Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tokyo Short Trip - Tempura Yamanoue Roppongi

I was drawn to Tempura Yamanoue as chefs at the Michelin-starred Fukamachi and Kondo - which I went in my previous visits (the links were what I have reflected on those meals) - were trained there before setting up their own shops (so was the chef at Rakutei, another famous tempura restaurant in town). Tempura Yamanoue is an old restaurant, opened almost 60 years ago at the Hilltop Hotel in Kanda District, and the one I went was their Roppongi branch, located in the Tokyo Midtown commercial complex.

From outside the restaurant just looked like any other ones in a shopping mall - and in Tokyo Midtown there are no fewer than 10 of those. It wasn't particularly big - the main dining area is the L-shaped counter table which sits around 12 people, and there's one or two private room on the side. In front of the counter table is the kitchen "stage" where 3 chefs worked behind the deep-frying pan.

The dinner menu was straight-forward - a few set choices which essentially varies in the number of dishes, and the seasonal ingredients - available for a la carte order - were handwritten in a little wooden card in front of you. I picked the "Sui" menu, with 3 prawns, 4 types of seasonal fish and 7 types of vegetables.

I started off with 3 pieces of shrimp heads - deep-fried without any batter, followed by the rest of the shrimps which were served one after another so they didn't stay on the plate for too long and got soggy. The chef then continued to serve seafood and vegetables alternatively onto the stainless steel strainer plate in front of me. I would say the food was better than average, with more hits than misses. The batter was light and food was cooked with some consistency, and I particularly liked the shrimps, kisu and a few seasonal ingredients served including hamo (pike conger) with ume sauce and bamboo shoot. I thought this time of the year would have been too late for bamboo shoot, but the one I tried was crunchy and sweet.

My favorite dish of the evening went to ten-don which was served towards the end of the meal. It was rice served with a tempura "cake" on top - with small shrimps and scallops and a hint of sauce just good enough to bring out the flavors but not making it soaked. On the other hand, I wasn't too fond of the eggplant - to start with I don't like eggplant and this particularly one had a rather bitter aftertaste.

Service was at the level you would expect from any high-end Japanese restaurant - attentive but won't get right in your face. Little English was spoken but good enough to get by - taking account into the out-of-towner clientele the chef has a little booklet of with translations of the food items so I can easily refer to. But I personally would prefer a bit more coziness which may be hard to come by given its location in a shopping mall in the commercial district and all that. But it did make this a good choice for westerners and/or business travelers who happened to be around this neighborhood.

Of the tempura restaurants I tried in Tokyo, taking everything into account, Fukumachi is still my favorite, with Kondo a close second. But my dinner at Yamanoue was still a good Sunday meal - not spectacular, but still satisfying.

More pictures on my Flickr page:

Where? Tempura Yamanoue Roppongi
Menu highlights? Ten-don. Rice served with Tempura "cake" with shrimps and scallops

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