What’s better than fresh seafood, meat and vegetables encased in a light, crispy and delicate tempura batter? The answer is nothing, except maybe more of the same. At the newly-opened Tempura Tendon Tenya, better known as just Tenya, robotic precision makes for delicious — and absolutely consistent — tendon every single time.
Tempura-donburi, or tendon, is a deceptively simple dish of deep-fried tempura-battered seafood, meat or vegetables over a bowl of fluffy short-grain rice.
Yet for all its simplicity, so many things can go wrong: If the oil is too hot, it burns the batter. If the oil is not drained off properly, it results in a greasy mess or the rice is too mushy — the list goes on. I have had some fantastic tendons here in Singapore (as well as terrible ones, I am sorry to say) and when the chance came to try out the newly-opened Tempura Tendon Tenya, known as Tenya, I definitely jumped at the chance.
Tendon is one of my favourite things to eat and I was eager to see if the Tenya hype was worth it. Known as Japan’s number one tendon chain restaurant, Tenya was first established in 1989 in Asakusa in Tokyo, and since then has expanded to having over 200 outlets across Japan, Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and finally, Singapore with a 68-seater restaurant in Orchard Central.
What makes Tenya special is that they use their own patented Automatic Fryer, which fries the tempura to perfection each and every time, without fail. Traditionally, it takes up to 10 years for a Japanese chef to master the art of tempura (believe me, there is an art to it). But with the fryer, manpower is minimal and consistency is ensured.
Tempura is also cooked faster and in greater quantity, making Tenya’s tendon more affordable. Without quality deterioration from continuous frying, their machine fries perfectly crisp tempura each time in a mere two minutes. Not only that, most of the ingredients used by Tenya are sourced from long-standing producers in Japan, who assure the highest quality. Some of them are even centuries-old and trusted with customising secret blends of tempura flour, dipping sauce and togarashi chilli for a delightful taste that is unique to Tenya.
A tendon at Tenya starts with the rice, which is of the Masshigura variety, which is cultivated and harvested in the prefecture of Aomori, characterised by its firm texture and low viscosity. While everyone cooks rice in an automated rice cooker, not everyone has a machine which auto-dispenses perfect portions of rice, every single time, without the use of a scoop, which could potentially break up the rice grains.
Tenya’s tendon tare (sauce) was developed together with a traditional soy sauce maker, Kinoene Shoyu, which was established in 1830. Tenya’s tempura batter flour is from Nisshin Seifun Group, the number one producer of flour in Japan. It is a blend that is kept secret between Tenya and Nisshin.
This flour is mixed with water below 10 degrees celsius, and a special insulated bowl keeps the temperature of the batter constant, before it is fried. The togarashi (chilli pepper) spice, too, is unique: The Yagenbori-blended togarashi can trace its roots back to the Edo era in 1625.
Before I get too caught up in the technicalities, I am sure all you really need to know is: Is it any good? Yes. It is really, really good. The tempura batter is thin, crispy, and not oily in the slightest. Too much tempura can often make you feel all greasy and bloated, but not here at Tenya.
The menu is relatively small, but perfectly executed. There is the signature Tenya Tendon ($8.50), with tempura Black Tiger prawns, red fish, Japanese squid, Japanese pumpkin and French beans, served with rice and/or with soba or udon. The soba and udon comes with tentsuyu dipping sauce, pickled daikon and miso soup.
Interestingly, the pumpkin from Japan is aged for a month to reduce its moisture, resulting in a more flavourful and crunchier piece of tempura. There are several iterations of the signature Tenya Tendon. One is the Premium Tendon ($10.90, and $15.30 with soba or udon) which comes with tempura prawns, squid, kani kama (crabsticks), pumpkin, lotus root and French beans. There is also the Prawn Tendon ($11.90/$16.30 with soba/udon), Seafood Tendon ($12.90/$17.30 with soba/udon), and the Tori Tendon ($9.90/$14.30 with soba/ udon).
The Tori Tendon, which has tempura chicken, chicken karaage, tempura egg, pumpkin and sweet potato is not available in Japan. For vegetarians, there is the Mushroom & Vegetables Tendon ($7.90/$11.90 with soba/udon) with shitake mushrooms, shimeji mushrooms, enoki, sweet potato, lotus root, pumpkin and French beans.
There are also some nice side dishes: The Chawanmushi ($2.50), which is silky-smooth Japanese steamed egg made with dashi broth, prawn, chicken, shiitake mushrooms and kani kama (crabsticks); and the really simple Tomato Salad ($5.80), which uses fresh Dutch tomato, hand-sliced and drizzled with a zero-calorie Japanese sesame dressing, topped with thinly sliced Japanese onions that have been soaked in cold water to remove its acidity and for an added crunch.
And, since you have all that space left in your stomach, why not finish your meal with a Hokkaido milk soft-serve ice cream cone ($2 nett), or why not have that creamy, delicious, silky ice cream on top of a warm, fudgey and chocolatey brownie ($6.90)? I can find nothing to fault with Tenya.
As far as tempura goes, this is definitely one of the best I’ve had. You could say, in the end, that I give this a ten out of ten(don).