Tentou’s tempura rice bowl is hearty enough to power you through a full afternoon of sightseeing in Asakusa – so long as you don’t mind the smell of frying oil clinging to you afterwards.
Tentou’s signature ten-don. - image © Florentyna Leow
Tempura is a crowd pleaser. Who doesn’t like deep-fried, battered seafood and vegetables? In Tokyo, you can eat tempura in all kinds of styles – light and crispy, served with three different kinds of salt; served as a parade of dishes, piece by piece; as an accompaniment to soba; so on, so forth.
Of course, you can also eat tempura at virtually all kinds of price points, ranging from dirt cheap to strings of zeros that’ll have you sweating and asking, “how much again?”
When it comes to tempura - which I rarely eat - I like a happy median between chain-store cheap (which often suffers from too much grease and batter) and knock-your-socks-off expensive. That’s anywhere between JPY1800 to JPY2800.
Usually tempura is all about dipping your tempura in a soy-dashi sauce - or if you’re posh, in a dish of salt spiked with lemon. But recently I’ve taken a liking to a style of tempura popular in the Asakusa area, characterized by a rustic, craggy batter. Rather than serving it with a dipping sauce on the side, they briefly dredge the fried pieces of prawn, fritter, fish, what-have-you, in a dark shoyu-based sauce right before serving.
The entrance to Tentou. - image © Florentyna Leow
Tentou is one of several tempura specialists around Senso-ji Temple serving tempura in this style. A few others include Daikokuya, which sees lines around the block on most days when it’s not 38C outside; and Tentake, famous for their kakiage (prawn fritter). Tentou has the edge on some of the other restaurants in my book mostly because they open at 10:30am. A huge bowl of fried prawns on rice is an ideal mid-morning breakfast.
There are side dishes here, sure, but it’s all about the rice bowls. Your three choices are: ten-don (tempura bowl), kakiage-don (shrimp and scallop fritter bowl), or ebi ten-don (shrimp tempura bowl). But the ten-don has a slice of aubergine in it and therefore has a small claim to nutrition on its side. Never mind that it’s also fried.
Tentou’s ten-don is not at all beautiful. But it’s all about the taste here. - image © Florentyna Leow
This is the opposite of light, airy, crispy tempura. The sauce is black, sweet-salty with caramelized, almost burnt notes to it. Dredging it in sauce almost weighs the batter down, rather like when they serve tempura in noodle soup. It seems to almost defeat the purpose of fried food, and made me think - what’s the point? And then you realize - this is the point. It’s about enjoying that texture where the crunch has been softened just enough by sauce, where it’s peculiarly homespun and tastes rather like how your mum might interpret tempura.
Close-up of the kakiage. Definitely not pretty. - image © Florentyna Leow
A word about the kisu (Japanese whiting): there’s always risk of a delicate fish being overcooked when deep-fried, but it’s just right here. The kakiage I liked enough to wish I’d ordered the kakiage-don instead - a palm-sized fritter of sweet chunks of scallop and small prawns, squishy within and lightly crisp without.
The restaurant space shares airspace with the kitchen. - image © Florentyna Leow
At Tentou, the only downside to eating at this tiny 15-seater restaurant is that you’ll come out smelling of frying oil. The ventilation system isn’t all that great. But it comes with the territory. Besides, you’ll be out sightseeing for the rest of the day. Come early to beat the lunch crowds.
Hidden at the back are miso soup and pickles. The pickles are faintly tangy, lightly salty, and good with the rice. - image © Florentyna Leow
Directions: Take Exit A1 from Asakusa Station on the Toei Asakusa Line. Turn right and away from the main road - you’ll see Donkihote on your left. The street will split into five lanes. Take the second exit from your right. After two blocks of shop houses you’ll find Tentou on the corner.
Name in Japanese:
1 Chome-41-1 Asakusa, Taitō, Tokyo 111-0032
10:30am - 5:00pm
Subway: 4-minute walk from Exit A1 of Asakusa Station on the Toei Asakusa Line
:: Read customer reviews of Tentou on TripAdvisor
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