Many people, including myself are originally surprised to hear that a tempura restaurant can be awarded two Michelin stars. After all, it’s not the typical image associated with fine dining. However, it’s a fallacy that Michelin stars are elusive to fine dining. It’s simply awarded to extraordinary cuisine, haute cuisine or ramen. Regardless, the tempura at Kondo is quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
The atmosphere was simple and clean, despite the copious amounts of frying occurring. This is my first time at a tempura bar, where all the cooking happens right in front of you. The chef fries one piece at a time, ensuring optimal freshness. After the sous chef preps the ingredient, the head chef dunks it into the tempura batter and gently submerge it into a mixture of three types of sesame oil.
I liked that they gave you options for toppings/sauces to experiment with. The tensuyu and grated daikon added savouriness which complements vegetables, while the simple sea salt and lemon cut through the richness of seafood. We ordered the “Kaede”, which included two appetizers, eleven tempura pieces, kakiage plus rice set, and dessert.
The first appetizer served was Okara with water shield. Okara has a strong soy taste, which the sweet soy glaze complimented nicely.
The whelk and ankimo particularly stood out. The whelk was tender and briny. Ankimo, a Japanese delicacy is made from rinsing monkfish liver with sake and steaming it. It’s rich and silky, yet fluffy. Although commonly compared to foie gras, I think the textures are quite different.
The fried shrimp heads were served first. It may look intimidating, but if you manage to get past the psychological fear it’s quite tasty. The chef removed the inedible and sharp bits so it’s pleasant to eat. The actual prawn tempura was succulent. Kondo’s tempura is unlike any tempura I’ve ever had. The batter is extremely light, unlike the typical heavy and thick tempura batter. The high temperature seals in moisture and steams the ingredient, while minimal oil penetrates. Ideally, tempura batter is mixed using cold water and lightly mixed. This is to avoid the creation of gluten, resulting in a crisp and light batter.
The asparagus was freshly sourced from Hokkaido was tender and juicy, without an ounce of woodiness. Typically asparagus can be bitter, but this was sweet.
Lotus root was one of my favourites! It has an unique texture, crunchy yet starchy.
I don’t recall the name of this vegetable, but it resembled broccoli/kai lan.
Kisu, a type of Japanese whiting melted like butter! In terms of flavour, it’s very mild.
Magochi, another white fish resembled kisu, yet it’s oiler with a stronger taste.
The shitake mushroom was a bit underwhelming. The interior was very dry and bland. Shitake tastes far superior when it’s rehydrated from its dried form.
The baby onion wasn’t cooked all the way, so the exterior layers were soft yet the inner layers retained its crunch. The flavour was subtly sweet. However, the batter on the onion was a bit soggy.
Fiddlehead, tasted like a cross between asparagus and spinach, with an earthy grassy flavour.
The last piece of tempura was a generous serving of anago, aka sea eel.
I chose the kakiage tendon rice set as my choice of staple. A large chunk of battered shrimp and scallop was served on top of rice. I really enjoyed the red miso soup. It’s a pleasant change to the typical white miso soup served.
To end the meal, a plate of fresh loquat and mango was presented. The mango was exquisite, extremely tender and sweet. I originally mistook the loquat for apricot, as it has a similar tartness.
Kondo definitely exceeded my expectations! Not unlike premium sushi, the goal is to take top quality ingredients and prepare them simply, enhancing its natural aroma and flavours. The diversity of the ingredients was also impressive, ranging between the familiar and the exotic. Outstanding!