Down an unassuming alley and at the end of a corridor on the ground floor of an office building is Yamanaka, a two Michelin (in 2012) tempura restaurant. The tiny premises have just nine seats arrayed around a wooden counter, with one chef and one assistant, plus a very friendly waitress. Its owner and head chef is Yoshihiro Yamanaka, who opened the restaurant in July 2006. The restaurant specialises in “creative” tempura, using local fish and fresh vegetables. A sense of the degree of the care that goes on here is that, every time a customer visits the restaurant, it aims to serve a tempura that the particular customer has not seen before. Yamanaka has just nine seats, arranged around a bar. It is known for its deep-fried potatoes “Bakudan ageimo”, which in fact is 70% fried and 30% steamed, though this did not appear this evening.
The first sign that this is a proper restaurant is the little dish of salt and grated wasabi that is presented: this is real wasabi root, not the garish coloured horseradish that passes for wasabi in Japanese restaurants in London. Real wasabi has a gentle, almost creamy texture and subtle spicy taste. The tempura chef prepares every dish in front of you: the first we had was prettily presented ayu (sweet fish), the fish presented upright: the ayu was very fresh, the tempura batter ethereally delicate, a world away from the clumsy batter we have become used to in tempura joints in the west (17/20). This was followed by pieces of crab and squid. The crab was good but the squid was remarkable, the flesh without even a hint of rubberiness, coated in a light, crispy batter (18/20 for the squid). Edamame beans and bamboo came next, the bamboo in particular very tender (16/20).
Asparagus was carefully scored with a knife before frying, the asparagus having excellent flavour (17/20). Next was a locally caught fish that resembled a sardine, with a hint of oiliness in the flesh (16/20). This was followed by a vegetable that was a local variant of sweet potato, crisp and quite sweet (16/20). After this was a lovely dish of sole served with a ponzu sauce, the fish again of very high quality, the acidity of the ponzu sauce just right (18/20).
This was followed by a superb lattice of fried river fish, the tempura batter as light as ever, the fish extremely fresh (18/20). The meal appeared to conclude with deep fried red bean paste and also fried lotus root (16/20). Finally a bonus dish was offered, a shrimp tempura served on a bed of rice over which was poured a stock just prior to serving: this was terrific, the stock having deep flavour, the prawns of superb quality (18/20). The miso soup that accompanied the rice was also very impressive, with lovely purity of flavour.
Service was very friendly, though the staff spoke limited English. The bill came to ¥17,100 for two ie £65 a head including plenty of beer. This seemed to me a bargain for the quality of what appeared on the plate.