Tried & Tested: Noku Kyoto
AT the busiest times of the year – cherry blossom season and during the Gion festival – it is virtually impossible to get a hotel room in Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto. The opening of the Noku Kyoto helps alleviate that shortage, and it does so in style.
Location The old adage ‘location, location, location’ holds true in Kyoto, even though it is a relatively compact and easily navigable city. Noku is located directly opposite the expansive grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Palace – a must-see for any visitor to the city – and a short stroll from Nijo Castle, the Kamo River and the bustling Teramachi shopping arcade.
Other sights – the golden pavilion of Kinkaku-ji, Kiyomizu-dera and countless others – are a little more distant, but a bus stop is close to the front of the hotel while the building sits atop Marutamachi Station, just four subway stops from Kyoto Station and the bullet train links to Tokyo and Osaka.
Rooms The rooms are light and airy, with contemporary pale wood interiors and artistic touches, such as the colourful bed headboards that incorporate traditional motifs that include fans, leaves or the needles of the red pine tree. The sense of space is enhanced in the premium rooms by a day bed alongside the window, many of which look out across the grounds of the palace.
In truth, Kyoto has been crying out for a boutique hotel that combines all the five-star amenities of the big brands with the intimacy and attention to service that marks out a traditional ryokan property. Noku fills this niche and guests are certain to like the combination of sleek, modern lines in the designs of the rooms and public areas with the traditional touches that are dotted throughout the property.
Facilities An important part of what the hotel aims to do, says Teo Hong Yeow, managing director of owner Roxy-Pacific Holdings, is to bring together guests with the people who live in the immediate vicinity of the property. Each room has a map of the surrounding streets, with restaurants, cafes and bars marked, along with traditional workshops making and selling everything from incense to handmade rope, lacquerware, sake and tea. That’s a nice touch.
F&B The basement level restaurant is clearly making the most of its Kyoto heritage, with locally grown vegetables used in the shabu-shabu and tempura dishes. The nine-course dinner menu – served in exquisitely prepared portions in a tatami mat room with sliding paper doors – also includes rice steamed in an earthenware pot, steak from locally-raised cow and beef wrapped in paper and fried.
The hotel also invites the master brewers from the Kizakura sake house to lead regular sake appreciation sessions. If you get the chance, sample the Junmai Daiginjo. Noku also has a close partnership with Maeda’s Coffee, a Kyoto institution that operates the ground floor cafe.
Service All too often, particularly in Japan, staff are too distant, too proper and too subservient. That’s apparently how Japanese hotel guests like their staff, but I do prefer a relaxed and genuine smile from the front desk, which I get here at the Noku.
Verdict Noku Roxy manages to successfully bring together the key elements of location, striking design and fine cuisine, adding to that the desire to gel well with the local community. It will be very hard to surpass this combination of features in this city.
Name Noku Kyoto
Rates House category rooms start at 28,384 yen (US$252) and rise to 33,264 yen in high season. Premium luxury rooms start at 33,264 yen in low season, rising up to 47,520 yen
Contact details 205-1 Okura-cho, Karasuma-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-0861. Tel. +81 75 211 0222
By Julian Ryall