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High-end Tempura in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka

One of my food mantras is "anything fried is good", so it only follows that I should love tempura. I'm curious about people's experiences with the following high-end tempura places:

In Tokyo:
Tempura Mikawa
Tempura Kondo

In Kyoto:
Tempura Yoshikawa
Tempura Ozawa
Tempura Endo (which I think is more mid-range than high-end, but I'll include it, anyway)

In Osaka:

Does anyone have comments or experiences to share about any of the above, or any other high-end places that I could add to my list? I don't go to Tokyo very often, but I'm close enough to Kyoto and Osaka to be able to make the rounds. I've been to Ten-you in Kyoto, but none of the others. I am looking primarly at high-end places, but very good mid-range restaurants are fine, too (I've been to Tsunahachi in Tokyo, for example, I would place it in the good mid-range category).

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  1. I had lunch in Asagi at Ginza. It is a very small tempura place,just 7-9 seats facing the tempura counter. Operated by a very courteous senior couple; they obviously have been in the business for a long time. It is considered high end; paid about 7-8k per person, I think the dinner set would be much more expensive. It is the best tempura meal I had,but quite frankly, I am not such a big fan of tempura and with so many restaurants on my list that I aim to try on short trips (5-7 days) in future, I am not sure if I will be back here again. But I will highly recommend this place if your focus is on high end tempura.

    I have heard great things about Mikawa too but never had the chance to try the place.

    1. Have you been to the "upper class" branches of Tsunahachi - Sui in Shiodome and Tsunohazu-an in Shinjuku? The former is priced at around Y6,000-8,000 for dinner, the latter Y5,000-10,000.

      11 Replies
      1. re: Robb S

        Not yet. The night I went to Tsunahachi, I had intended to go to Tsunahachi Rin (which I think leans toward "higher-end"), but was too hungry to walk the extra few blocks and the main branch was closer to me. I didn't realize Tsunohazu-an was part of the group, or I'd have considered that, as well (I think I passed it by, too!).

        How do the high-end Tsunahachi branches differ from the "regular" ones? Is it mostly setting and quality of ingredients, or is there more to it than that?

        1. re: prasantrin

          I guess the main difference is the quality of ingredients. Tsunohazu-an has great seafood, but the atmosphere is a little too old-fashioned and stodgy for my taste. Rin (which is more mid-level in terms of price) is more lively and fun, and they have a few nice touches like flavored salts, and warm sake served at several different temperatures.

          1. re: Robb S

            Hey Robb,

            Thanks for the info. :) So of the 3 types of Tsunohachi branches, you like Rin the most? (over Sui as well?)

            Do you have the addresses for your favs? Thanks.

            1. re: exilekiss

              I haven't been to Sui yet, but it looks pretty nice. Here's the Tsunahachi website with complete info for all their branches:

              1. re: Robb S

                I wanted to visit one of the Tsunahachi locations in Shinjuku on my first night in Tokyo for dinner (right after I check in). I will be staying in Shinjuku, so they would all be close enough for me to visit. I can't decide if I should go to the original Tsunahachi, Rin or Tsunohazu. Can anyone tell me what the differences between the 3 are? I see that Robb mentioned Tsunohazu has great seafood. I personally love seafood, so I am leaning towards this one, but I do want a more lively atmosphere like Rin. I'm torn! Do any of you guys have a preference amongst the three and why?


                1. re: nelehelen

                  Tempura is a seafood cuisine, so that doesn't really narrow it down much, it just means that Tsunohazu uses slightly higher quality ingredients (as it should for its higher price level). Some people might find Tsunohazu stuffy and sterile - there's not much atmosphere to speak of, although the tempura is good.

                  I prefer Rin - it's got a fun setting, nice decor, slightly more creative menu, and interesting touches like the warm sake (at different temperature points) and the flavored salts. The original branch is more old-fashioned, but it's certainly lively and crowded.

            2. re: Robb S

              I kind of like old-fashioned and stodgy (I'm old before my time!). :-)

              I'll add it to my list, but it may go to the bottom of the Tokyo bunch, only because I'd really like to find the perfect tempura batter and I assume Tsunohazu-an's batter is the same or very similar to Tsunahachi's. My ideal batter would be kind of like O-men's tempura in Kyoto--crispy and light.

              1. re: prasantrin

                Hey prasantrin,

                Definitely keep us updated with whatever you find in this category. I'd love to know also. :)

                BTW, you mention this O-men place in Kyoto but it wasn't on your Original List above. Is that because O-men isn't "high end" and you only liked their batter?

                1. re: exilekiss

                  O-men isn't a tempura restaurant, so I didn't include it. They offer tempura on their menu, but they're more well-known for udon than anything else (I actually think the other dishes they offer are better than their udon, but I don't really care for udon, so I'm not a fair judge).

                2. re: prasantrin

                  If I may just add a few more words on Asagi, the tempura has a light crispy touch without oily after taste. The amazing thing is it still retain the flavor of the fresh ingredients, unlike most fried stuff that lost that touch. You still can taste the sweetness inside and the firm texture of the prawns and other ingredients he used.

          2. I wonder what people think of the top tempura places in Tokyo according to tabelog?

            In order of ranking (April 2008):

            Here's the ranking for tempura on tabelog:

            3 Replies
            1. re: E Eto

              I tried Rakutei in Akasaka yesterday and I must say the food was excellent. The ika was very tender and the baby green beans were crisp and beautiful. Good-size portions towards the end of the meal.

              The atmosphere is rather somber and reverential - I guess so you can better concentrate on the food. There are only twelve seats, and there's very little interaction with the chef, although the waitress is friendly enough (and speaks some English).

              I get a little suspicious when I see an all-French wine list at a place like this though. As if the only wines in the world that go with tempura are French. It just comes across as out-of-date rather than "high-class." Luckily there were some decent sake, including Kubota Manju and Shinkame.

              Prix-fixe menus are Y10,000 and Y12,000, with an optional sashimi starter for an extra Y4,000. Kubota Manju is Y2,000 for ichigo.

              1. re: Robb S

                Thanks Robb S. Great review and info about Rakutei. :)

                How would you rate Rakutei amongst your favorites in Tokyo? :)

                1. re: exilekiss

                  Well the food was certainly top-notch. It's a nice choice if you're looking for excellent traditional tempura in a very traditional setting - it's tiny and hidden-away and exclusive-looking, and that all makes it feels like a special discovery.

            2. Hi - just got back from two weeks in Japan, and ate an excellent meal at the counter in Yoshikawa. I'd say the counter was mid-range (bit of banter, quite informal atmosphere after a few beers) and the dining room was high-end from the look of it. More expensive too.

              It was my first real tempura diner, so I might be suffering from slight culinary drunkenness, but I thought it was absolutely fantastic. Small counter (eight or ten max) with one chef, immaculately clean, and excellent viewing of a highly skilled man operating a giant pot of very hot oil, cooking eight or ten course set dinners for a full restaurant without spilling a drop, burning anything or even getting any stains on his whites - scarily good.

              The hors d'ouvre was excellent - finely diced chopped broccoli in a lightly-vinegared mayonnaise dressing, with steamed scallop, then bite after bite of perfect tempura that went on for at least 90 minutes - prawn, an incredibly tender slice of squid wrapped in ponzu leaf, baby mackerel, okra, aspragus, scallop- all gently crisped, totally dry and extremely fresh. Most expensive set dinner was about 10,000 yen, we had a slightly cheaper option. It is in Lonely Planet, so expect some nervous tourists like me, but I really loved it.

              1. Tempura Yoshikawa in Kyoto is the first up (sort of...I've been to Ten-you a couple of times, but I haven't been there since beginning my quest for the perfect tempura). It's quite easy to find, especially if you walk up Tominokoji from Shijo, and it has quite a beautiful entrance; you feel like you're walking into a traditional old home (and I suppose you are, in a way, since the restaurant is attached to Yoshikawa Ryokan). The actual restaurant, or at least the counter area where I was seated, is quite small. I think there were only 11 or 12 seats at the counter (at least 11 that I counted, and there may have been a 12th). It, too, resembles a traditional old home where even the ceiling has a thatched look to it. Quaint, but like a traditional old home, it's quite dark inside, making picture-taking difficult and so I have none to show.

                I had done a search on the restaurant before going, so I had a basic idea of what to order. I had decided on the middle set, which the website (not their own) had listed at Y9660. Upon arriving, however, I learned that those sets are only for those seated in the private rooms or at least the non-counter seats. If you're seated at the counter, you're limited to one of two sets--the Y3000 or the Y4000 one. I went with the more expensive one.

                The courses from what I can remember (not necessarily in this order--I think I've mixed up some of the middle courses): two shrimp, eggplant, half a mushroom (shiitake, I think), tai, yomogi namafu, bamboo shoot, baby corn, fiddleheads, hamo (I'm not sure this was hamo, but it sounded like "hamo" when the chef told me what it was. It was more likely anago, since I don't think we're quite at hamo season, yet), kabocha, and one last shrimp to end the meal. All except the tai and hamo were eaten dipped in the typical tempura dipping sauce of warm dashi with daikon oroshi. The tai and hamo were eaten with a squeeze of lemon and some salt. Also served were chirimen jako, pickles, (red) miso soup, and rice.

                The batter was crisp without being greasy, and dare I say it? I prefered Yoshikawa's batter to Ten-you's. That being said, I think the ingredients were somewhat inferior--they were not necessarily inferior ingredients, but they weren't as good as I would have expected. With the exception of the namafu, which was wonderful, none of the ingredients were as flavourful as I would have expected them to be. The kabocha, in particular, was a disappointment; it was dry, grainy, and lacked the sweetness I expect from kabocha.

                But I'd still go back. For Y4000, it was certainly a good value (I'd probably put it somewhere in the mid-range class than high-end, though), and crunchiness makes everything better, at least for me!

                2 Replies
                1. re: prasantrin

                  RE: Tempura Yoshikawa - do you think the counter seating is preferable? We are a group of six hoping to have lunch there in a few months, but counter seating is not available at lunch so we had to book a private room instead.

                  Or maybe we should switch to Tempura Ten-yu if counter seating is available at lunch? They're both well regarded and so close to one another it wouldn't be a problem. Thanks.

                  1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                    Tempura Yoshikawa's counter lunch menu is different from the room lunch menu, I think. I'm not sure, but from other people's descriptions of their private room lunches, the private rooms have more options.. But when I had lunch at the counter, there were only 3 options, and all were cheaper than the lunch sets I had seen on their website. If you're after a tempura experience, counter is definitely better than room, but if you don't really care about watching the chef, then the room will be fine. Tempura served at the counter will be several seconds fresher when you eat it (straight from the pot to your plate), but the room will have a nicer atmosphere.

                    Ten-you (that's how they spell it in their literature and on their sign) only has counter seating, I think. I'm not sure what kind of seating they have on the 3rd floor (their second floor), but the chef is on the 2nd floor (the 1st floor of the restaurant). I still like it better than any other tempura place I've been, including Tempura Kondo in Tokyo. It has a very refined atmosphere--that Kyoto atmosphere I love. A group of 6 will take up half the second floor counter, though, and I don't know how they'd feel about that.

                    BTW, if you decide on Ten-you, scope it out before you go. I read Japanese, but I got lost the first time I went. Their kanji is different from what I expected (I expected something like 天油 but it's 点邑 ), plus their sign is quite small.

                    I still prefer Ten-you.

                2. I have been to Kondo and Mikawa in Tokyo. For Mikawa, I have only been to the Roppongi Hills branch but for many times. Always find their food to be excellent. Small setting and sometimes difficult to get in given size. I do wonder if their main branch might be better especially since the cost is lower. I would put this above Ten-ichi which I find to be better than average.

                  For Kondo, this the best tempura in Tokyo for me right now. Great ingredients and very lightly fried tempuras. Have only been there for lunch once and noticed that many people order various vegetable tempuras on the side. They all look wonderful and will have to give those a try next time.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: HKTraveler

                    I heard Kondo's satsumaimo tempura is amazing--they take a chunk of satsumaimo, coat it in batter, fry it, then wrap it in a towel to steam it a bit more. All the coating falls off to reveal a perfectly cooked satsumaimo. I heard they do a similar thing with kabocha, and that's what is drawing me to the place!

                    1. re: HKTraveler

                      You mean the Mikawa outlet in Kayabacho? I was there in 2002, and had a memorable feast: Mikawa uses high-grade sesame oil, which results in a darker, crispier koromo (cloak). It was also cleaner on the fingers & the palate.

                      The tempura chef stressed to us that he only uses wild eels/anago (as opposed to farmed eels) hence the flesh is softer & more flavorsome. All seafood we had that day (sweetfish, whiting, shrimps) were swimming in the Bay of Tokyo mere hours earlier.

                      I particularly liked a large shrimp fritter, light & crisp on the outside, and deliciously moist inside - studded with at least a dozen shrimps which were probably alive a few minutes earlier. Such was Mikawa's attention to detail & emphasis on freshness.

                      Other delicacies we ejnjoyed there include an ethereally light miso soup, containing sweet baby clams; tiny chopped pickles that looked too pretty to eat; rare local matsutaka mushrooms; a crisp lettuce salad bathed in a sesame-soy dressing which was accentuated by a stab of wasabi; and slender wands of asparagus which snapped at the slightest bend.

                      The feast was brought to an end with a simple bowl of (unadorned) white rice - a humble gesture, yet so apt. To have anything after such a wonderful culinary symphony of flavors & textures would have been a travesty.

                      A slice of musk melon was served for dessert. I remembered that it was so sweet & absolutely dripping with juice, as if it was injected with the juices from a thousand melons.

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        Great review klyeoh! :)

                        Do you have an address / URL for Mikawa?

                        1. re: exilekiss

                          Tel: 03.3664.9843
                          3-4-7 Nihonbashi Kayabacho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

                          It's very near Kayabacho station. No credit cards tho :-(

                      2. re: HKTraveler

                        Hey HKTraveler,

                        Thanks for your insight. Do you have any Addresses / Websites for these Restaurants? :)


                        1. re: exilekiss

                          Kondo is 03-5568-0923, Ginza 5-5-13

                          Mikawa is 03-3664-9843

                      3. My favorite Tempura place in Tokyo is Tentei.

                        I've been there only for lunch and their kakiage is superb. 2000-7000yen for lunch.

                        I've been to a more expensive tempura place (with zashiki) in Kagurazaka, but Tentei was much better.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: kuidaore

                          does iwai require lunch booking in advance??

                        2. Not a lot of experience with high end tempura but my one great meal came last year at Hayashi in Nihonbashi. It's a tiny hole-in-the-wall but I thought the food was amazing, even for lunch! I guess at JPY 17k it had better be...I still remember the amazing cuttlefish!


                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Peech

                            Did you have to make reservations at Hayashi? I might have a Saturday night dinner free while I'm in Tokyo this weekend, but I won't know for certain until that day. It makes planning difficult, so I'm trying to find a high-end tempura place that mostly takes walk-ins (so I don't have to worry about not having a reservation, or about showing up and not being able to get in).

                            I do prefer crispy tempura, though, so maybe Hayashi isn't the place for me. What good is fried food if there's no crunch?

                            1. re: prasantrin

                              If it is crispy crunch, it will lose the natural flavor. Which is why any cheap tempura shop can do that perfectly well. The key is just to get light crispy touch but yet retain the flavor of the ingredient. That is what you want from high end tempura.

                              1. re: prasantrin

                                I had someone make the reservation for me, but the place is so small it only seats maybe 7-8 people at the counter.

                                Definitely not crispy/crunchy as this is done with at low temperature to produce a light batter and keep the flavors in.

                            2. Re: Tempura Mikawa, Tempura Kondo, Asagi, Tentei, and Hayashi

                              Do all of these places require reservations or is there a chance one can just walk in?

                              I'll be in Tokyo next week and am thinking of trying tempura again. I know there's a chance some of these places might be closed since it's Golden Week, but aside from a couple of places, I'm planning on just dining wherever I feel at the moment. But I suppose if I really have to, I'll make reservations.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: prasantrin

                                You need reservation for Kondo, not sure about others.

                                1. re: FourSeasons

                                  Thanks. I guess I'll be calling around! It's good practice for my Japanese, even though I"m terrified of speaking on the phone.

                                2. re: prasantrin

                                  You definitely need reservations at Mikawa's head store in kayabacho. I think it seats 8 at the counter, plus two small private rooms. I called a couple days ahead and still had to wait for the 8 PM 'seating' (but I think they encourage people to come at normal times so they can get two sets of customers.
                                  One thing to watch out for - the course says FROM Y12,000, but based on my total bill was over Y14,000. We were reconciled to this, so it was OK and we didn't feel too bad.
                                  It's very homey and downtown, and the master loves to talk if you get past his stern "I'm frying here..." exterior and ask him about fish or something.
                                  And they allow BYO wine for Y2000; there's a great wine shop called Maru nearby.
                                  The honten MUST be better than the Hillz location though!
                                  Full review with tons of pictures:

                                  1. re: jem589

                                    Why do you think the honten "MUST" be better than Roppongi Hills? Not challenging, just curious.

                                    I never got around to making reservations at any of the tempura places, so I was thinking of just popping by the Hills location tomorrow or the day after to see if I could get in.

                                    1. re: prasantrin

                                      I just had lunch at the honten (in Kayabacho) last sunday and it turns out Mikawa-san has shifted to his newest branch called Mikawa Zezankyo. Has anyone been there yet? The photos the waitress was showing me made it seem like the new branch is mostly tatami rooms instead of counter seating.

                                3. I found Yokota to be excellent

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: davew666

                                    The Tempura MIKAWA, at the Monzen-Nakacho, was really really great. An art ! The master Saotome does love art and the place entrance reflates it. The same artist I think who did the "kaze no otto" in Echigo-Tsumari triennale in Niigata 4 years ago.
                                    Here below a comment made by Japan Times years ago :
                                    I will recommend the counter, the master explained me everything and I had some much interest in hearing it that I stayed 2 hours. The list of each one. and the description won't be right here on the chowhound if you want to enjoy the passionnate speech.

                                  2. I will find myself in Tokyo for one night, alone, and am thinking of hitting a tempura spot (counter). Any good one walkable from Park Hyatt? I had a wonderful dinner at KONDO and would like something as good.

                                    1. Does anyone have any experience with both lunch and dinner menus at Tempura Kondo? Is the main difference between lunch and dinner the quantity of items in each set, or is it the quality of ingredients, as well?

                                      Although I had planned to do tempura at Ten-you in Kyoto, I'm still curious about Tempura Kondo. The only lunch I have free is on the same day I have dinner at Aronia, and it's very difficult for me to have two large meals back-to-back. But then dinner is a little beyond my remaining food budget.

                                      I suppose I could squeeze a few more yen out of my wallet if dinner will be scads better than lunch, but if lunch is not too filling, then I could do lunch instead.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: prasantrin

                                        Prasantrin and others,
                                        I'm a huge fan of high quality Tempura and would be interested if you have settled on your list of top 5 in Tokyo? I'm there again soon and would appreciate an update on this thread.
                                        Thanks all!

                                        1. re: Compleat Eater

                                          I've only been to Tempura Kondo in Tokyo, plus one mid-range tempura place. Tempura Kondo is good, but I still prefer Ten-you in Kyoto. The counter seating is quite plentiful at Kondo, so the chef is cooking for several groups at the same time. I found some things to be more cooked than I like, and a little greasier. It's interesting that he changes the oil so many times during one seating. I wonder if that has anything to do with the greasiness.

                                          1. re: prasantrin

                                            Greasiness is a temp. thing. If he is changing the oil all the time then maybe it isn't getting up to temp (375-400) fast enough. Thanks in any case. I've enjoyed the small Ten-ichi in the Imperial Hotel many times so that is my only benchmark.
                                            I'll be there in 3 weeks so will come back to chow with some recommendations.

                                            1. re: prasantrin

                                              I was a little underwhelmed at Kondo today. For the same price that I paid at Hayashi for omakase, my lunch at Hayashi 3 years ago was much more enjoyable. Kondo is also more like a production line, with 2 seatings and each counter area serving around 10 customers. The guy is constantly busy and it's not as relaxing as it could be.

                                        2. Out of the few vie tried, I'd have to say Ippoh, but only the Osaka branch one. I believe it is the main branch and the difference in quality quite large compared to, say the Tokyo branch. I went to the Osaka branch twice and was served both times by the head chef. At the Tokyo branch, which I believe his son manages/owns, I was served by just an ordinary chef, so it may be the difference in chef skill/experience that made the Osaka restaurant more enjoyable.

                                          5 Replies
                                            1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                                              3 Ippohs, one in tokyo, 2 in osaka (main branch and side store)
                                              Tempura Kondo
                                              And Nana Chome

                                              1. re: Aunt Jemima

                                                Which Ippoh in Osaka is the main branch?

                                                1. re: theskyflyer

                                                  Has anyone here eaten at Hanamura in Akasaka? I heard this place is high end as wll...any thoughts?

                                                  1. re: awinner

                                                    Has anyone tried (or heard reports of) 7crome kyobashi? Apart from it is 3x the price of other top places? Any idea what the difference is? A lot of fried sperm sacs from different fish species would be my only guess... The Michelin guide implies it has a pretty diverse range of fruits and vegetables it uses, but i doubt this is really the differentiating factor.

                                          1. Ten Ichi Ginza is rated one of the best in Tabelog. It is known as one of the best tempura places by the locales in Tokyo.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: AWESOMEKETCHUP

                                              Locals are just as capable of enjoying mediocre food as non-locals.

                                              (Not saying that Ten Ichi Ginza is mediocre, but I am disagreeing with the notion that locals always know best.)

                                              1. re: AWESOMEKETCHUP

                                                Ten Ichi? Not bad, but overpriced and has definitely seen better days. The proof is in the photograph they have at the entrance of their restaurants. It is of three gaijin having dinner at the counter, but it is clear from the woman's bouffant hairdo and the man's Walter Cronkite glasses that this picture is probably 40 years old. I'm sure Ten Ichi was the best then.

                                                1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                                  You're right - Ten-ichi was the first amongst equals then. The last time I ate at Ten-Ichi, there was a black-and-white 1960s photo of Frank Sinatra & his party dining there. I was told by the waiter that it was Sinatra's birthday dinner party held in the same room we were in then.

                                                  1. re: klyeoh

                                                    I ate there about 2 years ago and it was very good but very expensive. There are two Ten-ichi in Ginza and the original still has the photos of Kissenger , Sinatra etc. I had a more enjoyable meal at the counter at Ten-asa a few days later. Ten-asa is less formal but the batter seemed more delicate than Ten-ichi.

                                                    1. re: panaroma

                                                      We went to IPPOH main restaurant recently. It's about a 15 minute walk from St Regis -- not the easiest restaurant to find, but we managed after being lost for about 5 minutes or so.

                                                      We were led to a private room. There was no English menu, but the waitress speaks adequate English to explain the menu choices. Both are identical, except one has sashimi course. We selected one with, one without.

                                                      The appetizers were interesting -- walnut tofu with uni (tiny), assorted vegetables, sashimi and the tempura course.

                                                      I've only been to Kondo for high-end tempura and I found Ippoh and Kondo completely different. The chef in Ippoh brought a tray with all the items to be fried. In Kondo, prawns were still alive when brought to be cooked, scallops were shucked in front of customers. In Ippoh, they did not change the oil once, while in Kondo, they changed it for each course.

                                                      The tempura course in IPPOH (if I remember correctly) -- 2 prawns, mushrooms, potato, daikon, gingko nuts, 2 types of white fish, eel, and finally mixed shrimp/vegetables with nice. Dessert was a panna cotta with sliced grape.

                                                      The shock came at the end. The bill for 2 (including 2 glasses of draft beer) was a whopping 42,000 Yen. Sweet Jesus!

                                                      Even Kondo, which I much preferred, only charged about 20,000 Yen for 2 persons.

                                                      Maybe my palette is just sophisticated enough to distinguish great tempura, but if I were to go to high-end tempura again, I'd return to Kondo. I'll scratch Ippoh from my list. Once is enough for me.

                                              2. I'm not getting into rating meals I ate months apart, but I'll say that Tensei in Aoyama is bloody great and about half the price of all the usual names.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: coldicott

                                                  Agree on Tensei. And the chef is a really nice guy.