Although sushi is possibly the most famous exported Japanese food, food in Japan is not just about sushi. Tempura as one of the most popular food in Japan, is a Japanese work of art you have to try when you travelling to Japan.
In Tokyo, the most famous tempura restaurant is possibly Mikawa Zezankyo by Chef Tetsuya Saotome, who has already spent over 50 years making tempura. Compare to the old-school style tempura Mikawa served, i personally prefer Tempura Kondo (2*) and my favourite was Fukamachi (1*). This time, I visited Tempura Motoyoshi which is a one-Michelin-starred tempura restaurant that had been on my list for a long while.
Tempura Motoyoshi is a quite small restaurant located on a quite street in Aoyama. It can seats 9 people at the L-shaped counter, with Chef Motoyoshi Kazuhiro preparing fresh tempura behind the counter. For foreign visitors, the best way to secure a reservation is to inform your hotel concierge to call the restaurant at least one month advance. July is a tourism season and I only managed to get a booking at the second seating at 9 pm, which is the second round seating.
Condiments: soy sauce, sea salt and tempura sauce
Chef Motoyoshi Kazuhito (元吉和仁)
Motoyoshi serves three set menus priced at JPY 9500, 10300 and 13400 respectively, Omakase menu was reasonably priced at 14900 (inclusive tax). Although this high-calorie meal started at 9pm was quite guilty, i still ordered Omakase set since i was starving. The first dish arrived was Meji Maguro (メジ鮪) sashimi which packed of clean and deep flavours to awaken my taste buds.
The premium Japanese sesame oil from Sekine (関根胡麻油) was used at Motoyoshi. Besides the large oil pot in front the chef , you may also find the fresh ingredients being used for the day in front of the counter.
1.海老の頭 Prawn’s head (2pcs)
A tempura meal is always start with two prawn’s head. The battering was so thin that you can even see the fingers of the prawn. They were incredibly crispy and delicious as they look. Followed by two pieces of tempura body which has a crispy outside and tender inside. Tempura game starts strong.
2. 海老の身 Prawn’s body (2pcs)
Deep-fried vegetable tempura is a much harder work in my opinion, it is easy to tell whether the vegetable is cooked as its best. This asparagus from Kyoto was so well-cooked, you can even see its fresh and moisture from the cross-section.
4.キス (Kisu) Japanese Whiting
Kisu has a delicately crisp outside, tender and moist inside. One thing that I was not happy happened here, I was dining alone seated next to three natives. Right before the Kisu was served after being removed from the oil pot, I heard the master chef was whispering in the disciple something about ‘three’ and ‘one’. I didn’t think too much until I found the tail of my kisu was flat while the three guys’ were updo (somehow means good fortune).
5.茄子 (Nasu) Eggplant
6. 鮎 (Ayu) Sweet fish with liver sauce
Normally an entire Ayu fish is served, this was a quite special one served with its liver. Not bad but I prefer the old way.
7.茗荷 (Myoga) Young Ginger
8.ホタテの磯辺巻き (Hotate Isobe) Scallop
One of the highlights of the meal includes this signature Hotate scallop tempura with seaweed. The scallop came so hot that burnt my fingers, but it was amazing. With a glaze of soy sauce, the scallop itself has bursts of umami flavours. Its sweetness and savoury flavours was so well-balanced, the pinch of chili powder on the top gives a gorgeous kick.
9. 湯葉 (Yuba) Tofu skin
Yuba, or Japanese tofu skin, was another amazing speciality from Motoyoshi. Usually served raw with wasabi and a bit sauce, this was my first time having Yuba tempura. I was really impressive with its creamy and mild sweet Yuba inside the crunch.
10.鮑と肝ソース Abalone, served with abalone liver sauce
11. 鱧と玉葱 Hamo and young onions
12. 新玉葱 Baby onions
13.大葉うにのせ Shiso leaf tempura with fresh sea urchin
Another highlight of the meal was the ever-famous uni (sea urchin) tempura. Different from uni tempura served at other tempura restaurants, Chef Motoyoshi deep-fried only the shiso leaf and topped it with raw uni with a pinch of salt. To me, it is such a smart creation as i believe god created uni to be eaten raw :p Crispy shiso leaf with an unique aroma matches with incredibly creamy and sweet uni, absolute a love.
14. Lotus root
15. 穴子 (Anago) Sea eel with ginger
Unlike at Mikawa Zezankyo where the chef cut the Anago tempura into two halves when it was served, chef Motoyoshi-san had already cut it for us. It comes with pickled young gingers to enjoy together with the Anago. Although the crispy outside and tender inside was quite delicious, i am a big fan of Mikawa Zezankyo’s legendary Anago.
16.角もろこし Sweet corn
My favourite piece of the meal was certainly this Japanese sweet corn tempura, which is also one of the best tempura i have ever had so far. Each corn kernel was so well attached to eat other, coated with very thin battering, the taste was truly sweet and juicy. I can eat this everyday!
The tempura part was wonderfully done, next comes the rice dish. Three options are available for the rice bowl, you many choose one from Tendon (Kakiage over rice with tempura sauce), plain rice side with Kakiage on the side, or Tencha (Kakiage over rice with green tea or baked green tea). One part i really like about Motoyoshi is you can pick your ideal size of bowl for the rice, small from sake cup to the large ramen bowl.
For the rice, I always go with Tench. Here, i picked green tea as the base and small-medium bowl for the rice portion. No matter which rice dish you choose, wasabi and pickles are served along side.
Unlike Mikawa, Fukamachi, nor Kondo where the hot tea was served in a separate tea pot and you can pour in the tea by yourself, the Tencha here arrived like what you see here. The problem here is that it takes time to deliver the dish to you, even few seconds delay may affect the texture and flavour largely. What i experienced here was the Kakiage is not crispy anymore even with only one shot in a second. (Don’t criticise this 1s please:D) Besides that, although overload of seaweed was super umami, it affected the flavors of the Kakiage.
メロンと牛乳プリン Milk pudding with melon – a sweet way to end the meal.
Despite a young age among all the famous tempura chefs in Tokyo, Chef Motoyoshi Kazuhiro did a pretty great job to impress my palates. Each piece of the tempura was wonderfully-cooked, my favourite were sweet corn, second comes sea urchin and Hotate scallop, and thirdly Yuba. Put aside the disappoint of the Kisu, it was a very good tempura experience.
Tempura Motoyoshi (天ぷら 元吉)
Address: B1F, Central Aoyama No.6, 3-2-4 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 17:30~20:30, 2o:30~00:00 (two seatings), closed on Sundays
My cost: JPY 16850 for Omakase menu (14900) with a jar of Sake
* Accept both credit card and cash