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.
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).