La Terrasse in Nara – Elegant French Fine Dining with a Touch of Japanese Aesthetics

When looking up what to do in Nara, we always see things like Todai-ji and the free-roaming deers come up all the time. Little is talked about the food scene. To our surprise, with a bit more research, we came across a number of sophisticated restaurants in the city of Nara. We decided to choose La Terrasse, a French fine dining restaurant in Nara Park, and the dinner was the highlight of our Japan visit in May this year.

the spacious dining table at La Terrasse restaurant in Nara, Japan.

Serene Setting

La Terrasse is under 10 minutes by taxi from our accommodation at the Shisui Hotel Nara. It is also very close to Kasuga Taisha and Mount Wakakusa. Being situated within the picturesque Nara Park gives La Terrasse a lush and serene surrounding. On its outdoor terrace is a 200 year-old mochi tree. During warmer months, guests can choose to dine on the terrace, enjoying the fresh air and beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, it rained quite heavily when we visited, so we didn’t have much chance to enjoy the views around the restaurant.

Inside La Terrasse, the atmosphere was cozy and inviting. Large windows and glass ceilings provided views of the lush greenery outside, giving us the feeling of dining in the midst of a forest. The tables are well-spaced, ensuring a sense of privacy.

French Cuisine with a Japanese Touch

a printout of La Terrasse dinner menu in May 2024.
Our dinner menu (that’s the restaurant terrace and the mochi tree in the menu photo)

I would say the food wasn’t purely traditional French; instead, it beautifully combined French techniques with Japanese ingredients, emphasizing seasonality and presentation. I will try to elaborate a bit more in the next section. This approach brought together the best of both cuisines. The dishes retained the rich, luscious quality of French cuisine, but without being overly heavy. Each dish was crafted to let the natural flavors and freshness of the main ingredients shine through, highlighting the purity and quality of the ingredients.

We liked the approach to food at La Terrasse and enjoyed its emphasis on seafood and vegetables. To sum up our dinner in a simple sentence, it would be: a dining experience that engaged all the senses. From the visually stunning presentation of each dish to the aromatic scents from the plates, our dinner kept us fascinated from beginning to end.

Dinner Highlights

To start our dinner, the staff brought out a large platter of vibrant vegetables that would be used. The first couple of courses included small refreshing dishes to cleanse the palate.

a platter of vegetables used as ingredients for the dinner at La Terrasse restaurant in Nara.
The vegetable ingredients

These small dishes were all beautifully plated and tasted good, though nothing mind blowing yet. The next dish was the first to give us a true “wow” moment: a small bowl of pasta with uni and firefly squid.

a bowl of pasta with uni and firefly squid at La Terrasse in Nara.
Pasta with uni and firefly squid

The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente with a pleasant toothsome chew. The uni was sweet and creamy, adding a luxurious richness. However, it was the firefly squid that stole the show. With its slight chewiness and strong oceanic taste, the squid added so much umami to every bite. The combination of flavors and textures made it one of our favorite dishes of the night. After this dish, bread and butter were served.

Next was the first warm dish and the most French dish of the night in our opinion: foie gras and stuffed morel with minced chicken, served with a yellow wine sauce. The foie gras was seared to perfection, boasting a rich, buttery texture that melted in the mouth. The morel mushroom added a unique, earthy texture, while the minced chicken stuffing provided a satisfying volume to the dish. The luscious yellow wine sauce complemented everything nicely, adding a subtle acidity and depth of flavor that tied all the elements together.

a plate of foie gras and stuffed morel with wine sauce served at La Terrasse French restaurant in Nara.
Foie grass and stuffed morel with wine sauce

The next dish featured lightly fried ayu fish. Visually, I think it was among the most beautiful dishes of the dinner. It looked as if the fish was swimming in a pond with green lily pads and flowers.

a plate of fried ayu fish with green garnish and sauce.
Fried ayu

In terms of taste, this dish wasn’t my favorite. Ayu, a local fish in Nara, is a small white fish with a gentle flavor. In this dish, the fish was served whole including all the small bones and organs as this small fish can be eaten in its entirety. This introduced a somewhat rough texture and bitterness (from its organs) that I felt clashed a bit with the other elements on the plate.

However, despite my personal taste preferences, the skill in preparing the ayu at La Terrasse was pretty impressive. The fish was cooked extremely well, holding its shape and allowing it to be plated to resemble a swimming fish. The flesh was crisp on the outside and firm on the inside. We had fried ayu at another meal a few days later, and it was soggy and limp, nowhere near the level of cooking displayed at La Terrasse.

For the next dish, we enjoyed kinmedai with saffron sauce and thyme oil. Kinmedai is a fatty white-fleshed Japanese fish known for its tender and delicate texture. The fish was cooked to perfection with rich and buttery flesh.

a plate of kinmedai with saffron sauce and thyme oil.
Kinmedai with saffron sauce and thyme oil

The thyme oil was drizzled by the staff at the table, instantly filling the air with its fragrant aroma. The saffron flavor was subtle and not overwhelming, and together with a dollop of some flavorful tomato relish, it perfectly complemented the mild and sweet taste of the kinmedai.

Our last savory dish was Kuroge wagyu beef with onion and mustard. I remember the staff mentioning that it was from the thigh part. The beef looked beautiful, with the fat integrating into the muscle and meat fibers. Everything melted together in each bite. The flavor was incredibly rich, and the texture was perfect, neither too meaty nor too fatty.

a plate of Kuroge wagyu beef course.
Kuroge wagyu beef

After that, we moved on to the dessert courses, and at this point, we were already satisfied with the meal. However, La Terrasse continued to impress us with a dessert that featured sorbet, meringue, and rose petals. From the menu, it seemed the inspiration came from Pierre Hermé’s Ispahan (they noted Ispahan in the Japanese menu), which features flavors of roses and raspberries.

This rose dessert course at La Terrasse kinda gave us an Alinea vibe. The fresh rose petals were freeze-dried using (I think) liquid nitrogen by the staff right at our table. They then crushed the petals into small pieces and sprinkled them all over the dessert. Every bite was full of pleasant and sweet rose fragrance. The presentation and preparation added a theatrical element, making it a memorable conclusion to an already wonderful meal.

sorbet, meringue with rose petals in the dessert course at La Terrasse in Nara.
Beautiful dessert course

Doesn’t that look lovely? All those colors look as if they were from a painting.

Well, actually, that wasn’t the end yet. After the dessert, we were offered tea and coffee. There were nine types of tea on the tray, three of which were non-caffeinated. All of them were very fragrant. We chose rooibos and hibiscus as we couldn’t take caffeine drinks in the evening.

a tray of different teas at La Terrasse.
Tea selection

The tea was brewed at the correct water temperature to preserve all the fragrant notes of the flavors. To complement the tea, we were served canelés and caramels, both of which were delicious. This final touch added a delightful end to our exceptional dining experience.

Canele and caramel served with tea at La Terrasse Nara.
Caneles and caramels

Attentive but Not Intrusive Service

Our entire meal lasted 3 hours, making it our longest dining experience so far. Initially, I felt the pacing might have been on the slow side, but I later realized it was fine. It gave us enough time to savor each bite, analyze the flavors, appreciate the presentation, and discuss each dish. And I’m a slow eater anyway.

I think service is an important part of fine dining and can leave a lasting impression just as much as the food. Even after six years, we still remember the great service we had at Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas and the awkward service at Alinea. At La Terrasse, we were happy with the service; it was polite, efficient, and friendly. We felt comfortable and relaxed, not uptight at all.

We were the only foreigners in the restaurant. Although the staff’s English wasn’t excellent, they did their best to explain each dish to us. I could speak just a little Japanese and understand some food names. I would say the communication was slightly awkward at the beginning, but as the meal progressed, we adjusted to each other’s languages and I could feel that both sides got along better and better. I really need to work harder on learning Japanese!

Some of the staff seemed to have been with the restaurant for a long time and shared insights about things like the table decor, the wall painting and the ancient mochi tree on the terrace. They also kindly gave us some chocolates before we left for our taxi.

Final Thoughts

We reserved our dinner through Ikyu about a month before our trip and paid 18,000 yen per person for the dinner course. For the food quality and cooking skills, I think the price was pretty reasonable. They also serve smaller lunch courses.

We often splurge on dining experience when traveling to Japan and last year, we only visited Japanese restaurants (like Hassun in Kyoto). Our experience with the French cuisine served at La Terrasse has made us want to explore more international cuisines in Japan. Overall, I highly recommend this restaurant. It is the first restaurant in Japan that makes me feel like visiting again. Looking back at the photos and reminiscing about the food and service brings a smile to my face.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *