Unerringly fresh seafood or vegetables, deep-fried in a characteristically airy, shatteringly crisp batter — that is tempura, a staple cuisine of Japan that transcends generations, borders, and accolades.
It can just as easily be found in a back-alley mom-and-pop shop in Kanazawa as it can be found in a skyscraper in Ginza, Tokyo.
Apart from the obvious differences, what sets the tempura apart at fine tempura-yas is the scarcity of ingredients used, as well as the processes that the chef residing over them has undergone to uplift them.
In newly opened Tenshima, chef Takahiro Shima — bringing with him more than 16 years of experience in the art of Japanese course dining, or kaiseki — treats his ingredients well.
He slices and salts kisu (the lean but sweet Japanese whiting) to drive away odours and moisture. For dessert, he steams the humble sweet potato for six to seven hours, before dry-ageing it for two days to deepen its subtle sweet flavours. The ingredients are lightly cradled in an almost translucent tempura layer, after being deep-fried in a batter of low-gluten flour, egg yolk and filtered water. The result? Crisp tempura that is big on the crunch factor.
Chef Shima also expertly fries the tempura in a wok of sunflower oil with just a pair of frying chopsticks and keep a close eye on the frying process. He also concocts condiments such as curry-flavoured salt and Okinawa pink salt to pair with certain tempura courses
This is all done with the warmth of omotenashi, or personable hospitality, in an intimate setting reminiscent of a traditional Japanese inn that is, in reality, situated on the ground floor of Millenia Walk. The restaurant has a lobby area, which is adorned with ikebana display and has even carved out a space for a toilet for the convivence of diners. Sizzling sounds from the wok in a specially-constructed display along the counter dominate the premises instead of the usual background music.
Apart from mastery of kaiseki, where chefs meticulously and mindfully progress customers through multiple courses, Shima also brings with him experience in such tempura-yas as Tentsuru in The St. Regis Singapore and Ginza Tenharu before that
The chef-owner’s new fine-diner is as much a reflection of Shima’s culinary journey as it is a place to get good tempura — Tenshima, after all, is a portmanteau of the chef’s family name and the main cuisine of the restaurant.
It seats just 10 at a Japan-crafted, hinoki-style wooden tabletop in a cosy dining room replete with bamboo and wooden accents.
Tenshima serves a tempura course meal for lunch and dinner, with every item prepared and fried a la minute by Shima and his crew individually before being served on dishware handmade in Japan and procured by the chef. Like an omakase meal, the ingredients are brought out for diners to inspect before they are fried.
Expect eight tempura courses for the lunch omakase, including one premium tempura item, or 11 tempura courses during dinner, including an additional seasonal dish and three premium tempura. Tempura include Kumamoto tiger prawns, shark’s fin (inspired by a request by a diner), corn, smelt fish, asparagus, and A5 Miyazaki beef.
#01-09, Millenia Walk, 9 Raffles Boulevard
Additional reporting by Kenneth SZ Goh