A short walk from Shinjuku Station takes you to Funabashiya, which is the place to go for elegant, tasty tempura set meals.
Prawn tempura. - image © Florentyna Leow
Fast food brings to mind poor-quality ingredients, mysterious additives, and ground-up mystery meat. (Is it really meat?) But in every sense of the phrase, tempura is fast food, and at good places, none of the above applies. Take some great ingredients - prawns, vegetables, fish - and batter them. Plunge them into hot boiling oil, and serve them fresh from the fryer. It can be a quick, elegant, and delicious meal, and there are few better places to eat tempura than at a restaurant specializing in it. If you’re shopping in Shinjuku, one of these places is Funabashiya.
The Comme Ca store next to Yodobashi camera, as seen from below Lumine EST at the east exit of Shinjuku Station. - image © Florentyna Leow
Funabashiya is a short 4-5 minute walk from Shinjuku Station. It's not particularly difficult to find, but it can be moderately confusing in the hustle and bustle of Shinjuku. I usually take the east exit at Shinjuku Station. Above ground, take a right to loop around the building. To your left across the road, you’ll see the Comme Ca Store.
The view walking from Shinjuku Station. - image © Florentyna Leow
Cross, and enter the road between megane SUPER and Comme Ca Store.
A short walk from the station brings you to the restaurant. - image © Florentyna Leow
Keep walking down the road. Funabashiya is on the corner to your right opposite The Body Shop.
The entrance to Funabashiya. - image © Florentyna Leow
This place is apparently pretty popular at lunchtime, seeing queues stretching around the block, but at 6:45pm on a wintery Thursday evening, it’s quiet. Quiet enough that I can hear the sound of frying tempura from the other end of the counter. Perhaps in warmer weather, there will be more diners. The grease in the air smells incredible - tempura is usually fried in sesame oil. There are many solo diners at the counter. I’m seated between a tired-looking woman and an exhausted-looking man in a suit. Both finish their meals within 20 minutes and leave, arriving after me and leaving before. These people are going places.
A sign in Japanese reading “Tempura Funabashiya.” - image © Florentyna Leow
Incidentally, if there was a prize for “most specific opening time,” Funabashiya would probably be a contender. Who opens a restaurant at 11:40, rather than the usual 11:30? Funabashiya, that’s who. If you’ve been in business for over a century, you’ve earned the right to off-kilter opening times.
Every diner gets a lacquer tray with empty plates on it. - image © Florentyna Leow
Your table setup consists of several empty dishes and a plate of pickles. The rice comes later. The salty pickles are for eating with your rice. The green dish is for your dipping salt.
Pouring tentsuyu into the bowl. - image © Florentyna Leow
The round bowl is for the tempura dipping sauce, or tentsuyu. This is typically a blend of dashi stock, soy sauce, and mirin (sweet rice wine.) Pour some into the bowl, and stir in the grated daikon and ginger on the side. Drag your deep-fried food through this, and eat with rice.
The red jug contains tentsuyu, and the rest of the small pots contain various salts. - image © Florentyna Leow
My personal preference for tempura seasoning, however, is to dip it in salt. Tableside, there’s fine sea salt, coarse pink salt, and my favourite, an utterly-addictive herb salt. It’s a blend of thyme, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, black pepper, and salt. (I love that the chef rattled this off without pause when I asked him.) I want to sprinkle it on everything, and it is great with the tempura.
A clear and concise English menu. - image © Florentyna Leow
There are numerous tempura set meals, and the Hana - the second cheapest on the menu - comes in at JPY2450. There are more expensive options with sashimi and the works. Most of them make for nice, casual, balanced meals - they even feel kind of healthy, considering it’s mainly deep-fried food. Ordering ala carte is possible, but probably not the most cost-efficient way to eat here.
A counter-seating view. - image © Florentyna Leow
If you’re sitting at the counter, everything comes fresh from the fryer and straight to a plate in front of you. It’s barely had time to cool down. The paper underneath absorbs the excess grease, of which there is very little.
Tempura arriving on your plate in front of you. - image © Florentyna Leow
I love watching the chefs gently place the food in front of me with long, silver chopsticks. (One aspires to such elegance!) Two prawns, a tender piece of whiting, a thick band of squid. Pumpkin. Green pepper. These arrive one by one, as you eat them with rice, and alternate mouthfuls of dark red miso soup. Halfway through, the chef dexterously slides the greasy paper off the plate and replaces it with a new sheet.
Tempura kakiage - a beautiful fritter. - image © Florentyna Leow
The finishing piece is a kakiage, a compact fritter of shrimp and scallions, with crispy, curly crags of batter all around. The prawns are sweet and hot, awesome alternately dipped in salt and tentsuyu sauce. I wanted at least three more fritters. It’s a far cry from the sad, soggy renditions you see at supermarkets.
For the price, the Hana set is a nice introduction to moderately fancy tempura. It really is fast food: once you’re seated, you can be done with your meal in under half an hour, or even less. This is probably a good thing for most travelers. I wouldn’t wait for an hour in line for this, but would come back at off-peak hours for a quiet meal.
Name in Japanese:
3-28-14 Shinjuku, Tokyo
Tempura-Funabashiya.Jimdo (Japanese only)
:: Read customer reviews of Funabashiya on TripAdvisor
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