food. I appreciate inventiveness and food transformation as much as anyone, but I don't think it's necessary to really showcase ingredients. That said, I feel there was a bit of over simplification for some of the courses. It's clear that yam was in season, because several dishes had yam. I think the sweetness played well in some dishes, but unbalanced others.
Again, subjectively, mushrooms are not my favorite food, and about 4 dishes featured mushrooms. I advised the chef of my preference upon booking, but also indicated that I was open to the chefs creations and did not want to limit my dining experience. That said, there was a lot of mushroom for my taste. Some were steamed. Some were pickled. Some were sautéed. I tried them all, and none were prepared so well that I overcame my aversion completely.
Final subjective thought, some of the food is not familiar to a western palette. Even while I appreciate eastern delicacies, some dishes I simply do not prefer. So while those dishes, like the jellyfish and seaweed salad, I struggled to truly enjoy, I did appreciate the cold cooked preparation (though some type of yam was also in this salad, and the tender, gritty texture of the yam was a strange counterpart to the crunchy jellyfish). Some of the textures were strange to me as well. One of the beef dishes was served with a yam sauce (an odd sweetness to go with beef) that was more like egg white than a sauce. It was so viscous and albumenous that it hardly stayed on the beef.
Objectively, and for food that I'm more familiar with preparing, some of the food was overcooked. Both beef dishes I had were prepared with thinly sliced beef that was completely overcooked, to the point that it was grainy. The second beef dish had two tiny slices of beef amassed with various types of pickled mushroom. This was also served with a dish of (glutenous) rice with pickled veg and chiffonade greens (similar to basil, maybe shiso). The "toppings" were simply overpowering... it did little to highlight one of the staple ingredients of the country. The sashimi I was served (sea bream I think it was) had extensive cartilage striations, so it made for fairly chewy sashimi. The wasabi was ground fresh in front of me though, which was a treat.
The service was also not what I would expect from a 3* spot. At one point I had 4 dishes in front of me, and at other points I was left waiting for food. I would expect that the dishes would be prepared and served as I complete a dish. Warm dishes cooled. Fried dishes would lose their crisp. One dish was also placed without explanation. It was clearly fish. It was clearly fatty. It was the best dish they served, and I'm sure it was special, but I have no clue what it was. But even that was overcooked; as fatty as the fish was, it was somehow dry in the middle. Finally, the chefs were literally unwrapping packaged food at the chef's counter. Just odd that they don't prep that well before service.
It's possible that kaiseki is supposed to be akin to home cooked food, which is what this felt like. No fancy plating (though the plateware was gorgeous), no elaborate preparations (lots of steaming, pickled, and raw). Maybe some of the food is considered quite a delicacy in Japan, but nothing stood out to me (shiitake, fried bean curd, jellyfish, potatoes, sautéed veg, steamed veg with sesame paste, shrimp). There were some standout dishes, such as the squid with fish roe, which was perfectly cooked and well balanced, jellied prawn with some kind of amazing grape, and the mystery grilled fish I was served.
I encourage anyone to take this review with a grain of salt, because while I appreciate eastern food, I'm not familiar with many eastern delicacies, and my western palette is not as refined to appreciate eastern fare (though I don't need hyper bold flavors or molecular gastronomy to appreciate good food). I've tried to give my subjective option of the food selection and my objective option of what I expect from a starred restaurant with a sky high price tag. Patrons get to choose their menu budget for kaiseki, and I opted to go all out (when in Rome...). Compared to other prix fixe and chef's menus at starred spots, I struggle to see how this has earned stars, if based on no other merit than food prep and service, and it was one of the most expensive meals I've ever sat for.