Singapore – There was a time when tendon, a casual meal of tempura served over rice, was the flavour of the month in Singapore.
Restaurants such as Tempura Tendon Tenya, Ginza Tendon Itsuki, Akimitsu, Tendon Kohaku, Tenjin and Tempura Makino opened, with some using automatic fryers to churn out tempura fast. Some restaurants drew long queues and others opened multiple branches.
Now, though, fuelled by revenge dining and spending in a post-pandemic world, luxe is in.
Two high-end tempura restaurants – Tenshima and Tentsuru – are joining the likes of Tenshin at Conrad Singapore Orchard, Ippoh Tempura Bar in Dempsey Road, Mizuki at Ngee Ann City and Ginza Tenharu at the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza in offering multi-course tempura meals.
Curiously, the career paths of the chefs heading Tentsuru and Tenshima intersect.
Tenshima’s chef Takahiro Shima, 41, helmed Ginza Tenharu’s Singapore outpost and was at Tentsuru before opening Tenshima. Tentsuru’s chef Daiki Kawaguchi, 42, worked at Ginza Tenharu in Tokyo, then at the restaurant’s Bangkok outpost. He joined Tentsuru in 2022 when it opened, and now heads the restaurant.
Another day, another high-end restaurant opening in Singapore. Why is now the right time to add to high-end tempura options here?
Chef Shima says: “In the past, tempura had less global recognition than sushi. Now, many people have come to appreciate the taste of tempura and have a better understanding of omakase-style restaurants, which is probably why the number of such restaurants is also gradually increasing.
“There is a growing demand for refined dining experiences, making it the right time to establish high-end tempura restaurants that cater to this audience.”
Kaiseki approach to tempura
Where: 01-09 Millennia Walk, 9 Raffles BoulevardOpen: 12.30 to 3pm (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays to Sundays), 6.30 to 10pm (Tuesdays to Sundays), closed on MondaysInfo: Call 6226-6666 or go to ten-shima.com
For 16 years, chef Shima practised the art of kaiseki – multi-course Japanese haute cuisine that follows a set order of dishes. He brings that sensibility to tempura at the 10-seat restaurant, owned by ThreeMM, a company set up in 2022. Tenshima, which opened recently, is its first restaurant.
When preparing kisu or Japanese whiting, often part of tempura meals, his training comes into play when salting and cutting the fish to remove fishy smells. Sweet potatoes are steamed over six to seven hours, then dry-aged in a chiller for two days to give them depth of flavour before frying. It is served with milk ice cream for dessert.
His signature tempura includes shark’s fin, marinated with ginger, sake and spring onion, steamed for two hours and simmered in dashi for 20 minutes before it is fried. Another signature is awabi or abalone cooked in water, daikon, kombu, sugar, shoyu and sake for five hours. It is served with a sauce made from abalone liver.
He uses sunflower oil for frying, and the batter is made with low-gluten flour, egg yolk and filtered water.
Lunch at the restaurant is priced at $180++ a person, and comes with an appetiser, palate cleanser, seven kinds of tempura, one premium tempura, tendon or tencha, and dessert. Dinner, priced at $400++ a person, includes an additional dish and three premium tempura.
Where: Level 2, The St Regis Singapore, 29 Tanglin RoadOpen: Noon to 2.30pm, 6 to 10.30pm (Tuesdays to Sundays), closed on MondaysInfo: Call 8113-3612 or go to tentsuru.com.sg
Chef Daiki Kawaguchi started helping out at his father’s restaurant in Osaka while still in school. After graduating from high school, he went on to work in kaiseki restaurants in Osaka and Tokyo, chalking up 18 years of experience.
Now at the helm at Tentsuru, he is debuting a new menu and introducing an alcohol pairing to go with his omakase tempura meals.
Lunch at the restaurant is priced at $120++, $188++ and $280++, while dinner is at $188++, $280++ and $380++ a person.
The alcohol pairing, priced at $108++ a person, features a glass of Tentsuru Champagne from Henri Giraud and three glasses of sake – Ugonotsumai Junmai Daiginjou, Kuroushi Junmai Ginjou and Toyobijin Junmai Daiginjou.
The Millennium Hotels & Resorts manages the restaurant, which has a 15-seat main counter plus a seven-seat counter in its private room.
He brings the kaiseki respect for seasonality to his omakase tempura meals. Diners can look forward to matsutake mushrooms and anago or sea eels, which are in season in autumn, together with nodoguro (blackthroat sea perch) and kinmedai (golden eye snapper).
“Autumn has the best weather for ingredients,” he says. “And as the weather gets colder, the seafood gets fatter.”
His take on uni tempura is also unusual. He wraps the bafun sea urchin from Hokkaido in sheets of uni paper from Kyoto – they look like fruit leather. Another signature, Japanese lobster tempura, is topped with butter, shoyu and a shower of karasumi or salted mullet roe.
Depending on the tempura, guests dip the fried morsels in plum paste, curry salt, yuzu kosho, and Okinawan sea salt mixed with kombu powder.
Attention to detail extends to the sauce drizzled over tendon, served before dessert. It is made with fried prawn heads and simmered over five hours.
He uses sunflower oil from Hokkaido for frying. To make sure guests do not feel overwhelmed and too full before the meal is over, he coats his ingredients in a thin batter made with potato starch, cornstarch and wheat flour before frying.
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