Tenmasa, Tokyo

September 3, 2013

Tenmasa was founded in Tokyo in 1936. It has served many celebrities including Mahatma Gandhi, General MacArthur and Charlie Chaplin. Yoshiaki Hashii, the grandson of the founder, runs Tenmasa now on the 35th floor of the Marinouchi Building. (On its two top floors there are fifteen varied upscale restaurants serving this central business district.) Kent, Linda and I walked there for dinner on April 1, 2013.

Here is Tenmasa’s entryway in a small hallway of the 35th floor.
Japan 2013 438 (480x358)

There are three rooms with horseshoe-shaped counters for eight to twelve diners. There is a semi-circular well for legs. The effect is a modern reference to the tatami entertainment rooms which were Tenmasa’s original “ozashiki” style.
Japan 2013 400 (480x224) 

Japan 2013 431 (212x460)We had a room to ourselves with a stunning view behind us over Tokyo.

But the more interesting view was of the tempura ingredients being cooked and placed in front of us.

We ordered sake; our glasses were refilled during the meal by the kimono-clad servers behind us.


The typical sauce for tempura, ponzu with freshly grated daikon, was put in front of us.

The appetizer was firefly squid.
Japan 2013 404 (480x173)

Tenmasa uses a mix of cottonseed and sesame oil; its batter is quite light. They, and the right oil temperature, follow the secret formulas of the restaurant’s founder. Here is our chef, Hiroshi Kokubo, preparing the batter. He was concentrating, but normally he was smiling and genial.
Japan 2013 402 (480x318)

He presented trays of some of the ingredients he would be cooking.
Japan 2013 405 (480x260)

Japan 2013 406 (480x334)

The first tempura piece was a headless shrimp.
Japan 2013 408 (455x187)
Photography was difficult. Many of the tempura dishes simply presented deep-fried batter on the outside, no matter what photogenic ingredients were inside.

Taranome, a prized bitter Spring green, the budding shoot of the Tara tree.
Japan 2013 409 (450x218)
It went well after the sweetness of the shrimp.

Shirazu, very small, immature fish.
Japan 2013 410 (450x284)

Shimeji mushroom.
Japan 2013 412 (450x314)
These were superb. I was surprised that they were better than the shiitakes, which came later. 

Shirako or globefish milt with a  wedge of sudaichi, a Japanese citrus zestier than a lime.
Japan 2013 413 (450x214)
Creamy, with a delicate fishy flavor inside the tempura crust. It needed a squeeze of the sudaichi to gain interest.

Japan 2013 414 (450x265)
The chewy texture and stronger flavor contrasted nicely with the previous dish.

Japan 2013 415 (450x272)
The tempura cooking really brought out the flavor.

Uni, or sea urchin, wrapped in nori.
Japan 2013 416 (450x314)
The uni survived this rough treatment, but it wasn’t at its best.

Ginger root.
Japan 2013 417 (480x125)
This was excellent. The ginger flavor really sang.

Two more shrimp.
Japan 2013 418 (460x143)
Japan 2013 419 (460x160)

Japan 2013 421 (470x261)
The season had just begun. Tempura cooking works well.

Sillago japonica, or Japanese whiting.
Japan 2013 423 (480x179)

Japan 2013 425 (460x250)

Anago or sea eel.
Japan 2013 427 (480x178)
Being less oily that the better known unagi, or freshwater eel, anago adapts better to tempura. 

The chef presented a tray with other ingredients we could choose to add.
Japan 2013 428 (480x234)
We declined, but did ask why he had not served the heads of the shrimp. He said that some tempura places do and some do not. He then served three to each of us.
Japan 2013 430 (460x324)

Pickles and ten-don, rice topped with varied tempura.
Japan 2013 433 (480x308)

Japan 2013 435 (480x210)
Very good.

Miso soup with little clams. Tea.
Japan 2013 436 (480x260)

Excellent Japanese melon.
Japan 2013 437 (480x183)

Green tea to finish up.

We had a very good time. Good tempura is part theater and part cuisine. Tenmasa was excellent on both counts. The flavors of the fresh ingredients really sang under their formula. Bravo.

Marunouchi Building 35F, 2-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
TEL: 03-5220-3170




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s