This ox-drawn carriage meal holds a bevvy of surprises.

Kyoto is known for its longstanding tradition of serving fine multi-course kaiseki meals, but when you’re visiting the city’s top tourist sites and you want a simple lunch with high visual impact, where’s the best place to go?

In our opinion, you can’t go wrong with a stop at Higakisaryo, a bright and cheerful cafe located at the Nakadachiuri Rest Station on the grounds of Kyoto Gyoen National Garden.

We hadn’t visited the park in a long while, so when we came across the very modern-looking Nakadachiuri Rest Station, we immediately stepped inside for a look around.

There were restrooms and souvenir stores inside, but what really caught our eye was the menu for the Higakisaryo restaurant. Open only during the day, this restaurant serves up a variety of noodle and rice dishes…

▼ …and a very special Goshoguruma Gozen (“Imperial Carriage Set“), which is surprisingly well-priced, at 1,690 yen (US$12.52).

This unusual Carriage Set was something we knew we had to try, so we took a seat and placed an order for it, along with a cold Japanese Black Tea, priced at 450 yen.

Back in the day, ox-drawn carriages known as goshoguruma were only used by the Imperial family and high-ranking nobility. Here at the restaurant, the cart still carries precious cargo, but in the form of delectable dishes, which is something we’ve never seen before.

▼ When it arrived at our table, the Imperial Carriage looked even better than we’d anticipated.

Taking a closer look at the details, we could see the carriage had been beautifully lacquered, and although we tried to roll it, we found that the wheels were fixed, giving it extra stability.

▼ No tabletop cart-racing for us today.

It wasn’t just beautiful on the outside — when we lifted the lids on our tray, the scene became even more majestic.

As seen on the menu, this two-tiered meal comes with Kyoto-style side dishes on the bottom, and a main dish of your choosing on top. We opted for the Seasonal Fish, which gave us a beautifully grilled piece of Spanish mackerel and rice topped with chirimen (young fish) on the side.

The rice with chirimen was moreish and the Spanish mackerel was moist and delicious.

The Kyoto-style side dishes were also incredibly well-made, providing bursts of contrast to the main dish.

▼ Kyoto pickles, eggplant, and tofu were among the delights on offer when we visited.

Each morsel had been carefully made, giving the meal an elegance befitting the carriage it was served in.

▼ And for dessert, a delicious mochi cake.

When we first sat down to eat, we thought the unusual carriage would be the star of the show, but after finishing the meal we realised the food was just as worthy of the spotlight. In fact, the Imperial Carriage Set is so good it’s worthy of becoming a Kyoto specialty in its own right.

For now, though, like a lot of local treasures, it remains one of those little-known gems that only those in-the-know know about.

Restaurant Information

Higakisaryo / 檜垣茶寮
Address: Kyoto-fu, Kyoto-shi, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto Gyoen 3, Kyoto Gyoen National Garden
京都府京都市上京区京都御苑3 京都御苑内
Hours: 10:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (cafe menu), 11:00 a.m.-3:30p.m. (light meals and lunch sets)

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