After spending a major public holiday in Osaka and Kyoto, the hustle and bustle of Tokyo doesn’t seem foreign at all when we arrive at the busy Tokyo station. We had caught an early train from Kyoto to Tokyo, and although zipping past small rural towns, paddocks and Mt Fuji at lightnight speed, we arrive in Tokyo ready to continue our journey.
The problem with this being our later half of the trip was that we had gathered a considerable amount of luggage with us, and although we wasted a good hour or so travelling across Tokyo to Shinjuku, trying to check in to our Airbnb, realising that we were too early, trying to scour a luggage locker at the station before realising that it was going to impossible to leave our luggage anywhere. So we took it with us to lunch.
Our lunch plans were to visit the Michelin starred restaurant in XX, however we were once again disappointed to rock up an empty, and closed restaurant due to public holiday closures. Dismayed, we walked down the busy touristy strip, trying to find a restaurant that was large enough to fit not only the two of us, but also our bulky luggage (it was not easy). Which is how we ended up at Asakusa Tokyo.
Asakusa Tokyo is a chain of restaurants all over Tokyo serving predominantly tempura and soba/udon. It’s a cheap, no frills, and food comes at a speed that is almost faster than a fast-food style. There’s tempura just about anything on the menu, and you can order the pieces individuall with beer for a satisfying snack, or if you’re after something a little more substantial, you can order the set meals. We go for the latter option, which come with a selection of tempura, rice/noodles, soup and a side- all for under 1000 yen ($12)!
Tempura Selection with Soba Noodles (980 yen)
I go for the mixed tempura don with soba, which comes with prawns, fish and a variety of veggies. As delicious as it looks, we’re a bit disappointed with the tempura which is quite soggy by the time it reaches us, as the sauce is poured over the tempura pieces rather than being served on the side. The batter is a little on the heavy side, and the addition of sauce turns it to a more dough like texture than a light crispy one. That said, it was still an enjoyable meal that I would happily have at home- perhaps it’s
It’s might not look much, but it’s a ridiculous amount of food for one, with the bowl being filled with plenty of rice, as well as a full serving of cold soba noodles and dipping sauce. We’re glad we didn’t get two set meals!
Tempura Selection with Rice (700 yen)
We also order a selection of tempura with rice, a different combination of tempura pieces but otherwise quite similar in taste and texture. It’s enjoyable, and at 700yen, it’s a steal!
We’re based in Shinjuku for our Tokyo trip and we absolutely love this magical place. People and people everywhere, and we are absolutely in love the atmosphere in the evening when the streets are closed off and there are just endless amounts of people walking down the streets. We don’t have many plans for dinner so we check out Omoide Yokocho, where there’s a dizzying selection of Izakaya bars, some with extensive lines even hours before what we’d typically consider dinner time.
We’ve been in our fair share of tiny restaurants in Japan, but this was definitely one of the smallest. We’d spotted it on our first night in Shinjuku, on our walk towards our accomodation, not because of the light in the otherwise dark alleyway, but because of the unsually long crown in the quiet residential back alleys of Shinjuku.
The queue is unavoidable, almost solely consisting of tourists. We’re not sure how the tourists know of this place as it doesn’t have much of an online prescence, but either way we’re glad we have ended up here. Our almost hour long wait is made slightly less boring by the window peeking into the kitchen where we get a glimpse of the action, including the constant rolling and cutting of fresh udon noodles. The work of the chefs is somewhat repetitive but it is equally mesmerising to see perfect bowl after bowl of perfect udon noodles being created.
We understand why the wait is so long the moment we walk into the restaurant- it is even smaller than it appears outside! There’s about enough space on the counter seating for 6 adults, and a further two small 2 seater tables along the back wall, making the total capacity of the restaurant 10. Boy were we glad we hadn’t brought a family along- it would have been a very long wait!
Beef Udon with Burdock Root Tempura (1250 yen)
Food is timed perfectly, with drinks brought out as we seat and food (which was ordered whilst in the queue) brought to the table shortly after, which is great because we’re starving by the time we’re seated. The menu items are all equally tempting, but we thought we’d go for the beef udon as it had the largest photo on the menu- surely that must mean it’s good right?
We order ours with extra shallots (100 yen), and we do not regret it at all. The stewed beef is really something special, the beef being deliciously rich and tender. We haven’t had much beef in Japan on this trip so it was definitely something different.
Burdock Root Tempura
We’re not quite sure why the beef udon comes with burdock root, perhaps it’s supposed to compliment each other, but we don’t see the link. The burdock root is quite bland, so perhaps not for everyone, but I quite like the crisp, crunchy texture which I find rather unique.
Tempura Kake Udon (1300 yen)
After having watched fresh udon being made for some 45 minutes or so, we had expected perfect udon- and what we received was nothing less! We order ours with a soft boiled egg (150 yen) and would have happily had this alone as a meal in itself. The noodles are a little thinner than what I’m used to and have a firm yet bouncy bite and the soup base gives it enough flavour without being too overpowering.
As simple as everything looks, we are really impressed by the restaurant- the food was nothing short of amazing and was so good we attempted to make plans to revisit multiple times during the remainder of our trip, although unfortunately we did not end up being able to fit it in.
Soma Bldg. 1F, 2-20-16 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo-to 151-0053 (map)
We ended up at Funabashiya when our original restaurant of choice was closed for the week. I had mistakenly labelled it as a ramen restaurant on our map, so we were a little taken aback when we entered the restaurant (after some queuing) to find multiple deep friers going on- it was actually a tempura restaurant!
It’s much fancier than the ramen shop that we thought that it would be, with a large open kitchen lined with perfectly prepped fresh veggies and many skilled tempura chef’s doing their thing.
Tempura Tendon (1450 yen)
The lunch menu consists of a variety of tempura sets, rice bowls as well as a la carte tempura. It is much less pricey than their dinner menu which makes it great value, considering the quality. The tempura tendon is about the cheapest item on their lunch menu, a bowl of rice with tempura, miso soup, pickles, small side dish.
Kiri Set (4080 yen)
The tempura sets are pricier, however it’s definitely an experience and still great value compared to the dinner sets or prices at other tempura restaurants. We go for the Kiri set, which comes with 7 pieces of tempura (including Eel, fish, prawn, eggplant, prawn cake, onion), sashimi , rice, miso soup and pickles.
We can tell that the ingredients used are super fresh, just by looking at the beautiful array of vegetables piled up in front of the deep fryers, but this was even more noticeable in the taste as well. The batter is slightly different to that which we had the previous night at Shin Udon, but somehow even more enjoyable- I’d definitely recommend this restaurant for anyone wanting to experience tempura in Japan!
3 Chome-28-14 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyō-to 160-0022, Japan (map)
We had walked into Kamimura solely for the purpose of trying their mega tall Tempura Prawn bowl, an impressive tower of three long tempura prawn pieces- so tall infact, that it requires an extra bowl to support the structure. Kamimura is a small hand-made soba restaurant, with a very homely feel- there was only the sole waitress at the time of visit, and I will never forget how she did absolutely everything whilst carrying a baby on her back!
Anyway, back to the tempura, the Tower Don being Kamimura’s homage to the Tokyo Skytree which it is located right next to (you’ll actually find a range of skytree themed food in this area) and whilst the taste is nothing to rave about, especially not after our previous tempura experiences in Tokyo, I thought it was still well worth it for the experience!
Kamimura Soba House
1-18-13 Narihira Sumida Tokyo (map)
And although Katsusen is not a tempura restaurant, I thought I would stick this one here- tonkatsu is fried so it fits in the same category right?
We stumbled across Katsusen after a disappointing second attempt to visit the instant noodle museum only to find it was closed (the first time we visited it was too busy). Given that we had travelled for over an hour to get to Yokohama, we thought we might as well spend a little more time in the area, and our search for a restaurant with good views of the area led us to Colette Mare- a shopping centre right next to the station with a whole row of restaurants facing the city. Exactly what we were after!
The lunch sets are incredible value- all being around $10 AUD, including a main, a soup and a massive plate of finely shredded cabbage. So fine infact, that it was almost like noodles, and when served with the sesame dressing, didn’t feel like you were having cabbage at all!
I went for the Katsu Don set, which also comes with a serve of soba noodles making for quite a feast (why there’s both noodles and rice in the same meal is beyond me)- and a very enjoyable one too, the combination of soft egg blanketing a crisp, lightly crumbed katsu in a lightly sweet sauce.
The Tonkatsu Curry is equally as enjoyable, a deep dark curry sauce that’s so good that we mop it all up with the rice eventhough it fills half the plate.
Although the menu mostly consists of fried meat, we were most intrigued by a special handwritten sheet which was completely in Japanese so we took a stab in the dark and ordered it as well- at only 230 yen, we didn’t have much to lose! And boy were we glad we ordered it- basically a piece of fried tofu stuffed with vegetables and cheese, it was so good we wish we had ordered one each! (but we kinda glad we didn’t because we were pretty full from our meal at this point anyway….)
1-1-7 Sakuragicho, Naka Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture 231-0062, Japan (map)