Before visiting Japan, the tempura I knew was overly battered, often a little soggy, deep fried shrimp, from the Japanese buffet restaurants I had eaten at.
But when I was in Tokyo, that all changed….
While in Tokyo, among my long list of Japanese meals to eat, was tempura (天ぷら).
Yukari from Food Sake Tokyo, recommended I head over to Tenmatsu Nihonbashi, a branch of the restaurant located in the business district, just off the Mitsashae-mai metro station.
She mentioned that the lunch specials were delicious, and of great value for money.
15 minutes before 11 am, Ying and I had found Tenmatsu, and were standing at the door. We were first in line!
Good thing too, because as soon as we got there, a group of ladies, and then a whole bunch of other people followed us.
The clock struck 11 am, and a kind lady opened the door.
Like at many restaurants in Tokyo, you order and pay up front before you sit down.
The menu, which they have an English version of, is pretty simple, including the normal tempura set (Price – 980 Yen), tempura over a rice bowl, and the tempura with maguro zuke-don, or tempura along with a side bowl of sashimi over rice – which is what I went for (Price – 1,260 Yen)
As soon as we sat down, a waitress immediately placed a tray in front of us, including a couple of empty dishes, a cup of green tea, and two small garnishes; one of shredded radish (for the tempura sauce); and one of a green vegetable with a little pink pickled ginger on the side.
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Japanese understand the beauty and the art of food, maybe more than anywhere else. The design, simplicity, and even the colors of the restaurant and the food, were so pleasing from the start.
The bottom floor of Tenmatsu is all bar seating, with a beautiful light colored wooden counter.
And unlike some of the yakitori stalls I sat at, with a counter big enough only for 1/2 the plate, the Tenmatsu counter was much more luxurious, with enough space to really enjoy it.
On the second chef counter, there was a ledge, where the chef offered you his perfectly deep fried pieces of tempura, right out of the hot oil.
One of the coolest things about dining in Japan is sitting at the bar seating, watching the chef prepare your meal right in front of you, and then being served bite by bite directly from the master.
Since we were the first in line at Tenmatsu, we had the very first tempura batch of the day.
First came a duo of shrimp, hot out of the oil, and fried until just ever so lightly golden, almost pale yellow.
Unlike those overly battered fried shrimp that are oily and taste like they have a crunchy pancake wrapped around them, and where you might not even be able to detect it was a shrimp underneath the batter, this shrimp tempura was light and crispy and just amazing in flavor.
The chef ensured that the oil was of perfect temperature so the tempura fried perfectly.
The sauce, mixed with shredded radish which had be given to us on our trays, was a beautiful light and only slightly salty mixture.
My first tempura bite in Japan and I could hardly contain my joy.
Then came a piece of broccoli. It was soft in the center, with that same wonderful light and crispy batter on the outside.
The chef kept busy, frying tempura quickly, yet with expert care, and serving other diners as we nibbled on our morsels of goodness.
When we had completed our first round of tempura, and by this time I was already flying high, he served us a few more pieces, this time including some squid and a slice of lotus root.
All the tempura was amazing.
I can’t say I’ve had the most high end tempura in Tokyo, or very many tempura experiences in my life either, but this meal at Tenmatsu was for sure the finest tempura I’ve ever had.
But that is not all… since I ordered the magura don tempura combination set, I also got a bowl of rice topped with an artfully displayed covering of sashimi – known as a maguro zuke don (まぐろずけ丼).
Below the sashimi, the rice was seasoned with seaweed, and sesame seeds, and then sprinkled with green onions.
The tempura and my sashimi bowl were both outstanding at Tenmatsu.
I can say for sure that it blew away, far far away, the tempura at any Japanese buffet I had ever eaten at before. The sashimi bowl also just absolutely hit the spot.
Also, for the price of $12 ($10 if you didn’t get the sashimi bowl like I did), I thought the food and service was remarkable.
On top of the amazing food, I have to also tell you that the staff and the chef himself were all very friendly. They allowed me to take photos and even make a video, all while happy that we had eaten there.
Tenmatsu, at Nihonbashi was a wonderful tempura dining experience. If you visit Japan, I’d highly recommend you include it in your Tokyo food plans. They serve high quality food with excellent bar counter service, and you don’t have to drop 10,000 Yen ($100) for the experience!
How to get to Tenmatsu, Nihonbashi
Take the Tokyo Metro to Mitsukoshimae station, exit at B6, and make an immediate right turn around the corner. Tenmatsu Restaurant will be on your right hand side.
Address: 1-8-2 Muromachi, Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Open hours: Mon – Fri: 11 am – 2 pm lunch, 5 pm – 9 pm dinner, Weekends and Holidays: 11 am – 2:30 pm lunch, 5 pm – 9 pm dinner
Prices: Go for lunch to get the best deal. My set including the sashimi bowl was 1,260 Yen ($12), while my wife ordered just the tempura set with rice for 980 Yen (under $10). I thought it was an amazing deal for the quality of food and experience.