As promised, I’m picking up where I left off with Tokyo. In a bid to get the rest of these posts out within a respectable timeframe I’ll keep things brief and just let the pictures speak for themselves. Our daytime visit to tempura master Fumio Kondo‘s restaurant (hidden on the 9th floor of a narrow non-discript Ginza building) on the second day of our trip saw my first foray into the world of Michelin-starred deep frying. The JPY8,400 (£68)Tsubaki lunch course (a smaller set priced at JPY6,300 with fewer and slightly different items is also available; dinner sets are considerably steeper) featured a line-up of impeccable vegetable and seafood tempura, cloaked in crispy light-as-air batter. From the counter seats we watched chef Kondo cook each ingredient in a simmering vat of sesame oil, turning occasionally with chopsticks and waiting patiently for the perfect moment to pluck the golden pieces out and set them before us.
Prawns were served in two parts – crunchy heads were packed with shellfish flavour (excellent with beer!) while the bodies were sweet and succulent.
Asparagus (vegetables offered vary seasonally) spear segments were bright green and crisp-tender. Kondo famously stores his vegetables on ice to retain their moisture.
A chunky slice of lotus root was toothsome but rather bland – I feel the vegetable lends itself more to being braised in a hearty stew where it’s allowed to sit and soak up all the flavours.
Kisu (Japanese whiting) however, eaten with salt and a squeeze of sudachi (a local citrus fruit similar to lime), was beautifully delicate in both taste and texture.
Fiddleheads suited a tempura preparation well – the characteristic subtle bitterness a great foil to the oiliness of the batter.
I love Japanese aubergines with their compact size, mild near-seedless flesh and glossy thin skins. Velvety and tender, they contrasted nicely with the crunch of the tempura coating.
A second fish, Megochi (flathead fish), was meatier and more robust than the earlier kisu, standing up well to the older oil (the sesame oil imparts a stronger flavour on each re-use).
I wasn’t too keen on the onion which hadn’t cooked through. It may have been a sweet varietal but personally I don’t really enjoy biting into whole raw onions.
Meltingly-soft Anago (eel) was unfortunately marred by a faint taste of grease, which, together with the deeper colour of the batter indicated that the batch of oil was probably ready for a change.
Last of the tempura, was Kakiage Ten-cha – a mass of battered scallop and honewort perched on a bed of rice served with a pouring of tea and pickles (you can also opt to have the kakiage served as tendon – soaked in sauce, on a bowl of rice, or simply with rice and dipping sauce). Fresh fruit rounded off the meal nicely, refreshing the palate.
You can certainly see the quality at Kondo – from the well-sourced seasonal produce (all local to Japan), to the greaseless paper-thin batter that accentuate rather than overshadow the ingredients. On this same trip we also ate at fellow 2 Michelin-starred Rakutei, a small 11-seater in Akasaka helmed by an elderly couple (the restaurant has been around for decades) and their sole kitchen assistant. The cooking was precise and ingredients just as good, but the vibe could not be more different. For me, the cosy tea-house styling and humbler location sets it apart from Kondo in a positive way, and that together with chef Ishikura’s fluffier batter edges it over the glitzier Ginza restaurant. That said, if you want more polish in surroundings and innovative à la carte items then Kondo is the choice for you.
Sakaguchi Building 9th floor
5-5-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
t. +81 (0)3 5568 0923
Music inn Akasaka Building
6-8-1 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo
t. +81 (0)3 3585 3743