1* Michelin Tokyo: Tempura Motoyoshi

Nestled within a basement corner of the Minami-Aoyama residential district in Tokyo is Tempura master Kazuhito Motoyoshi’s playground for deep-fried artistry, the one Michelin-starred Tempura Motoyoshi restaurant.

Often revered as the benchmark for exceptional tempura, owner and chef Motoyoshi’s finesse and dedication to detail in his restaurant is both iconic and exemplary. From the choice of grandeur Japanese dinner ware and decor (which featured a living tree draping one of its branches over Motoyoshi-san as he battered-up and deep fried dishes in front of guests), to his structured (and very polite) manner of guiding and entertaining diners from the start to end of their meal, the experience eating at Tempura Motoyoshi was akin to sitting through a professional art performance.

As Motoyoshi-san prepared our omakase course (¥14900 per person), we witnessed his swift hands slice up vegetables with a knife, de-shell ebi (prawn), dip each food item into an almost-watery thin consistency batter and lower them into clear and scorching hot oil. Barely a minute later, magical pieces of crisp and hot tempura appeared on our individual, paper-lined porcelain plates. We were offered the choice of either dipping the tempura into a light-tasting tentsuyu (tempura dipping sauce or broth) or salt and a wedge of lime. At certain pitstops into our course, we were even told to take bites using both dips separately (which brought out different flavours in the dish).

Motoyoshi-san’s menu deliberates heavily on the use of seasonal vegetables and the freshest seafood (I swore I might have seen the Ayu sweetfish moving in Motoyoshi’s hand before it got battered and fried!). Vegetables such as a whole onion (yes, read: whole) were especially delicate and sweet. The popular seaweed-wrapped kobashira (abductor muscle of surf clams), grilled fish on top of seasoned ‘fried rice’ and nori (seaweed) tempura, and fresh uni (sea urchin) on a bed of deep-fried shiso leaf were obvious crowdpleasers.

But what made dining at Tempura Motoyoshi so special?

The batter. That magical, milky-thin batter which coated each vegetable or seafood, barely hung on to any grease as the tempura left the oil vat and invited hungry mouths into lovely pieces of blistering, light-as-air tempura. When the initial coat of deep-fried batter is penetrated, one could immediately taste the juicy, delicate flavours of the vegetables or seafood, as though they were almost raw and barely tempered with.

Even as we ate ourselves into a proper insensibility, with brains, tastebuds and guts wrecked from the stuff-age, we could not help wanting on more magical pieces of tempura to appear from Motoyoshi-san’s vat of golden oil. It was an especially glorious moment when we were told that we could choose from different sizing portions of tendon (tempura rice bowl) as the last course before dessert! How we still managed to wolf down the tendon and mango dessert, I do not know.

What I do know is that Motoyoshi-san’s omakase tempura was pure magic (or you could say, sorcery) and it came with a well-thought through service and dining experience. It is also worth mentioning of Motoyoshi-san’s friendly, polite and slightly-shy disposition. His pleasant attitude and talent were welcoming, and warmed not just our stomachs, but  our hearts too.

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This signboard will point you in the right direction to Tempura Motoyoshi. Head downstairs!
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Dining ware at Tempura Motoyoshi
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We arrived the earliest and got the best seats in the house to witness Motoyoshi-san in action!
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Motoyoshi-san’s ‘Magic Box’ of seasonal vegetables. Shiitake, sweet potato, eggplant, just to name few
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Glass ware for his sake. We were presented with a special box of porcelain or glass drinking cups which we could choose from to drink the sake.
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Dinner began with flounder sashimi while Motoyoshi-san prepares our first tempura course
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The master at work as he begins to batter and fry up tempura.
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Shrimp heads. So crisp and flavorful. The batter is almost inexistent!
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Ebi (prawn). Each diner, regardless of dinner course, was given two pieces. Motoyoshi-san will only fry the second piece after your have finished your first.
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Kisu (Japanese whitling). We were told to dip it in salt rather than tentsuyu. The fish is lean, soft and very fresh.
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Eggplant – Juicy and refreshing. Akin to eating fresh fruit.
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Sweet sashimi-grade hotate (scallop). A quick flash-fry resulted in its medium-rare texture.
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Grilled fish (likely a perch) on a bed of ‘fried rice’ well soused with egg yolk and nori tempura. Topped with a pinch of citrusy dashi.
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A thick slice of shiitake. Notice how thinly the batter coats every curve of the mushroom.
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Baby ayu (sweetfish). One of the tastiest river fish one can find across Japan, from Kyushu to Hokkaido. Often skewered and grilled. This is the first time we had the entire fish, with guts still intact.
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Katsuo (skipjack tuna) topped with crunchy tenkasu, fried red onions and ginger shoyu.
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Kinmedai (splendid alfonsino/golden eye snapper) simmered in a rich seafood broth and soramame (broad beans) puree.

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Tamanegi (japanese onion) done two ways. No ‘bite’ or pungent whiff of regular onions. Motoyoshi-san’s skilful selection of local produce is truly amazing

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Preparing the kobashira
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Dainty kobashira (abductor muscle of surf clams) enveloped in a crispy nori sheet. Only available in the omakase course. We would come back again just for this.
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Renkon (lotus root). We can’t help but notice that with every piece of tempura devoured, there is no trace of oil left on the paper.
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The melt-in-your-mouth anago (saltwater eel). A classic item in most fine-dining menus.
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Oh, Hello sunshine bafun uni.
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The crème de la crème of the evening. Creamy, sweet, and chilled Hokkaido bafun uni (sea urchin) sat on a shiso leaf tempura and sprinkled with a pinch of salt. Only available in the omakase course and a clear representation of umami.
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Just as we were expecting the dessert course, Motoyoshi-san brought out this set of bowls and said to us in Japanese, “Would you like to have your tendon (tempura on top of rice) or tencha (tempura with soupy rice)? You may choose any one of these bowls and we will prepare the tempura portion according to the size of your preferred bowl.” Big and small eaters, have your pick! The largest bowl measures approximately 25cm across.
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Our hearts said yes (to the largest bowl), but our guts say portion control (it could not take no more). We ended up with the second smallest tendon bowl! The meal came with vegetable pickles and miso soup on the side. Trust us, we are regretting not getting the biggest tendon bowl till this day!
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Here is our proof of the how friendly Motoyoshi-san is to his guests. Look at that smile!
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Miyazaki mango custard pudding for a sweet ending.
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A photo after our meal with master Motoyoshi-san, who walked us out of his restaurant and greeted us multiple times as we left. We will be back Motoyoshi-san!

{Afternote}

Reservations are a must and the staff at Tempura Motoyoshi speak only Japanese. Therefore, it’s recommended getting your hotel concierge to place a reservation for you. Due to the need to prepare certain seasonal ingredients beforehand, you’ll be asked, through concierge, for your preferred dinner course. There are four available courses, with the last option being the omakase course (¥9500, ¥10300, ¥13400, and ¥14900).

Address:
No.6 B1F
セントラル青山
3 Chome−2−4
Minato, Minamiaoyama
〒107-0062, Tokyo

+81 3-3401-0722

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