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Rakutei

6-8-1 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 107-0052, Japan

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Editor's note. On 22nd January 2015 the chef/owner Shuji Ishikura tragically died at the age of 79. The future of the restaurant is unclear.

In Akasaka is this little tempura bar, seating just ten people at a counter, tucked away in a quiet side street. The owner-chef Shuji Ishikura trained at Yama no Ue Hotel (Hilltop Hotel) and then went independent by opening Rakutei in 1970. The attention to detail is illustrated by the freshness of the oil, changed every 30 minutes. 

A light wood counter surrounds the kitchen, where two chefs work at preparing the seafood and vegetables for the tempura in front of the diners. The ingredients are fresh, the prawns still visibly moving prior to them being prepared for cooking moments later, sea eel (anago) being plucked from a tank before being killed and filleted by the chef immediately before the frying process. There was no menu offered, just two different omakase menus, one a little lengthier than the other at ¥11,000 (£73) and the other ¥13,000 (£86) respectively. We went for the longer option.

There was a little diced bonito as a nibble at the start of the meal, though this had a slight chewiness of texture, albeit excellent flavor; I have had better bonito elsewhere (15/20). The prawn tempura that began the meal was lovely, the batter extremely light, the prawns having a hint of natural sweetness, carefully cooked and of course as fresh as it is possible to be (17/20). I was particularly impressed with the separately cooked prawn head, which had a little crunchiness of texture but also excellent flavour (18/20).

Ayu (sweet fish) was next, the little fish eaten whole and having a characteristic slight bitterness of flavour from the head (16/20). Asparagus and mushroom tempura were very good, the vegetables of high quality (17/20). Similarly cuttlefish was good, though again I have had more delicate cuttlefish at top sushi bars (16/20). Anago was made with a. thicker batter than the other dishes, and had plenty of flavour; again, it could hardly have been fresher (17/20). There was also a white fish that was not identified (no English was spoken by the chefs, and there are 700 different fish sold at Tsukiji market, so you could be some time trying to guess a fish in Japan). The meal concluded with excellent  tempura of tiny scallops (delicate, lovely, 18/20), served on a bed of rice with pickled cucumber, cabbage, baby onions and radish.

The chefs were friendly, though the waitress that served drinks was nice but did not manage topping of water or beer very well, especially by the usual high standards of such places in Japan. However this is a minor quibble. This was an excellent restaurant, the ingredients of high quality, the batter very light, the cooking skilful. The bill, with a beer apiece, came to ¥14,180 (£94) per person. Be aware that the restaurant takes cash only. This is very serious tempura cooking, a world away from the level of tempura that we see in the UK.

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