Had the name Ayatana not been written in the katakana syllabary, I would have mistaken it for a Japanese restaurant. In fact, it's much closer to home for Thais than it sounds.
Conceived by chefs Duangporn “Bo” Songvisava and Dylan Jones of Bo.lan exclusively for Dusit Thani Kyoto, Ayatana is named after a Sanskrit word referring to a Buddhist concept of six senses namely sight, sound, scent, taste, touch and mind. The Thai fine-dining restaurant aims to entice your palate with authentic Thai cuisine with the best of local Japanese produce.
Make your way to the lower ground level where Ayatana and other eateries of Dusit Thani Kyoto lie. The multi-sensory dinner starts when patrons are each handed a scented-with-essential-oil fan to awaken their olfactory senses. Then their body and minds will be treated to the hotel’s beautiful courtyard garden before they’ll be escorted to Kati, a Thai dessert atelier, to sit down and wash their hands with water infused with offcuts of organic Thai herbs, some of which comes from Dusit’s own farm in the hilly area of Oharanomuracho, that will be featured in the dinner to come.
The hand-washing ritual comes in handy since the very first bite of the dinner comes in the form of nam phrik served on leaves, prepared by Ayatana chef de cuisine Felix Schulenburg who’s former chef de cuisine at Bo.lan. It pays respect to kyo-yasai, Kyoto’s famous heirloom vegetables, with a tasty morsel of aubergines and a pepper relish inspired by a Northeastern Thai speciality.
Once seated, the dinner kicks off with five amuse-bouche items which are inspired by Shojin Ryori, the traditional dining style of Japanese Buddhist monks. However, these are not vegetarian. They are Nashi pear and raw prawn, Southern-style new rice salad (khao yum), Caramelised coconut with crab wrapped in egg nest (la tieng), Grilled matsutake and galangal relish and Stewed pork with bitter melon and salted fish. Together they represent Shojin Ryori’s rule of five — five colours: green, yellow, red, black and white; five flavours: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami; and five preparation methods: grilled, smoked, steamed, raw and boiled.
The second act is basically six dishes to be enjoyed with organic rice. This kap khao (with rice) part comprises a salad, a curry, a stir-fry, a steamed dish, a soup and assorted relishes. During my visit, I had Grilled pork neck salad with persimmon and red dressing, Stir-fried mushrooms and chicken with peppercorn, chilli and holy basil, Panang curry of salted beef ribs, Coconut soup of clam and wakame, Salted mackerel simmered in coconut cream with pork and prawns and Isaan-style steamed fish.
No worry about hotel Thai restaurants toning the spiciness down for non-Thai guests here. You should find that Ayatana keeps the Scoville scale to Thai liking.
To cool down and clean your palate, the last part of the meal comes in two prongs; refreshing Kyoto grape and peach in pandan syrup with smoked cream (loy kaew) and rice biscuit (krayasart) and Petite fours with Ayatana tea blend.
While the “eat” part of Ayatana is definitely elevated, the drink part is also thoughtfully conceived. Alongside a special wine pairing menu, Ayatana will also soon offer a selection of exclusive food-based mocktails created in collaboration with Intangible, a renowned non-alcoholic cocktail bar based in Chiang Mai. The mocktail menu will celebrate sustainable Thai and local produce.
As part of the dining journey, diners are treated to Thai-inspired wagashi (traditional Japanese confection) to be enjoyed with organic green tea created for Ayatana by the Dusit Tea Garden in Wazuka, which Dusit has set up in collaboration with TeaRoom Inc, a renowned sustainability-focused tea manufacturer.
The entire dinner takes around 2.5 hours, culminating in the soothing tones of a singing bowl to send diners off on good vibes. Dusit Thani Kyoto is in the city’s vibrant Hanganji Monzen-machi district, 850m from Kyoto Station. Ayatana is open daily for dinner, except on Tuesday and Wednesday.