Kaneko Hannosuke Honten 金子半之助 @ Mitsukoshimae 

Upon seeing a photo of the ten-don from Kaneko Hannosuke I already decided that I would hike up mountains and swim through seas just to try it. I know this sounds stupid. But feeling reckless today I went here and did something almost as absurd – wasting 2 hours of life in the cold alone :p Was it worth it?   

For those not keen on ebi (prawn) or anago (sea eel), kisu fish (Japanese whiting) was offered as a substitute. Having waited for so long I felt hungry enough to order the Kisu as an extra rather than substitute. Here is my ten-don! (the only thing on the menu)   

Guess how much it was? 950 yen. (+150yen for the kisu) That is exceptionally cheap for a ten-don of this quality with so much seafood.  

My first bite was the scallop kakiage which was juicy and sweet :p Sauce was nice with a hint of yuzu (they even put a small piece of yuzu peel on the anago to decorate it. that’s quite a lot of attention to detail for a fast food priced ten-don :p )   

and THIS is what drew me here! the tempura egg.  

oooooooo eggporn   

Final verdict? This was far from the best ten-don I’ve ever had (which for the record, was done by a place called Shirou years ago but the chef has gone and the ten-don there is no longer good. I’d really appreciate it if anyone can tell me where the chef went because it seems that all the staff there have been replaced!) However, for 950 yen I really have no complaints and would have recommended it to budget travellers had there not been a queue. 

There is in fact a sibling store in Akasaka (金子屋) which appears to do the same ten-don minus the queue…….. I’ll have to try that later to see if it is as good as this original store! 🙂 

天丼 金子半之助

03-3243-0707

東京都中央区日本橋室町1-11-15 1F・2F

http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1302/A130202/13118694/

Other chains (with less queue) can be found here 

Http://www.hannosuke.com 

Mikasa @ Miyazakidai 

So the other night I came to Mikasa, a tempura restaurant near Miyazakidai station in Kanagawa-ken. (sounds far but if you take the train it’s only 21 mins from Shibuya!)

 I’ll admit – despite being highly skeptical about tabelog rankings (Japanese restaurant review site) , I couldn’t help but be curious about this 10-seat establishment which got ranked #1 for tempura in the country, beating Kondo, Fukamachi, Mikawa Zezankyo, Yamanoue, Hayashi, etc + a whole big list that I still want to try. 

Called to make a booking one month in advance and finally, here I was!! Everyone ordered an omakase course which we decided to kick off with a little bit of sake…The first thing served was the Otsukuri (sashimi course). Neatly presented with fresh grated wasabi, this consisted of 2 slices of tai and 2 slices of maguro.Now time for the tempura! A deepfried head of kuruma-ebi was served with yurine (edible lily bulb) and soramame (broad beans). I was pleased that not even a drip of oil was observed on the oil paper. 

Soon after a piece of kuruma-ebi meat was added onto my plate. 

I was more impressed by the light crispy batter of this piece of kuruma-ebi than the meat itself as it wasn’t the type where sweetness explodes in your mouth and you die temporarily of umami goodness. It was good, but I was easily able to imagine something better. 

However, the second piece of kuruma-ebi served was AMAZING! This second piece was much richer in flavour as it still had its ebi-miso (prawn brains) attached. 

Asparagus was much better than my memory of the shockingly fibrey one at Mikawa Zezankyo (I was probably just unlucky) though not the best I’ve ever had. 

Kisu (Japanese whiting) was great, also with no feeling of oiliness at all but still retaining good moisture! 

Next up was Shiitake. (This is Doi-san, who has been making tempura for 40 years 😀 He had a poker face whilst cooking throughout the meal but turned out to be a very friendly approachable ojisan when everything was finished!) 

Shiitake – juicy and sweet.

Oyster & truffle salt. Although I normally love truffle, I wasn’t sure if this truffle salt touch was necessary for the oyster. It didn’t do much for me- no complaints though.Then we had Ebi-imo- a traditional Kyoto vegetable which is also one of my favourite varieties of taro! It is called Ebi-imo (literally shrimp potato) because it has a stripey skin that looks like the shell of a shrimp. This one, cut into a long thick block, was like thick cut fries on Anadrol 50.

Sumi-ika was soft and sweet. Yum 🙂 I also always get excited to see greens like nanohana – something about its crunchy mild bitterness appeals to me like no other veggie. This was no exception – absolutely delicious! shirauo (whitebait) was light & fluffy. I loved how I was still really hungry at this point because everything here simply felt really light! 

Tara shirako (cod milt) I normally prefer fugu shirako but couldn’t really complain about this one. It was rich & creamy inside, yet it did not feel too heavy. good stuff.

then Doi-san began preparing the Anago.Also with hardly any trace of oil, the anago was crunchy and yummilicious! 

At last we were given a choice of ten-don (with a kakiage of shrimps and scallops) or ten-don ochazuke (tea rice with kakiage tempura) 

And dessert was a simple yet beautiful banana tempura! 

Overall, I would say that dinner at Mikasa was a highly enjoyable meal with incredible cost performance. Omakase Dinner with sake came to less than 15k yen per person! although the ingredients used may not have been as high end as some of the Michelin-starred tempura establishments, we are talking about spending only half of what one would often pay at other top tempura places, for tempura that is at least almost as good in terms of execution. Doi-san says he wishes to retire soon. Perhaps I should come back before it is too late! 

Mikasa 美かさ

Address: 神奈川県川崎市宮前区宮崎2-9-15 

Phone: 044-853-1819

Web:http://tabelog.com/kanagawa/A1405/A140507/14000813/

Tamawarai 玉笑

‘Twas a drizzly evening in Tokyo and for some reason, everytime it rains I feel compelled to reflect on life (notice how in music videos, there is that cliche depiction of a contemplative subject staring out the window? It always happens to be raining too). Inevitably these reflections include some less philosophical revelations such as the amount of fat I have accumulated from festive feasts consumed in the past few weeks. Over some serious sensations of guilt, I decided that for one night at least, I must not succumb to that evil glutton in my mind who keeps drawing me away from foods that are (relatively) low in calories and fat. And that is how I ended up trekking my way to Tamawarai, a small soba shop buried in one of the most inobtrusive streets near Harajuku.
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The restaurant was a little difficult to spot because the entrance to Tamawarai was anything but ostentatious. I eventually found my way with the help of Google Maps and this lonely looking little lantern.

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It was only 5:30 pm and I was the first customer of the night. IMG_3696

For a traditional soba-ya, the glittery silver menu was rather stylish, with a calligraphic drawing of the lonely little lantern at the corner. The main food menu was divided into three sections – Otsumami (snacks, generally eaten as accompaniment to alcohol), soup soba, and cold soba.IMG_3700

The first thing I opted for was an otsumami, the grilled kuruma-ebi. Since I hate peeling prawns I just ate the entire thing, shell included. This could have been unpleasant at other places but the shell of this prawn was so thin and crunchy that I felt more like I was just snacking on a prawn shaped, prawn flavoured crisp with real prawn flesh inside! This was fantastic with my ume-shu (Japanese plum liqueur). 20140120-123005.jpg

My next otsumami was the dashi-maki tamago (dashi as in fish stock, maki as in roll, and tamago as in egg. In short, a fish stocky roll omelette). Nothing can go too wrong with dashi-maki tamago!  This was standard in a good way; huwa huwa (the Japanese expression for soft, fluffy things) in texture, served while it was still piping hot. IMG_3709

My final otsumami was the misoyaki which was basically a perfectly circular smear of delicately flavoured miso paste containing small bits of spring onion, grilled and served on a hot metal plate. IMG_3711

Finally, oh star of the night – my natto soba! I’m aware that there are many natto haters out there (both in and out of Japan) who find the pungent smell of fermented soybeans vomit-inducing, but seriously, natto is one of the things that truly taught me what an acquired taste really means. In my opinion, acquiring a taste does not necessarily require repeated exposure, nor does it have to be a slow developmental process that needs to be nurtured intentionally unless you are actually neophobic. Sometimes, all it takes is a situation that triggers an urge to give something one more try. For example, I always hated natto as a kid – but it was when I saw a random woman eat natto on rice as though it were the most delicious thing in the world that the crazy foodie in me felt impelled to give the smelly beans one more chance. This opened my gustatory senses to a whole new world of different types of natto, which might not have been possible had I not been in the particular situation. So, natto-rice woman, thank you for appearing in my life that day!  (I’d also like to thank my dad for making durian appear to be exotic ice cream)

OK, back to my bowl – The natto beans here were very large compared to the standard sized natto commonly found in supermarkets. Also on the soba were seaweed, spring onions, katsuobushi (bonito flakes), and the obligatory raw egg in the middle.

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Neba-neba! (That’s the Japanese onomatopoeia for sticky, stringy, slimy things)

Having been living in Oxford where my closest source of artisanal Japanese noodles was udon from Koya in London, and then Hong Kong where the sushi and ramen trends have overtaken the Japanese culinary scene, I have not been having brilliant soba for a long, long time. I couldn’t help smiling as soon as I had my first bite of this nicely firm, aromatic soba.

The tsuyu sauce had an elegant flavour that was suitably strong without overpowering the soba’s sweet buckwheat taste; its refinedness also allowed the freshness of all other ingredients to shine through. Definitely a well-crafted bowl of soba that can only be the product of some very skilled hands! IMG_3724

My mom ordered the tempura soup soba that I also tried a bit of. Whilst the tempura was not particularly commendable, the hot soba, which was significantly thicker than usual soba, had a chewy, grainy texture that was just as impressive as the cold natto soba I had. IMG_3718

As usual the meal ended with soba-yu (hot water used to cook soba) poured into the remaining tsuyu after all the noodles were eaten. A wonderful meal that did not make me feel too heavy afterwards, yep! IMG_3725

Tamawarai 

Address: 5-23-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

東京都渋谷区神宮前5-23-3

Telephone: 03-5485-0025

P.S. Whilst looking for their precise address online, I realised that Tamawarai actually received its first Michelin star last year! I’d say that was well deserved 🙂

Mikawa Zezankyo みかわ是山居

Having read raving reviews about this one Michelin star tempura restaurant, I trekked my way to Monzen-Nakacho for lunch , hoping for some wonderfully fresh seafood prepared by the “legendary” tempura master Tetsuya Saotome. Word has it that chef Saotome serves tempura in the “Edomae” style – meaning that all parts of the meal are made with ingredients that were used in the Edo period. Now what does this mean? Edomae literally translates to “in front of Edo”, “Edo” being the name of Tokyo back in the day when Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate from 1603 until1868. Thus, most of the ingredients used are ones that were obtainable back then in what is now known as Tokyo Bay.

The restaurant is hidden in a small street in a residential area. Unless you are driving with GPS you may need to spend some extra time looking for the place.

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 I was happy when I got there –  It was almost 40 degrees that day and I did not want to spend an extra second outdoors :p Upon entering the restaurant I thought to myself – YAY!! Gonna have some yummy tempura. FYI, the original Mikawa tempura store was in Kayabacho where chef Saotome had worked for over 30 years. (There is also a branch in Roppongi, but only Saotome’s apprentices work there). Yes I gathered this information before coming to this restaurant, and knowing of chef Saotome’s veteran experience I was anticipating a lunch worth his name. IMG_2314

Before getting seated, the table is already laid out, with the daikon oroshi and a green tempura dipping sauce (natsutsuyu) exclusively made for the summer months. The sauce is slightly spicy, slightly bitter and slightly sour. I opted for the 15000 yen Omakase tempura course and a beer. IMG_2312IMG_2313The first thing that came was two pieces of Ebi (shrimp), served one after the other. Expecting very good, grease-free, crunchy tempura, I was quite disappointed at my first bite of ebi!  It wasn’t oily in general tempura standards but for a restaurant with this name, it was slightly underwhelming. I wondered if it was because the weather was too hot and that I felt greasy myself anyway. So I downed some beer and decided to savour the second piece better. Sadly, I felt like I was just eating more grease. >_< grrr Japanese summers!

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As expected, the heads of the Ebi came after the Ebi. How did I feel? Ah…. more oil.
IMG_2319Then came the Kisu (Whiting). I normally like my tempura with only a dab of salt but because after the ebi and ebi heads I already felt too greasy, I dipped this entire piece into the natsutsuyu, hoping that the acidity would take some of the oily heaviness away. At the same time I was served the Suimono – a clear dashi soup containing one shrimp dumpling. The taste of this was so “standard” I cannot think of any particular words to describe it. It was not fragrant, nor was it peculiar in any way….. I’d like to blame the 40 degrees celsius outside again….

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Next came the Ika (squid). This … was kind of tasteless. I started feeling like either all the people who raved about this place were secretly the chef’s friends/paid/never had better tempura/love tempura no matter what or that this was simply a very bad day for Saotome. IMG_2327 Oh by the way here is a poorly taken photo of Chef Saotome.IMG_2329 Next came the ginger and the Uni (sea urchin). These were not bad, but I’ve definitely had better Uni tempura than this for around the same price/cheaper 😦 IMG_2331 IMG_2334

Then came the Ayu (sweetfish). The head was a little bitter but I’d say this was one of the better dishes, mainly because I do not remember what was bad about it.IMG_2340 Then I was served the Meguchi. At this point, eating felt a bit like a chore. It wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t able to notice anything good about it. IMG_2344 The Anago (sea eel) was probably my favourite course of all. It was crunchy and fresh, though unfortunately by this time I was getting very full and was not able to enjoy this piece to the fullest.  IMG_2350 IMG_2351

Had some veggies too – Sweet potato, Aubergines and Asparagus. The sweet potato was nice, but it isn’t too hard to find decent sweet potato tempura. The aubergine was not worth mentioning. Most disappointingly, the asparagus was too fibre-y – not the sweet juicy asparagus I expected from a top-notch tempura-ya! IMG_2356 IMG_2358Towards the end of the meal I was given a choice of either a kaibashira kakiage (scallop kakiage) on rice with miso soup or the same thing in an ochazuke (tea-based soup rice). My mom and I went for one of each. I was getting tired at this point and just wanted to finish the meal.

IMG_2362 IMG_2365A few pieces of sweet beans came as dessert at the end of this uneventful meal.

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So… in conclusion… would I do this again? … No.

Just to be fair I would give elderly Chef Saotome the benefit of doubt – perhaps this was just a very unfortunate, bad day. All of us have bad days. But given the fact that there are plenty of other top-notch tempura-yas in the city, I shall not risk having yet another mind-numbing meal instead of trying out a new place.

Website: http://mikawa-zezankyo.jimdo.com

Address:

〒135-0032 1-3-1 Fukuzumi, Koto-ku, Tokyo

〒135-0032
東京都江東区福住1丁目3−1

Tokujo-Tendon @ Shirou (しろう)

Today I would like to dedicate a post to my favourite ten-don in the world – the “Tokujo Ten-don” from Shirou, a restaurant located in one of the smaller side streets perpendicular to Omotesando. I was never a big fan of tempura on rice until I tried the “Tokusei Kakiage Don” at Tempura Yamanoue in Tokyo Midtown when it  first opened in 2007. (For those who are unfamiliar, Kakiage is  a form of tempura which, instead of being deep fried as whole shrimps or whole pieces of vegetables, are cut into pieces and made into little round fritters). Greatly impressed, I was gutted when I found out that the particular item was only available for the first week of the restaurant’s grand opening, and the ten-don in their usual menu was nowhere near as delicious as their mind-blowing Tokusei Kakiage which contained an overindulgent amount of small but intensely sweet scallops.

It took me a while to realize that the best substitute was actually available in my own neighbourhood! Because Shirou is not actually a tempura specialist (they do standard Japanese dishes like oyakodon, soba and gindara saikyoyaki for lunch and Kaiseki for dinner), I was pleasantly surprised at how well they managed to batter each piece of tempura in my Ten-don. At 2800 yen, I believe this is a STEAL given that the chef visits Tsukiji market every morning to pick the best produce for all the dishes they make each day. Anyway, enough writing – check the photos out!

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On top of the usual ohitashi (chilled spinach) and tsukemono (pickled veggies), the shrimp’s legs are also served in a cute little plate on the side.

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The rice also comes with a flavourful miso-soup with an abundance of nameko mushrooms.

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Those who are not hungry may also take the option of the simpler “Ten-don” which tastes just as good, only with fewer ingredients! 
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I would also recommend the Gindara Saikyoyaki here. However, do note that these dishes are only available at lunch time so you better come in the day! 🙂

Website: http://www.shiro-tokyo.jp

Address: 〒150-0001 東京都渋谷区神宮前3-5-1

3-5-1, Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo Prefecture 150-0001, Japan