In December 2019, I checked into the Deluxe Room at Kyoto Yura Hotel by MGallery, the first MGallery hotel in Japan. The 144-room boutique hotel is situated within the bustling Sanjo shopping, dining and entertainment precinct where the famous Sanjo-kai Shotengai shopping arcade is located. Other nearby attractions include the Kawaramachi downtown district with its clash of shopping mall modernity and traditional Japanese culture as well as the Gion geisha district. A short walk away from both Sanjokeihan station (Tozai Subway line) and Sanjo station (Keihan Honsen line), a 15-minute drive from JR Kyoto station and ninety minutes by car from Kansai International Airport, the hotel is well-positioned as a launchpad for your exploration of the Japanese cultural capital.
For the uninitiated, MGallery by Sofitel is a collection of more than 100 boutique hotels around the world dedicated to heritage, aesthetic and serenity experiences, with a very strong focus on design. The MGallery brand is dedicated to meeting the needs of women travellers, with their tagline being “Inspired by Her”.
The UTW (“Under Ten Words”): Luxury chic meets modern convenience in Kyoto.
The must-dos (if any): Chill by the window on the raised tatami floor area of your room, try the Kagawa Olive Beef Sirloin at 54th Station Grill, have a cocktail at 1867 Bar.
KYOTO YURA HOTEL BY MGALLERY
Given the hotel’s assuming and discreet street entrance (to the extent that my taxi driver did not know where to alight me), the arrival experience almost feels like a fake-out. After first being teased by the imposing visual of a metal bonsai tree standing in a sea of white rocks after you walk past the front door, you make a left turn towards the stairs leading down to the lobby atrium and then the full extent of the property’s playful traditional-Japanese-meets-luxurious-Western aesthetic drama hits you. Literally taking centre stage in the atrium is a rush of verdant lush comprising tall bamboo stalks dramatically soaring upwards from a garden in the middle of the basement level into the ground level lobby, with both the natural light streaming in through the glass roof as well as spotlight illumination accentuating the brightness of greenery in the lobby. From the entrance steps, you are greeted by a statement red bench with a traditional Japanese umbrella resting against it, beyond which you will find the manor library-style reception area which is decorated with various artefacts. Plush blue sofa seats, ornate vase lamps and a Persian carpet hanging on the wall give the Living Room lobby lounge – every MGallery hotel has one – a smouldering, Middle Eastern-esque glamour.
There are a total of four room categories available, from the entry 22sqm Classic Room to the 54sqm Kyo Suite. In terms of facilities, the hotel’s fitness centre and barbecue restaurant 54th Station Grill are situated on the basement level, while cocktail bar 1867 is located on the lobby level. Rental bicycles are available for guests who wish to explore the neighbourhood.
In line with the MGallery brand’s “Inspired By Her” ethos, the front desk stocks a range of amenities to reflect such a commitment, from the detox water dispenser and the range of essential oils from Kyoto-based cosmetics brand Heavenly Aroom to the selection of different Kyoto nail polish made from paints used in Japanese paintings.
Boasting a raised tatami floor daybed-cum-living area by the window which overlooks the street, the 31sqm Deluxe Room is compact yet comfortable, employing a contemporary classical design with Japanese traditional elements. Backed by Nishijin brocade headboards, the surprisingly massive Simmons bed – it somehow felt bigger than a King, and had enough room for a Chinese basketballer to do vigorous snow angels – made for a supremely immersive snoozing experience. The pantry is stocked with Illy coffee as well as Dilmah/Japanese green tea-making facilities, while the modest mini-bar carries bottles of Asahi beer, Perrier sparkling water and fruit juice.
The fairly basic bathroom comprises a single vanity next to the washlet and a separate rainfall shower area which, curiously, incorporates a window with adjustable blinds looking out towards the entrance walkway in manner of an invitational voyeuristic performance gallery. The spa-luxurious bathroom amenities are from Parisian spa brand Cinq Mondes.
Breakfast is served at 54th Station Grill, the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant on the basement level. The breakfast spread includes the usual Western breakfast staples such as sausages, bacon and cold cuts along with healthy Japanese selections such as Salmon Fillet, Tamagoyaki, Chicken Wings and Sweet Potato, Nanbanzuke (marinated fish), Hijiki Seaweed as well as Tofu with a variety of spices and condiments.
After breakfast service, the venue transits into a grill-style dining experience which specialises in meat and seafood cuts such as U.S. Beef Tenderloin, Tamba Chicken Leg, Australian Tomahawk Steak and Charcoal Grilled Wagyu Rump Steak. The menu gives diners their choice of doneness level, marinade/rub (think black coffee, cocoa, sweet and spicy and the intriguingly-named 54th Station Grill rub), accompanying sauce (including black pepper, chimichurri, beurre blanc and red wine sauce) as well as sides. For dinner, I tried the supple Fresh Kyoto Catch of the Day (it was sea bass that evening) with Sauteed Mushrooms and French Fried Potatoes, but freshness aside it felt remarkably ordinary in comparison to the show-stoppingly good Kagawa Olive Beef Sirloin (400g), a tour-de-force of heavenly, buttery fattiness and toe-curling salt shocks which left the kind of indelible impression seldom experienced since I last had the Snow-aged Full Blood Wagyu A4 at Origin Grill, Shangri-La Hotel Singapore.
Situated along the lobby level, cocktail bar 1867 serves innovative tipples created in consultation with world-renowned bartender Michael Callahan (of 28 Hong Kong Street fame) which showcases Japanese flavours and ingredients, from the Japanese Umami High Ball and tequila-based Higashiyama Sling to the roasty Houji Tea Espresso Martini and the Pedro Ximenez sherry-based Matcha Latte. The Kamo River Side Fizz (local Houjicha-infused Roku Dry Gin with Mint Leaf, White Peach Syrup, Fresh Lime and Tonic Water) was suitably refreshing, but I could have six glasses of their Kyoto Yura Gin & Tonic (Kinobi Kyoto Dry Gin, Uji Matcha Powder, Yuzu Syrup, Tonic Water), in which the masculinely matcha powder and gently sweet yuzu syrup had a most harmonious liaison.
I enjoyed how the cocktails would first be placed on a wooden platform which would then be slowly pushed across the wide bar counter towards you, giving the drinks proceedings a certain sense of hushed ceremony. The bartender later overheard our conversation about good Kyoto cocktails bars and gave his stamp of approval for popular speakeasy Bee’s Knees, which we eventually visited and also enjoyed tremendously. (Incidentally, whilst at Bee’s Knees, we managed to bump into a certain American actress who was on holiday with her partner. If I had ordered an additional cocktail after the three I already had, I may well have asked to take a photograph with her.)
In line with the hotel’s “Inspired By Her” theme, each of the F&B concepts have specially curated dishes targeted towards women, from the Marinated Salmon and Chicken Breast Salad at 54th Station Grill to the decidedly feminine Lady in Bloom (Absolut Kurant Vodka, Elderflower Liqueur, Manuka Honey, Apple Juice, Lemon Juice, Sea Salt Spray and Ginger Ale) at 1867.
I was pleasantly surprised by my stay experience. While the hotel’s room product may lack the luxuriousness of those offered by its more premium siblings Sofitel and SO Sofitel, the sizeable Simmons bed was undeniably comfortable, and I really enjoyed the raised tatami floor area by the window which was a very unique in-room feature. The F&B concepts were also very confident, and justified themselves as destinations in their own right. For visitors in Kyoto who seek a (comparatively, by Kyoto hotel standards) accessibly priced and strategically located hotel from which they can easily access what the traditional Japanese capital has to offer, this property is highly recommended.
Kyoto Yura Hotel MGallery
84 Ohashicho, Higashiyama-ku