Just a few days before we left for Japan, a fortuitous discovery of a national holiday meant I needed to change the first couple of nights of our itinerary, including our hotel reservation. Cue another internet search for dining recommendations in the area of the new hotel.
Tsunahachi caught my eye immediately; a small tempura chain founded in the 1920s, with a strong reputation for great food using fresh, seasonal ingredients. The honten (original shop), housed in a traditional, albeit extended building, looked the most appealing, and was only a ten minute walk from our hotel.
Arriving not long after it opened for lunch, we joined a short queue outside, that moved relatively quickly, into a smaller seated queue inside. Within 10 to 15 minutes, we were seated at the upstairs counter. There is also a counter downstairs, as well as non-counter dining room areas.
Although there was an a la carte menu, like all the customers around us, we both chose a set lunch. Pete ordered the hira zen, the least expensive set at 1,260 Yen. I went for the tempura zen at 1,995 Yen.
A big part of the pleasure was watching the chefs work, preparing the seafood, vegetables and batter and carefully frying each piece before delivering it to the serving tray in front of each customer.
Both menus came with miso soup, rice, green vegetable pickle, soft grated daikon (white radish) which we were shown how to mix into the dipping sauce. The daikon was actually a revelation, full of flavour but none of the astringency I associate with large white radishes.
As in most restaurants in Japan, hot tea and ice cold water were included and topped up regularly.
Tempura is traditionally served with green tea salt. Tsunahachi also provided regular white salt, seaweed salt and shiso salt.
Both menus included tempura prawn, vegetables, white fish tails and shrimp kakiage. Mine also had tempura eel and an additional pickle.
The tempura batter was so light and crunchy, but not at all greasy. Each item was perfectly cooked so that both the batter and the item inside were fresh, juicy and full of flavour. The shrimp kakiage were particularly good.
Following the example of another customer, and an approving nod from our tempura chef (who gave a shocked shake of his head when I moved to dribble a little of my tempura dipping sauce over my rice), we ate the green vegetable pickle with the rice.
At the bottom of the cup of miso soup were lots of tiny clams, which gave it a fresher, rich seafood flavour.
Lunch trade was brisk, and whilst we didn’t feel rushed at all, nor did it seem the kind of place to linger. Indeed, other diners seated after us, ordered ate and left before we finished our meals. I wonder if evening meals are paced a little more slowly. If you’ve dined here in the evening, do please leave me a comment to let me know.
Although we found it easy to eat for far less than this during our trip, I think our bill, approximately £28, was good value for the standard of food we enjoyed.
Address: 3-31-8 Shinjuku, Tokyo