The singular focus and dedication of Japanese chefs is truly unparalleled - day in, day out, every day, they are there developing and perfecting their crafts. That is how Chef Tatsuaki has created a new type of tempura at Takiya (たきや) - combining premium ingredients with difficult cooking technique to create delicious tempura pieces that are work of art and surpass everything I could have expected from traditional tempura.
On a quiet street of Azabu Juban and up one flight of stairs, past a sage-colored noren was one of the most incredible dining experiences of my life. There is a purity and shrine-like quality to the interiors, with shiny copper dome of the tempura frying pot, and tin and gold accents to the utensils. The counter seats 10 people with plenty of space and light for you to settle into for the next 3 hours.
Chef Kasamoto Tatsuaki was tempura chef and later head chef at the Ritz Carlton's Hinokizaka restaurant before opening Takiya in August 2015. His tempura skill is mostly self-taught, through trial and error. He is passionate about pushing and showcasing the potential of tempura cuisine. My meal at Takiya re-defined what tempura could be and I cannot wait to see this modern culture and artistry of tempura evolve further.
Chef Tatsuaki appears in a pristine white chef’s coat and with a perennnial gentle smile. Working with his team in precise and delicate movements, he took the time to chat and joke with us and explain the dishes in English - making this masterclass / dining experience fun and informative. He was also very understanding of our photographic tendencies - thank you for the wonderful hospitality!
The meal begins with a beautifully presented tray of appetisers. There was amadai sashimi, ikura, smoky eggplant puree with clam and caviar and refreshing mozuku seaweed broth. The highlight for me was the crab and matsutake mushroom mixed with a creamy yolk - a wonderful explosion of flavours. The ikura was another wonderful surprise - they looked like glowing precious gemstones and did not have the overpowering salty/fishy taste I usually associate with ikura, instead these were delicately flavoured with yuzu.
The tempura omakase is here and each piece is a contrast of taste, temperature and texture. Chef Tatsuaki uses 100% safflower oil and short (and well-tested) cooking time to create a tempura crust that is thinner and finer than anything I could have imagined. The natural flavours and tenderness of the ingredients inside are respected and enhanced.
The tempura sequence began, as is traditional, with a fried prawn, but there was nothing ordinary about the quality of this prawn. The kuruma ebi was sweet and juicy and the batter ultra-light with no trace of oil. I have had a lot of tempura prawns in Japan but this was the best.
Next was prawn head (loved the texture - super crispy and delicious) and gingko nuts. We also had a second prawn tempura towards the end - it was glorious too.
Tempura kisu (apparently the Chef’s favourite!) - the fish was so delicate and melted in my mouth. This tender and juicy flesh of the fish really highlighted the chef’s tempura technique to perfection.
Instead of the usual heap of grated daikon (radish) to mix into the tempura sauce, we were presented with a perfectly spherical snowball of grated daikon. It just goes to show that every element, big or small, is given so much thought and attention to detail.
Tempura of Hokkaido bafun uni in nori was one of my favourites - the contrast of the velvety uni (sea urchin) with the crispy batter was divine. I could have eaten a plate of these! This was by far the best uni I have had - it had a sweet creamy taste to it that I have never experienced with uni and made me fall in love with uni.
The menu changes with the season and the September menu celebrated the matsutake mushroom. This elusive mushroom is prized in Japan for their flavour and meaning (symbolising fertility and happiness). I found it had a spicier and earthier flavour and aroma and enjoyed every morsel of it.
The luxurious ingredient list continues with abalone. Unconventional for tempura, the abalone was tender but it was the abalone liver sauce that was the star of this dish. Full of umami flavour, I wanted to finish every drop and the chef helpfully gave us a little ball of rice to complete this "Japanese risotto" dish!
Next was a refreshing palate cleanser in the form of a salad featuring shimeji and shiitake mushrooms, butternut squash, okra, radish, carrot, fried baby fish and a perfectly runny and cold egg yolk. This was another successful dish with contrasting textures and temperature.
Then we were ready for the signature dish: wagyu wrapped in shiso, tempura-ed and dipped in white truffle salt. Look at this beautiful pinkish piece of wagyu (from Kagoshima) - unchanged after cooking, it was so succulent and juicy, and was incredible when eaten with the crispy crust. Can I have this once a week?
There was a choice of two rice and matsutake dishes to end the meal. We got both and shared ;) The first was ten don: tempura matsudake on steamed rice. The second was ten-cha with matsutake dashi broth. Both are traditional tempura dishes, elevated with premium ingredients and masterful tempura technique to provide a very satisfying end to the meal.
The amount and pace of food was perfect and the meal did not feel heavy or oily (surprising for a menu dominated by tempura) which speaks to chef’s brilliant tempura technique.
Two refreshing desserts were a fitting ending to this exquisite meal: (1) fruit jelly with mango, grape, melon and pomegranate; (2) warabi mochi with matcha tea.
To top it all off, service was great, the topping up of drinks flawless and unobtrusive, the chefs being friendly and happy to chat about the food, I left with a very happy tummy and big smile on my face. I waited 3 months for this meal and could not fault it and I would return here in a heartbeat. If you don’t think tempura can make for a sumptious and indulgent dining experience, I challenge you to visit Takiya.
Nearest metro: Azabu-Juban
Seasonal, omakase menu
Dinner ~JPY35,000 pp.
Great for: fine dining, special occasions
Last visited: Septemer 2018