October 2009 update: Sadly Shougetsu-An has now closed. However, further up the street (towards Sanjo) you can find its sister restaurant Shiki-Yoshina. It also has a yuka balcony in the summer season and a very similar menu. Another branch of the same group is the restaurant Hamacho just north of Sanjo on Kiyamachi, however this restaurant does not have a riverside balcony.
If you are lucky enough to be in Kyoto during the summer season one thing you must do is treat yourself to dinner on one of the Pontocho balcony restaurants overlooking the Kamo river. Most restaurants won’t close their “yuka” balconies until the end of September so you still have a chance to go. Indeed, and as the weather is a little cooler now in the evenings this may be the perfect time to go. However, the average foreign visitor to Kyoto, strolling up and down Pontocho is probably at a loss when it comes to choosing a restaurant. What kind of food will they have? How will I know what to order? How expensive is it going to be? I would like to recommend 招月庵 (Shougetsu-An), a fine establishment, with wonderful food, reasonable prices and here’s the crunch – an English menu (with pictures!)! Below are a few pictures to give you an idea of the atmosphere. You can click through to flickr for a better look:
I went there last night and would particularly like to recommend the maguro (fine cuts of tuna) sashimi (it melts on the tongue!) and the hamo (sea-eel) tempura (cooked to perfection!). The seasonal salad with smoked sanma (saury) and pear was splendid too. You can order dishes separately, as I did or save yourself the trouble and treat yourself to a set course of which there are several to choose from:
The Sushi Course (5 dishes) – ￥3,000
The Tempura Course (6 dishes) – ￥3,500
The Sukiyaki Course (6 dishes) – ￥4,000
The Kyoto Course (7 dishes) – ￥5,000
Courses aside, on average you can expect to pay around ￥4,500 which is well worth it for super-fresh, top-quality dining in a superb atmosphere. I also recommend you wash the tastiness down with a few glasses of Kyoto’s local “No. 1497” beer which they have on draft. It hits the spot nicely. The staff are extremely courteous and obliging and even if they can’t speak English, they will do all they can to make your meal a memorable occasion.
Shougetsu-An is about halfway between Shijo and Sanjo on the east side of Pontocho. If you are coming from Sanjo you will see it just after the little park on your left. Coming the other way from Shijo it will be on your right just before said park. Here is a map.
Opening hours: 12:00～14:00 (reservations only), 17:00～23:00 (Last Orders: 22:30)