Review: Tenko Honten

20 January 2015

Oh I was tired. It has been a day that strained the mind. Ever since I wanted to become a nuclear physicist when I was young I had thought about Hiroshima. I had diverted to explore particle physics over nuclear physics before I totally abandoned the sciences. But I never forgot Hiroshima. And standing at the hypocentre of the blast, you can’t help but shudder…

It really messed with my head, to be honest… And strolling through the reconstructed castle complex and the beautiful Shukkeien garden did not relieve my mind, nor did a really poor lunch of okonomiyaki, the local specialty food. I needed a lie down…yeah, that’s how bad it bothered me…

Afterwards, regaining my good spirits, I headed out for dinner at Tenko Honten [天甲 本店], a 2-Michelin tempura house in the party district of Hiroshima. Having dodged some drunks (already at 6pm) stumbling into the various dodgy clubs in the area, I entered the cute eatery, having already smelled something delicious.

I sat down at the counter and watched the chef at work, with the aroma of frying food in the air. With beer in hand, the set menu began with a few openers.


First up was a very tasty salad laced with chirimen-jako, or baby sardines. Excellent opener. As I was working on it, the sashimi dish arrived.


A nice selection. The hirame (fluke) was clean and easy to eat, the ika (squid) was okay, nothing special. The star of this selection was the sazae, or horned turban — a type of sea snail. Chewy at points, soft at others, it was a real treat. Nice start!

We now began with the tempura service, as the chef and his sous worked on the items in tandem. They fished 2 prawns out of the fishtank nearby and got to work.


The 2 heads were treated differently, so had different texture and breading level; one went with salt, the other with lemon. Love this, very tasty. And the oil is fabulous!


Of course then there were 2 prawns, with the same difference. Excellent, not overwhelming, fresh and airy. This is why I can’t eat tempura in the US anymore…


Next up was one of the rare vegetables of Japan that I really enjoy, the bitter fukinotou (or the butterbur). This is definitely a special treat, solid, hearty and not too bitter. Just enough to make it complex. Wonderful!


Next up was a stuffed shiitake mushroom, sliced in half. It was a bit too hot and the juice nearly burned my tongue off, but it was tasty.


The next was also one that was sliced afterwards, the awabi (abalone). Not chewy at all, this was prepped and cooked perfectly, light and flavourful. Most of these items worked very well with the salt provided.


Now for a small break, I was given a pearl oyster from the kitchen. Nice break, this was a rich one, as this is in season right now in the Hiroshima area.


Back to the fryer and now we have a series of amazing items, first the taranome, or shoots of the Angelica tree. This is a very uniquely Japanese delicacy and it’s just fabulous. It looks like asparagus but it is not, with a vastly different taste. Love it!


Next up is one of my favourite, the nodoguro — or the “black throat” sea perch. This super oily fish is just fabulous, the frying preserved all the oil like a little bubble. It was even better than the one at Iwa [いわ] the other day. Wow…


We take a step back and have a whitefish next, the kisu (shillago). Very nice, firm and solid meat.


Next up is the gobo, or burdock root. The strong structure makes it an interesting item for tempura, and this was delicious. The vegetables have been pretty amazing tonight!


Following this was a very healthy portion of fugu. I usually don’t like fugu, as I mentioned on last night’s review of Nakashima [なかしま]. But these were done well, and with plenty of salt and lemon it went down well. But this set up the treat of the night which was next…


Wow, this is not the easiest thing to find. This is fugu-no-shirako — or fugu milt. You usually find cod milt but rarely see fugu milt. This was fantastic, rich and decadent. The taste was well preserved within the batter. Fantastic!!!


Then we have another star, nanohana — which was the yellow-flowering young shoots of rapeseed. This was beautifully wrapped in itself before it was battered and fried. Lovely taste akin to a complex broccolini. Another star!


We now explore the oyster again, this time fried. Again, it’s in season so a good time to try it. Very fat oyster here, with a rich strong taste that it should have. Nice stuff.


We have the last of the vegetables here, renkon (lotus root). Again, it being a strong root it lends very well to aggressive frying. I enjoyed the hard structure of this humble root.


When you see anago you know it’s the end. Again, this being prime anago territory, this was done very well and the eel of great quality. We were told to just dip this in the provided curry powder, and goodness it worked extremely well!

At this point we were given some options on how to close the meal, but I told the chef to pick for me, and he suggested the ten-don — the tempura over rice.


This version had a “ball” of seafood, including shrimp and clams, in a very tasty batter shell, with sauce over rice. The miso was dark and tasty, with many baby clams below. And of course the excellent pickled vegetables. Nice ending!

It got very busy at this point (only chef, his wife and his sous work there) with all the seats full (8) at different parts of the dining cycle, so it took awhile. Again dessert was a choice, and I asked them to pick.


I got the anko, or sweet bean paste in a cake format. This is used to fill the local treat, momiji manju, so this was perfect to end the evening. A reasonable bill for so much great food and a few beers, and I thanked the staff and headed out.

This is why I can’t eat tempura outside of Japan anymore. Not just the excellent batter and good oil, but the variety. The vegetables were a true treat, as I can’t get these outside of Japan. The fugu milt was an awesome surprise too, and there was a lot of excellent seafood. This was a happy dinner to say the least, the best tempura I’ve ever had!

It blows the legendary Tokyo tempura restaurant Ten-Ichi [天一] out of the water, that’s for sure!

Tenko Honten [天甲 本店]
4-2 Horikawa-cho, Naka-ku
Hiroshima, Japan


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