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How To Get a Reservation & Is It Worth It?

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Our multi-course meal at Monk Kyoto was one of our favourite meals in Japan (and the world).

While the food at Monk isn’t really Japanese, the restaurant very much has a Japanese soul, and I can’t imagine a place like this in any other country.

It’s a serene, intimate dining experience (just 14 guests) with a chef who cares deeply about his creations. The dishes use local seasonal ingredients and are prepared with love and beautifully presented.

Vegetables are the focus, simple but flavourful, with most things cooked in a wood-fired oven, including pizza, the star of the show.

Chef Imai and his restaurant were featured on the Netflix TV show Chef’s Table: Pizza, and since then, it has become incredibly difficult to score a table.

In this Monk Kyoto review, I share how to get a reservation, what to expect, costs, and other useful details.


Monk Opening Hours

The full Monk Restaurant experience is only available from Tuesday to Friday.

They are closed on Sunday and Monday, and the full menu is no longer available on Saturday—instead, there’s a more casual a la carte menu (no pizza) run by staff members.

They also occasionally close for a few weeks (check the Monk website or Instagram).

There are two seatings a day: at the counter at 5.30pm and 8.30pm and at the tables at 5pm and 8pm.

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How to Get a Reservation for Monk Kyoto

Simon sat at the counter in Monk Restaurant, Kyoto, Japan
Simon enjoying the intimate space at Monk

Monk only seats 14 people—6 at the counter and two tables of four.

This, along with the limited opening days, makes getting a table incredibly difficult. Reservations book up in seconds after opening two months in advance at 12pm JST.

You will be unsuccessful if you are not ready to book before the tables are released and refresh the page at exactly 12pm.

Even after practice runs, securing a table took me five attempts.

Preparing to Make a Reservation at Monk

Getting Monk Kyoto reservations takes work. Here’s what you need to do before your booking date comes up.

Work Out Your Booking Date and Time

Monk reservations are released two months in advance, and you will only have as many attempts as you have days in Kyoto.

So if you are in Kyoto on 26, 27 and 28 November, you will have three attempts on 26, 27 and 28 September.

If one of your days in Kyoto is a Saturday, Sunday or Monday, you’ll have even fewer options.

Work out now when you can book, and always try for your first night in Kyoto to allow for more attempts.

You should also work out your local time at 12pm JST (and hope it’s not the middle of the night).

Create a TableCheck Account

Monk uses TableCheck for bookings. If you have an account, it will save you time as it will pre-fill your contact details.

Several restaurants we have visited in Japan use it for bookings, so it is useful.

Practice Booking

A few days before your booking date, go to the Monk TableCheck page 10 minutes before 12pm JST. Just make sure the day 2 months later is not a Saturday, Sunday or Monday.

You can use Time and Date to see the time in Japan.

Follow the steps below as if you were making a booking, then cancel before adding your credit card.

It’s worth doing a few practice runs.

Booking a Table at Monk on TableCheck

Here’s how to make a reservation at Monk on TableCheck once you’ve reached your booking date.

  • Go to the Monk TableCheck page – It’s best to be ready at least 10 minutes before 12pm JST.
TableCheck screenshot of Monk Restaurant booking, Kyoto, Japan
Monk TableCheck page
  • Fill in the top of the form – Number of people, date, and time. Tick the box next to “I confirm I’ve read the Message from Venue above”.
  • Choose category – Counter or table seat. I recommend sitting at the counter to watch the chefs at work. You can’t choose a table for 2 people anyway.
  • Ignore calendar for now – This will likely show no availability, so don’t worry about it.
Screenshot of TableCheck reservation for Monk Restaurant, Kyoto, Japan
Reservation section where you can specify any dietary requirements
  • Select Tasting Menu – Make sure the select button is green. This also shows the current price. You will pay on the day, but a hold will be placed on your credit card before then.
  • Fill in Question 1 – Put your dietary requirements here (English is fine). Vegetarians can be catered for but vegan and gluten-free can not. This is a required field so write none if you don’t have any.
  • Tick Question 2 – Confirm that you can’t take a taxi directly to the restaurant (more on access below).
  • Tick Question 3 – Confirm you’ll be on time for your reservation. You can also make requests here, but there isn’t much flexibility.
  • Check Guest Details – This section should be pre-filled from your TableCheck account with your name, phone number, and email.
  • Have your credit card details ready – Ideally, have them ready to copy and paste. You might prefer a credit card rather than a debit card as then the deposit will be put on hold rather than charged to your debit card and refunded after the meal. Just make sure your card doesn’t charge international fees. Some cards don’t work in Japan, so have backups.
  • Keep an eye on the time – Once you’ve filled everything in, go to Time and Date (or similar as long as it shows seconds) to check the time in Japan (JST). I had this open on my phone next to me as I did the booking on my laptop.
  • Change your category temporarily – If you want a counter seat, change your selection to table seat. You can then click back to counter seat as soon as bookings open. This is a way of refreshing the page without losing everything you’ve filled in.
  • Book! – At exactly 11:59:59 JST, click back to counter seat (or your preferred category) and instantly scroll down super fast to click Next Step. You don’t have to click on the availability in the calendar (which should show as a green circle) if you have already chosen the date (you don’t have time to do this anyway!).
  • Enter credit card details – On the next page, you can enter your credit card details to confirm the booking. Success! I believe you have 5 minutes to fill in the details before losing your spot.
  • If there’s no availability – You were too slow (you only have about 2 seconds to book!). Try refreshing the page for 5 minutes by toggling between categories just in case someone didn’t complete their booking. This didn’t work for me, though. I was only successful on my fifth attempt, so try again tomorrow!

Note that if you manage to make a booking, you must cancel at least a day in advance or you’ll lose the full cost of the meal.

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Where is Monk Kyoto?

The Philosopher’s Path during cherry blossom season in Kyoto
The Philosopher’s Path early in the cherry blossom season

Monk Restaurant Kyoto is located on one of the loveliest streets in the city—the Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku No Michi).

This pedestrian stone walkway runs next to a canal lined with hundreds of cherry trees that bloom in April. In late-November, it was still lovely with some autumn colour.

You can’t get a taxi directly to Monk so it’s easiest to choose a nearby temple that your taxi driver will likely know.

I recommend booking the 5pm or 5.30pm sitting so you can visit nearby temples (most have a last entry of 4pm) and then walk to Monk. At 5pm sunset it was lovely and peaceful on the path.

We ate at Monk after visiting Eikando (a 15-minute walk away), which is stunning in autumn. Other excellent options are Nanzenji (a 20-minute walk), Hōnenin (5 minutes), and Ginkakuji (10 minutes).

You could easily spend an afternoon temple-hopping along the Philosopher’s Path. See our guide to the best Kyoto temples and what to do in Kyoto.

Monk’s address is 147 Jodoji Shimominamidacho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto.

See Monk’s Google Maps location.

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Can Monk Cater for Vegetarians and Vegans?

Monk can cater for vegetarians but not vegans (or gluten-free).

The daily changing menu is vegetable-heavy, but they do serve meat and fish. We didn’t feel like we missed out, but if you sit at the counter, as we did, you will see meat and fish being prepared.

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Monk Kyoto on Netflix

Chef Imai at Monk Restaurant, Kyoto, Japan
Chef Imai prepping the perfect pizzas

It’s well worth watching Episode 5 of Chef’s Table: Pizza on Netflix before you visit.

You’ll learn more about Chef Imai’s background—his discovery of excellent pizza and decision to become a chef (which went against his family’s wishes), his love for nature and fresh produce, and how he opened Monk.

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Our Meal at Monk

The Atmosphere

Chef Imai in the kitchen at Monk Restaurant, Kyoto, Japan
In Chef Imai’s safe, serene hands

Monk is a small restaurant hidden away on the Philosopher’s Path next to a canal.

It’s a serene place with just two tables and a counter. Music is gentle, lighting is low, and the two chefs cook in silence with calm focus.

I highly recommend sitting at the counter, where you can watch the chefs work and gaze into the wood-fired oven.

Chefs working silently in Monk Restaurant, Kyoto, Japan
It was a joy watching the chefs work in perfect silent harmony from the counter

The simple kitchen is beautiful with piles of colourful vegetables and a single branch of berries against black tiles. Rustic kitchen meets Zen temple.

View of the kitchen lit with atmospheric low lighting at Monk Restaurant, Kyoto, Japan
The beautifully lit kitchen setup

During our visit, all the guests were foreigners and I imagine that’s common these days. Unfortunately, Monk’s popularity has meant that locals are less willing to jump through the necessary hoops to get a table.

The Food

Example of the daily changing Tasting Menu at Monk Restaurant, Kyoto, Japan
Our Tasting Menu of the day

Monk is an omakase restaurant, which means “I leave it up to you” in Japanese. You don’t choose from a menu but instead eat whatever the chef decides that day.

Monk’s menu changes daily depending on which vegetables are in season in the nearby village of Ohara, where Chef Imai sources his produce (and forages for wild herbs).

The 8-course menu will always feature lots of roast vegetables (plus some meat and fish for non-vegetarians) leading towards a grand finale of pizza and finally, dessert.

Each course is presented beautifully and explained to you (the staff speaks good English).

While the quality is high, nothing feels pretentious. It’s simple ingredients, simply cooked, and they taste wonderful.

Here’s what we ate on our late November visit:

  • Napa Cabbage Soup – Who knew cabbage could taste so good? We also loved the autumn leaf decoration and the addictive pizza bread (topped with grated parmesan).
  • Carrot and Mozzarella – The first carrots of the season served roasted with a local, amazingly creamy mozzarella and a delicious peppery pesto made from a local leafy green called shungiku.
  • Shiitake Mushrooms and Daikon – We had roasted mushrooms instead of yellowtail sashimi served with a daikon salad and tangy wasabi and yuzu dressing.
  • Sunchoke and Beetroot – Tasty roast sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) and beetroot on a sunchoke purée.
  • Roast Vegetables – A platter of vegetables simply roasted with salt and olive oil including sweet potatoes, broccoli, daikon, and peanuts in their shells (so good!).
Roast vegetables as part of the Tasting Menu at Monk Restaurant, Kyoto, Japan
Our gorgeous roast vegetables with peanuts
  • Roast Cauliflower – We had this instead of mackerel served with buttery spinach.
  • Pizza! – This is the highlight. One couple shares a pizza, but you can choose half and half toppings (from six choices). We went for Margherita (perfection) and Shungiku green pesto (wonderful). Some people couldn’t finish their pizza and were able to take it home. Simon could have eaten another; it was that good (and we’ve spent a lot of time in Italy).
Half and half Margherita Shungiku green pesto pizza, Monk Restaurant, Kyoto, Japan
Our delicious half and half pizza
  • Citrus Granita – A light, refreshing end to our meal.

Our meal lasted just under two hours and it was a perfectly paced, relaxing experience. We felt full but not over-stuffed.

The Drinks

Homemade Kinmokusei Vodka, Monk Restaurant, Kyoto, Japan
Homemade Kinmokusei Vodka

The drinks menu at Monk is lovingly curated and adds to the experience.

We started with one of their seasonal homemade liqueurs (they also have homemade soft drinks)—a delicious quince brandy with soda.

We also loved the Italian red wine they had available by glass. We especially enjoyed the earthy Trinchero Racines Rosso from Piemonte.

With dessert, we chose their homemade vodka with kinmokusei flowers. It had been infusing for a year in a big jar that they brought out—we could see the tiny orange flowers inside.

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How Much Does a Meal at Monk Cost?

The 8-course tasting menu at Monk costs 15,400 yen ($96) per person including tax.

Liquers and glasses of wine were 1100 yen ($7) and beer was 935 yen ($6).

Our total bill for two was 37,235 yen ($231) with 5 drinks. It was by far our most expensive meal in Japan, but it was worth it.

Credit cards are accepted at Monk.

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Who is Monk For?

I recommend visiting Monk if you:

  • Are looking for a unique dining experience.
  • Appreciate delicate flavours.
  • Love pizza and vegetables.
  • Have at least a few days in Kyoto (to maximise your chance of getting a reservation).
  • Don’t mind being very prepared to get a reservation.

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Who Is Monk Not For?

I don’t recommend Monk if you are:

  • Vegan, gluten-free, or have a dairy allergy.
  • On a tight budget.
  • Looking for a traditional Japanese meal—try kaiseki instead (or shojin ryori for vegetarians).
  • Looking for a loud, lively dining experience.
  • In a large group (I think you’ll struggle to book for more than four people).
  • With young children.

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Is Monk Worth It?

Dinner at Monk restaurant in Kyoto was definitely worth it for us. Yes, it’s expensive, but you’d pay far more for such an intimate experience in the US or UK.

We loved the tranquil atmosphere, the obvious care Chef Imai has for what he does, and the delicious yet simple food. It was one of our favourite meals anywhere.

If you can manage to get an elusive reservation (preferably a counter seat), Monk is well worth visiting.

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