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