Kyoto is for foodies. This city is awash with excellent traditional Japanese restaurants so standard are very high regarding cuisine. Among these, the Mizuki tempura restaurant of the Ritz Carlton Kyoto stands out for its unique ingredients, the lightness of its batter, and the fact that most of its tempura is better eaten plainly with salt.
HOW TO EAT TEMPURA
Most foreigners have this impression that all tempura should be eaten with tempura sauce, which is basically created with the liquid stock dash as a base. This is true for the average tempura restaurant in Japan and abroad. However, in reality, the best tempura are eaten with a touch of salt.
No sauce is needed because the good chefs believe that their tempura should be able to stand proudly based on the quality of ingredients and the method of frying alone. It’s true. The lighter the batter and the less oil in the tempura, the less you need any other condiment with it.
ABOUT THE MIZUKI RESTAURANT OF THE RITZ CARLTON KYOTO
This is the basis for the Michelin star that Mizuki received for its tempura. So during a stay at the Ritz Carlton Kyoto over the winter, we booked a table to try this world-class tempura, of course. As COVID-19 was and still is raging as I write, the restaurant was observing social distancing. Mizuki is a cozy eight-seater counter restaurant that is definitely on the fancy side, as far as tempura establishments. It’s all polished dark granite with an elegant industrial feel. The chef works just behind so that your meal is part entertainment, part gourmet delight.
THE BEST INGREDIENTS FOR TEMPURA
The experience starts off with the chef selecting the ingredients for your meal based on the menu you have chosen. Everything is laid out so perfectly on a wooden cutting board, ready for Instagram photos. Depending on when you go, there will be one or two ingredients that are not your usual tempura fare. But then again, this is no ordinary tempura restaurant either.
Nevertheless, fresh shrimps hold pride of place and the best is reserved for the beginning of the meal. The chef deftly cuts the heads off the shrimps and these heads are made into crunchy tempura. Again, not all tempura restaurants serve shrimp heads, but the best ones usually do. These are eaten with a little salt and nothing else — especially not tempura sauce which will quickly reduce the crunch factor, so purists regard anything but salt as sacrosanct.
THE VEGETABLES OF KYOTO
A succession of vegetables and seafood follows. Aside from shrimps, the scallops are especially delicious. As are the vegetables. Kyoto is famous for its good quality vegetables. In fact, they’re called “Kyo-yasai,” which literally means “Kyoto vegetables.” Japanese come from all over the country just to see the vegetables at the famous Nishiki Market of Kyoto, and many fine restaurants pride themselves in serving Kyoto vegetables. Mizuki’s chef too has made sure that diners experience the wow factor of this bounty for themselves.
Tempura meals are usually not long drawn out affairs because the frying time itself is quick and painless. But at Mizuki, the Michelin-starred chef takes his time. As a result, diners are able to truly appreciate the experience.