Best of a TRAVELIFE 2014: The most delicious tempura in Tokyo is at Mikawa Zezankyo

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So one day in May, I had lunch at Mikawa Zezankyo, widely considered by many Japanese foodies as the best tempura restaurant in Tokyo.

It has one Michelin star, which is very respectable, but of course not as prestigious as having two Michelin stars, such as in the case of 7-Chome Kyoboshi, another tempura restaurant in Tokyo, located in Ginza.

Incidentally, 7-Chome Kyoboshi lost its third star this year — which is why it’s only a two-star restaurant for 2014. And since I wrote about Mikawa Zezankyo in this blog last May, I heard lots of people from my part of the world have been trooping to this restaurant in a most nondescript part of Tokyo.


I let someone else choose this restaurant, and he decided on this out of all the restaurants in this city that we could have gone to, because so many Japanese consider Mikawa Zezankyo the best for tempura.

The master chef is revered almost as a national treasure in Japan, for faithfully making tempura in the Edo style for at least 30 years
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In this day and age of shock value in Michelin-starred restaurants, when you are almost not supposed to understand what you are eating, or when you are supposed to be incredibly surprised by what you are eating, a restaurant like Mikawa Zezankyo feels like such a safe place.
A restaurant where things are always the same, no matter when you go.

“Edo style” means that the chef only uses ingredients for tempura that were available and used during the Edo Period (1603-1867).

How’s that for real tradition?


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On another subject, it really intrigued me how a restaurant so widely considered the best in Tokyo could only be rated a one-star by the Michelin inspectors.

But when I got there, I understood why.
Restaurants rated two or three stars by the Michelin inspectors — I know one of the Michelin inspectors in Japan, by the way — are very sleek in presentation, even if they are traditional restaurants.

The marketing aspect is never under-estimated, in the three-star restaurants I’ve been to so far, all over the world, including Japan.

Everything in a Michelin three-star restaurant is delicious, flawless and aesthetically beautiful, whether it is a simple or a complicated by design.

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In contrast, the Mikawa Zezankyo is a hodge-podge of sorts, especially in the upper floors.

On that first visit in May, we arrived early and were ushered to a waiting room on the third floor, which was full of all kinds of memorabilia ranging from screens to statues to ink brushes.

All very interesting — but you really don’t know if this is someone’s home or a famous Michelin-starred restaurant. 

In my humble opinion, this is one factor in the star ratings, which take into account the entire experience.

Even if a restaurant is casual or informal, it must be perfect in a casual or informal way, if it is to rate three stars. There should be no dilution of message, in marketing-speak.


Meanwhile, the meal, which we had on the nine-seater counter with the National Treasure himself cooking tempura for us, was an entirely different experience.

We all sat down to eat at the same time, and it seems we all ordered the lunch for around US$100 a head, as we were all served exactly the same thing.

They also have a $170 o-makase (leave it to the chef) menu, which we declined to order. The more modest menu we had was so much food that the idea of what the o-makase might have been like leaves me breathless.

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The entire process took just over two hours and everything worked like clockwork for a very efficient but incredibly delicious meal.

If you are looking for fantastic tempura at a price that won’t break the bank, this is it.

The best tempura were the seafood, which was interesting to me as I usually like vegetable tempura way more than seafood tempura — with the exception of the kisu fish.

But that day, the seafood tempura was spectacular, while the vegetable tempura of shiitake and asparagus was just okay.

At least for me, in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

PS: This degustation meal ended very simply and beautifully with three slices of sweet lemon-limes, so beautifully presented as below.

And, of course, I’ve been back to Mikawa Zezankyo several times since then. Each time was very delicious, but it was this very first meal here that was most memorable.