We recently had dinner at Tempura Horikawa, Hotel New Otani, Tokyo. The hotel is an icon in Tokyo. It is a huge place, housing more than 1,000 guest rooms, countless meeting rooms and conference facilities and a 10-acre Japanese garden. As far as we are concerned however, their most important feature is that located within this complex is a large number of restaurants – 37 to be exact. It is advisable to do your research first before going to the restaurant of your choice. The restaurants are spread out over the complex and some of them are located in far-flung corners which are hard to find. Tempura Horikawa is a restaurant located on the Lobby level together with a cluster of other restaurants .
Like the hotel in general, the decor of the restaurant is traditional Japanese. In fact, upon entering the hotel, you feel as if time has stood still here since 1980. Everything seems like it has been there since day one. While this is a good thing for the hotel in general as the hotel areas have aged well, taking on an aura of old world charm which is a good contrast against the coldness of modern glass and steel buildings, the age of the tempura restaurant was showing in a tired sort of way. We chose to be seated at the counter so that we could watch the chefs in action and also to receive the tempura items with as little transit time as possible between the cooking pot and our plate.
The counter area is simply decorated as with most specialized tempura restaurants. The thing that stood out was the large aquarium in which live prawns were swimming, oblivious to their impending fate. The menu was a simple one, offering a choice of ala carte dishes and a selection of fixed price courses ranging from 5,000 to 13,000 yen. The main difference between the two more expensive choices and the rest was that they came with sashimi as appetizers. We decided on the 10,000 yen course which started with an assortment of sashimi which, other than the prawns, was quite average.
The tempura dishes started rolling with the prawn heads, deep-fried till super crunchy and looking like some creature from the Alien movie. They were very good. This was followed up by three prawns, five kinds of fish and an assortment of vegetables. The dishes were all competently prepared. The items were cooked just right with the minimum of oiliness. The items that stood out were the prawn and fish items where the freshness of the ingredients shone through the batter. The vegetable with ginseng root was quite unusual and is a dish worth trying. It is fair to say that the food tasted better than how the restaurant looked. One thing we felt was lacking was the engagement of the chefs with the ordinary patrons. Dining at the counter provides a close up dining experience with the chef and provides some form of entertainment in the process. Here, the chefs mostly went about their cooking without much interaction with the guests. The only interaction was when they described the item that they were about to place on your plate.
All in all, Tempura Horikawa is a safe place to find good tempura especially if you are staying at the Hotel New Otani and are too lazy to go out. While we cannot fault their cooking, we felt that the X-factor was missing and it was a pity that there was little or no rapport between the chefs and their customers. The next time we come to Tempura Horikawa, we would just go for the purely tempura courses without the sashimi appetizers.