Monday, May 5, 2008
Tenshin for Tempura
My birthday treat was lunch at Tenshin. Dubbed the penultimate place for tempura in Singapore, Tenshin is also the only tempura specialist in town. Have been wanting to come here a long long time, even though I've seen mixed reviews. I just have to try, at least once, the legendary batter that's airily light. We took the Tempura Set (S$30) and the Tenshin Lunch (S$60) - see menu here.
Indeed the batter was light as air, and in some cases, barely there. So very delicate, maybe too delicate. Almost like eating nothing... and that in itself, was a problem. The meal was so light, it barely satisfied.
I think I enjoyed it more than hubby did. He much prefers our meal at Tsunahachi in Tokyo where you can feast on expertly done tempura for half the price. I do like the freshness of the items at Tenshin and how subtle and refined everything tasted. But I have to agree, the tempura on its own could be a little bland and underwhelming.
Fortunately, the dipping sauce is very flavourful and umami. In addition, there are four types of salt you can enjoy with your tempura - chili salt, seasalt, matcha salt, and curry salt. You can get quite busy experimenting with them and finish off your precious tempura cargo in a flash. Personally I liked the curry salt but thought the matcha one a little too opaque - it threatened to mask the delicate flavours of the tempura item.
But let's start from the beginning. After your orders are taken, the waitress serves you an appetiser (S$3), like the obligatory pickles you get in Chinese restaurants. However, I rejected mine outright since these were CHYE SIM STEMS - my most hated vegetable, and worst of all the stems! I can still eat the dark leafy bits but not the fibrous stems! Hubby enjoyed it though. He has no aversion to chye sim.
This is the salad that comes with all the sets. The familiar tangy Japanese soy-sesame dressing worked great with the greens but the renkon chips were a little too thin and overdone. We much much prefer the version that Wakashachiya serves.
Most sets come with 5-6 tempura items. This is really way too little. The S$30 tempura set (2 prawns, 1 whitefish, 3 vegetables) has different items from the S$60 set (2 prawns, 3 veges, shown here). One tiny gripe is that the prawns are so small (slim finger-sized). And a little limp, but that could have been due to the delay in eating it (hey, photography comes first!).
What is great is that they give you a palm-size dollop of cold, grated daikon to use as you see fit - either as palate cleanser on its own, or to put into your tempura dipping sauce.
Thoughtfully appropriate square dish for putting the four salts. I practically finished the whole plate. Too tasty to waste.
The Tenshin lunch set comes with two additional items - steamed dish and tuna on rice. The steamed dish is chawanmushi. But this is no modest chawanmushi. It comes with a mini-comb of shark's fin and special thickened stock on top.
The "special tuna on rice" is a maguro don. But when I lifted the shiso leaf, to my surprise, the bottom row of fish pieces were no less than chutoro! Buttery delicious bites!
All meals also come with rice, miso soup and pickles - certainly fillers, as the tempura alone would not suffice as a meal. The miso soup is of the red variety. Hubby did not like that but I found the flavour hearty and rustic. Plus bonus of baby nameko mushrooms!
The pickles are pretty, crunchy and delicious. You can ask for more portions (S$8 each, I read somewhere). Interestingly, houji-cha is served during main course and green tea during dessert.
Dessert is a simple but refreshingly citrusy sorbet (the waitress said mango but I think it's more like yuzu). You can taste the light bitterness of the rind. And there is this delightful fizzy aftertaste on your tongue. Very effective palate cleanser.
You can choose to sit at the counter and watch the chefs in action but being the shy sort, we sat at a table. The place is really small, though. I don't think it seats more than forty.
So in essence, Tenshin rings true about quality and execution but still does not deliver enough wow factor for what they charge. I wouldn't mind coming back to taste again the Tempura set, this time sans camera, so that I can see what it's like freshly served. I might even try the counter seat - I hear the chef serves you one piece at a time, only when you have finished each piece.
It was a very light lunch on the whole. Hubby said we'd be hungry again two hours later. He was wrong. We were hungry just ten minutes out the door!
Level 3, The Regent Singapore
1 Cuscaden Road