At Tempura Kyoboshi, you will taste a secret that has been kept safe for over three generations. Cherishing the recipes passed down from his grandfather, Chef Toshinori Sakakibara’s craftsmanship has won him a star for 9 consecutive years since Michelin began printing a Kyoto edition. From coils of sweet carrots to braided fish strips, every piece of tempura is a piece of art—precious, beautiful, and simply delicious.
Founded in 1947, the restaurant sits on a quiet street just off Hanami-koji in the heart of Gion, the historic district of the ancient capital. The restaurant was given its name by Sakakibara’s grandfather, by merging the characters for “Kyoto” and “star,” which he borrowed from the restaurant he used to manage during the war. As you stroll down the picturesque neighborhood, you may be lucky to spot a maiko, an apprentice geisha, walking down in a colorful kimono. Immersed in the beauty of old Japan, your mind and body are ready to experience one of the country’s most traditional cuisines.
The simple and elegant interior reflects the philosophy behind Tempura Kyoboshi’s cuisine. The chef and his wife warmly greets every guest to the counter. Carrying down the family tradition, they take pride in running a traditional eatery in Gion, the center of old Kyoto culture.
The meal at Kyoboshi is strictly tempura from start to finish. Placed at every seat is a beautiful lacquer tray with three little condiments and a sheet of tenshi paper where each tempura will be gently set. Unlike many Tokyo restaurants that serve soy-based dipping sauce, the tempura here is to be enjoyed with Kyoto-style with salt, lemon and grated daikon radish, to cleanse the palate between the dishes.
Despite being served as many as 17 or 18 fried courses, the meal at Kyoboshi is surprisingly light on the stomach, thanks to the quality of the oil, batter and salt. These key ingredients are the secret behind the tempura’s amazing lightness and deep flavor.
Precious, beautiful, and simply delicious
Sakakibara thinks it’s important for guests to “get to know” the restaurant’s oil at the very start. Instead of serving appetizer dishes, the opening course is a small piece of toast, with plump shrimp bits on top. With the bread slowly soaking up the oil at a low temperature until golden brown, this is the best way to taste the flavorful oil, he says.
The batter is a secret recipe and uses no egg. The chef listens to the shimmering and popping sounds from the frying pot to determine how long to cook each ingredient. He carefully drains off the oil before placing the fried tempura in front of each guest. The long meal offers a parade of seasonal ingredients. Not only are they delicious but Sakakibara turns each piece into a beautiful piece of art. Placed on the smooth surface of the deep red tray, the carrots are cut out into a perfect coil, and the green beans into a stacked up tower. The piece of halfbeak is braided into a beautiful thread.
Despite the long established history, he is unafraid to introduce new inspirations to his cuisine. Borrowing the idea of marron glacé, the sweet potatoes are first glazed in brandy and sugar before frying. It has quickly become a popular dish, especially among foreign guests.
The classic shrimp tempura is fried to perfection. The trick to get that beautiful plump texture is to cut a few slits before frying. Tilefish is another delicious tempura, with crunchy and crispy scales and the softness of the meat creating a great contrast. For a satisfying finish is tencha bowl, where you pour hot tea over tempura on rice. The deep inviting aroma alone warms you to the stomach. As you sip the flavorful soup, you realize pure satisfaction.
Sakakibara handles all the selecting and buying of ingredients himself. He makes daily visits to the central and Nishiki markets in search for the freshest seasonal produce. His philosophy is simple and seeks for the best ingredients from across Japan. He has kept the same suppliers for oil and salt from his grandfather’s generation, and chooses not to share their names.
He also selects sakes that match well with tempura. Some of his favorites include Hayaseura from Fukui, Shimeharitsuru from Niigata and Rihaku for they are not too sweet but have great depth. He also stocks some lovely light wines.
Oil & Salt
Of all the famous tempura restaurants in Kyoto, what distinguish Kyoboshi are the frying oil and salt. While the producers remain a secret, these key ingredients are what creates the light, fluffy and crispy batter. While all ingredients are fried in the same pot of oil, Sakakibara carefully adjust the temperature and frying time for each course. It’s important to keep the oil clean and smooth, he explains. Again, the shrimp bread is really the best way to taste how good the oil is.
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥4,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥4,000