Roppoingi Hills ia an upmarket residential and a favourite among expats in Tokyo because the shops are usually expats-friendly with English menus and sometime English-speaking staff. Mikawa is just next to Sukiyabashi Jiro. Mikawa had 1* from 2010~14 and lost it in 2015.
In Japan, every good Japanese restaurant specialises in one technique and one technique only. If you go to a Sushi restaurant, the chef mastered his skills over a long period to make the perfect cut and press the perfect sushi. Likewise, a Tempura masterchef takes years to perfect his skills in controlling the tempurature of the oil to making the perfect tempura ebi.
Mikawa was one such shop. Founded by Chef Tetsuya Saotome, the Roppongi shop is helmed by his head chef, Takashi Nakagawa. From its Nihonbashi roots, Mikawa specialises in Edomae tempura — which means using only fish and vegetables that were available in the shogun’s capital a century and a half ago. (OK, there’s one exception — asparagus). Thus the prawns (kuruma ebi or shiba ebi) are of the small, local varieties, never those jumbo prawns imported from the tropics. The other seafood items on the menu are all varieties found in Tokyo Bay or the nearby ocean. Everything tastes so fresh it must have been landed that morning.
Our lunch started with small kuruma ebi, fresh and sizzling from the wok. This you dabbed sparingly in salt before popping them into your mouth, tail and all. It was such a brilliant way to start the meal that you wish it could be repeated. Fortunately, it was — and they taste just as good second time around.
The next course is even simpler — the heads of the prawns you have just devoured, lightly enrobed in a crisp, golden batter (they call it kitsune-iro, the color of a fox’s fur). They are crunchy but soft, cooked to perfection so they dissolve against your tongue.
As with pickled ginger between sushi, in a tempura course, vegetable comes between courses of fish as a palate-cleanser. Usually the vegetable in season is served. But the perennial availability of lotus root and Gingko nuts meant that we got this during late winter season.
Next up, Kisu (whiting), a simple but delicate fish, was next. Lightly batters, crispy on the outside, juicy soft on the inside, this was definitely not your British battered fish.
This was followed by wonderfully tender strips of aori-ika squid, almost rare at the core, but requiring only the slightest mastication.
Next up is Uni (Sea Urchin) wrapped with Shiso leaf . This was the first time I tried uni as a tempura, and it worked perfectly. It showcased the tremendous skill Chef Takashi has on controlling the temperature of the oil as well as the timing of getting the tempura skill crispy without killing the uni inside. In effect, tempura is like steaming the ingredient. As water or moisture in the ingredient is heated rapidly in hot oil, the resulting steam cooks the ingredient delicately.
One more palate cleanser and we were almost to the end of the lunch. This was my least favourite and I totally understood why it shouldn’t be included in the Edo-style tempura. The tempura crunch and the asparagus crunch did not differentiate from one another.
The piece de resistance is tender anago (conger eel), everyone’s favorite. Crisp and golden on the outside, sublimely light, fluffy and succulent underneath, this is as close as you’ll ever get to tempura perfection.
All that remains will be the closing kaki-age, the fritter of kaibashira (scallop holdfasts) that is served with rice to close the meal. Here you are asked to make a choice: either with rice and rich akadashi miso soup on the side; as a tendon rice bowl; or as tencha (much like chazuke, but instead of tea, hot dashi soup stock is poured over the rice).
So the meal moved slowly, one piece at a time, each not more than a bite and a half and with just sufficient intervals between them that your appetite remained in constant anticipation. The rich flavor of sesame oil permeated every morsel, and yet there was virtually no sense of oiliness. This is the hallmark of superb tempura.
In terms of size, gourmands may not find this a belly-busting banquet. But it is immensely satisfying all the same. Likewise, a meal at this new, upmarket branch of Mikawa is not cheap (premium tempura never is), but that is no deterrent to those in the know. And that is why you will need to reserve your place well in advance if you want to find out for yourself what lies behind that remarkable facade.
天ぷら みかわ (Tempura Mikawa)
Address: Roppongi Residence Keyaki 3F, 6-12-2 Roppongi Minato-ku, Tokyo
Date visited: Feb 2016