Archive for February, 2011

Old Tokyo landmark: Tenshichi tempura in Kyobashi

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

A short walk from Tokyo Station, the Kyobashi district bristles with towering office buildings aglitter with sunlight, but casting sumie-shade shadows on the narrow warren of side streets which skirt them. Side streets which like faded engravings reveal dim outlines of Edo.

Down one such side street, Tenshichi serves tempura in a manner unchanged in 80 years. The interior of the shop was constructed from timbers from old fishing boats. Scars from barnacles fleck the ancient wood. A pendulum wall clock tick tocks the passing minutes. A cast iron kettle filled with sesame oil is fed by corona of blue gas flame. Two panes of hand-crafted glass with the imperfect perfection of ripples and bubbles protect the pale blond wood counter from errant droplets of hot oil.

This is not the best tempura in Tokyo, but the lunch course at 4000-yen is quite good and filling. The matron, with her upswept hairdo, kimono, and white apron, will make sure you get plenty of freshly grated daikon, refills of rice and house-made pickles.

Sitting at the counter and watching the master, who is probably as old as the building, slowly batter each shrimp or vegetable, then drop it into the redolent oil, is a ticket back to the Taisho era.

The master’s hands and grip are not what they used to be, and if he drops from his chopsticks a battered shrimp or two on its way to the hot oil, it’s no big thing. He’ll just pick it with his fingers and put it where it belongs.

There really isn’t a menu. If you come at lunch, you’ll be served the standard 4000-yen course. No need to order. With a word, though, you can upgrade to the 5000-yen or 6000-yen course.

Dinner courses start from 7000 yen. The restaurant offers a lovely private hanare room which can be reserved for an extra 10,000 yen if you want to impress a politician or two.

The shop meishi doesn’t announce opening or closing times. They figure anyone in Kyobashi knows when lunch or dinner time is. They are probably closed on Sundays when the bustle and business of Kyobashi pauses.

It is easy to find Tenshichi. Take the number 4 exit of the Ginza-line Kyobashi station. Walk a few meters until you spot the Bless Coffeeshop. Turn left down the narrow side street and you’ll see Tenshichi squatting low in a shadow.

Tenshichi: 2-5-17 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03.3561.7577.