Restaurant review: Tenkai, SoHo – Hong Kong’s tempura central has a new venue

The third restaurant specialising in tempura to open on a stretch of Aberdeen Street, Tenkai serves omakase dinner with great tempura – especially the aoiri squid – but the sashimi is sorely lacking

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 January, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 January, 2016, 3:08pm

The area on and around Aberdeen Street seems to be tempura central – within a few blocks there are three places specialising in the Japanese fried dish. The elegant, refined Ippoh (at 39 Aberdeen Street) was the first (and remains my favourite), Tenshu (at 6-10 Kau U Fong) opened a few months ago, and now there’s Tenkai.

Like the others, Tenkai is small – there are only nine seats around the counter behind which the sole chef works. Unlike the others, which offer several menus, some of which, apart from appetiser, soup and dessert, are tempura-only, Tenkai has only one omakase dinner menu (priced at HK$1,300 plus 10 per cent) and it includes sashimi and other non-fried dishes.

The meal started with chawanmushi: delicate, smooth custard with tiny bits of shrimp and bamboo shoots. The second appetiser, which the waitress described as “Japanese New Year food”, included glossy, sweet black soybeans, crunchy herring roe, a nice slice of duck, delicious cod eggs with ginger, too-sweet dried sardines and an ordinary boiled shrimp.

One reason I go for the tempura-only menus at this type of restaurant is that the non-tempura dishes are often disappointing. So it was with the sashimi course. The shimaaji was very nice, but the maguro was sinewy and the amaebi lacked sweetness.

Tempura was served in two flights, and of the first, we liked the shrimp, snow crab, lotus root and asparagus. The boiled octopus had great flavour but was so tough we couldn’t bite it – we had to eat it in one huge mouthful and it took a took a long time to chew it so it was tender enough to swallow.

We had the same complaint about the hamaguri clam in the clear soup – it was very tough.

Of the next set of tempura items, the aoiri squid was delicious: the thick piece had been very finely scored – you couldn’t really see it, but you felt it in the mouth. Bamboo shoot topped with freshly shaved dried skipjack tuna was a revelation to anyone who’s only tasted the pre-shaved katsuobushi: it was intense, almost like very fine quality jamon Iberico, except tasting of the sea.

The last savoury course – tendon and tencha – were fantastic: the rice was topped with a delicious sakura ebi fritter. The meal ended with refreshing yuzu sorbet.

Tenkai, 17 Aberdeen Street, Central, tel: 2559 0737. HK$1,300 without drinks or the service charge.