The head chef is Yoshiake Shimizu, who trained in the excellent Rakutei under Chef Nishiyama for nine years before opening up his own restaurant. Mr Nishiyama from Rakutei sadly passed away in January 2015 and Mr Shimizu carries on his master’s style of light and delicate tempura. Unusually, the chef offers to pair his tempura with wine and even offers a wine list with over a hundred wines to choose from, a rarity in tempura restaurants.
Seiju is a tempura restaurant in the basement of a building not far from the site of the old Tsukiji fish market (which closed in September 2018 to move to new premises). You access the restaurant via a lift at the end of a corridor at the ground floor of the building. The room has a cypress wood counter with fourteen seats arrayed around it in an L shape, and also has a little waiting area with a wooden bench. This is a nod to the sukiya style of architecture, which refers to the aesthetics of the tea ceremony. In the traditional tea ceremony there is a waiting area before you go into the main part of the tea house, hence the waiting area here. Lighting was rather subdued by the standards of Japanese dining rooms, which are usually brightly lit. The room was otherwise quite sparsely decorated, reminiscent of kaiseki dining rooms in Kyoto. The chef trained in a tempura restaurant in Akasaka before striking out on his own here in 2008. The restaurant had a Michelin star in the 2018 guide.
Unusually for a tempura restaurant, there was a wine list, including some quite high-end bottles, in addition to the usual choices of beer or sake. There were just a few wines below ¥10,000 (£67) but plenty of pricier choices. Examples were Jean Collet Chablis 2016 at ¥6,912 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for ¥3,034, Meursault Les Clous Bouchard Pere et Fils 2013 at ¥12,960 compared to its retail price of ¥8,678, and Krug NV champagne at ¥33,480 for a bottle that will set you back ¥24,759 in a shop. There was even Krug Clos de Mesnil 2002 at ¥216,000 for a bottle whose retail price is currently ¥151,073.
After appetisers of sesame tofu soup and ginko nuts the tempura sequence began with karuma prawn followed by cuttlefish and then lotus root. The prawn was not as delicate as some that I have had on this trip, though the cuttlefish and lotus root were fine. Next came sweetcorn, matsutake mushroom and goby. The mushroom was very delicate and the star of the show at this point.
A little bowl of cuttlefish topped with salmon roe was a break from the tempura sequence, which resumed with squash and kisu, which was translated here as sand borer but is usually just called whiting, and was fine. This was followed by tempura of aubergine and then a very lightly fried ginger bulb, which had a pleasing punch of ginger flavour. The final tempura before the kakiage was crab with seaweed.
The kakiage, a clumped ball of fried prawns and chopped vegetables, was served with rice and pickles, as is traditional. A pleasant melon sorbet concluded the meal. The pickles with the rice were nothing special but the miso was interesting. This particular miso soup was the red miso or akadashi style, which is made from soy beans with a long fermentation process, causing a richer flavour. This was particularly enjoyable and worked well after the sequence of fried food.
The bill came to ¥62,590 for three people, which works out at £140 per person, with beer to drink. This was a pleasant evening, and although the chef maintained a serious, rather dour demeanour when cooking he visibly relaxed at the end, and was happy to chat away with our dining companion, who spoke fluent Japanese. This was an enjoyable evening but the tempura, while certainly quite good, was not of the level we had eaten two nights previously at Hasegawa, by way of comparison. Nonetheless the cooking was capable and there were occasional touches, like the excellent red miso, that lifted the meal above the norm.