Located in a bustling side street in central Hiroshima, the chef has been working here for three years after originally training at Ten Ichi in the Ginza. The restaurant has just eight counter seats, and tonight had a pretty display of chrysanthemum flowers in a recess behind the counter. This place is a sister of the first one that opened called "Tenko". Honten itself means "main restaurant" and the new one is now the main restaurant. The first Tenko restaurant had 35 years of history in tempura making, serving tempura in the Edomae style i.e. traditional Tokyo style, with slightly heavier batter than is used in Kyoto.
Seasonality is important here, with for example oysters served November to March and hamo fish in summer. It prides itself on the quality of the oil used. There was no doubting the freshness of the prawns, plucked alive from a water tank and prepared seconds before being fried. Wasabi root was ground fresh for each diner.
The meal began with a nicely dressed salad, then a sashimi selection. Sea bream was excellent, squid reasonably tender, as was a white fish that did not have an English translation. However I found a whelk impossibly chewy (overall average 14/20). The prawn legs were served separately as the first tempura course, to be seasoned with either lemon or salt, having very good flavour (16/20). The prawns themselves were excellent, having lovely sweet flavour, wrapped in feather-light batter (18/20).
The tempura sequence continued with ginko nut (16/20) then excellent shiitake mushroom, to be dipped in a bowl containing horseradish and soy (17/20). King crab had excellent flavour (17/20), and burdock root was interesting (15/20). Sweet potato was of very high quality with lovely texture (16/20) but my favourite was whiting (kiss fish in Japanese), which had beautifully delicate, sweet flavour, the feathery tempura just coating the fish being a world apart from the clunky batter that we are used to with tempura in the UK (18/20).
Flathead fish was also good (16/20), and the local specialty, oyster, had impressive flavour (17/20). Maitake mushroom (hen of the wood) was very good (16/20), followed by a superb tiny sea bream with delicate flavour (18/20). This was followed by lotus root (15/20) and then anago (sea eel) paired with curry powder (16/20).
The savoury dishes concluded with rice and pickles, as is traditional, along with richly flavoured miso soup. A bowl of rice can be a rather dull way to finish a meal, but here it was topped with a terrific tempura of mixed prawn and scallop, which had wonderful sweet flavour (18/20). Persimmon fruit completed the meal.
The chef was very friendly and spoke some English, happy to chat about the ingredients. The bill came to £66 a head, including copious amounts of beer. When it came to get a taxi it turned out that the street had been temporarily closed off. This being Japan, rather than just pointing us in the direction of the main street, the chef and his wife came out of the restaurant and hailed a cab for us. I can't see this kind of behaviour catching on with too many two star Michelin chefs in the UK.