The best tempura, so the legend goes, requires top-grade oil, which needs to be replaced as soon as it turns slightly cloudy.
Only the freshest ingredients will do, and they have to be in season.
Every chef has their own secret recipe for the batter, with which the shrimps and vegetables must be lightly and airily coated.
Weirdest of all, diners should never know what they will be served until the moment the chef fills their plates.
I finally got the chance to verify all these principles when I visited a high-end tempura restaurant in Kyoto this August.
I had been told that I should make a reservation at Tenyu (点邑) at least one month in advance. It’s not an unreasonable request, given that there are only 10 seats in the eatery.
There are three dinner options: A) HK$850, B) HK$1,100 and C) HK$1,250. The choice depends on the amount and type of tempura one prefers.
The most pricey course includes four seasonal dishes of appetizers, seven or eight assorted tempura (two pieces for each kind), small tempura on rice, soup and dessert.
It was a great pleasure to witness the exquisite art of tempura cooking.
The most eye-catching scene was when the chef skillfully pushed a shiso (perilla) leaf into the batter and slid it into the pot of oil with lightning speed.
It didn’t take long for the wafer-thin tempura with a firm crispy coating to land on my plate.
Customers were attended to by the chef, two assistant chefs and a waitress, who provided warm hospitality and efficient service without being overwhelming.
I didn’t keep my eyes off the pot of oil and I could tell that three fresh pots were needed for the entire night of tempura cooking.
Another impressive point I noted was the immaculate white paper on the plate.
After eight to ten pieces of tempura, the paper retained its pristine state with nary a greasy spot.
OK, I saw one tiny spot on the paper when I picked up my eleventh tempura, but an assistant chef deftly picked it up and replaced it with another snow-white paper.
The restaurant truly aspires for perfection in every detail of its offerings. It’s truly an experience.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 24.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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