Revolutionizing tempura: premium ingredients fried to shockingly crisp perfection in a batter of flour frozen to -60°C. Were this Ginza, this sublime meal may be inaccessible, but a trip to Nagoya brings this treasure in to reach. Wowed by the flavors and meticulous attention to detail, many a chef and connoisseur makes their way to Tempura Niitome. It’s outstanding.
After years of training at the Ginza tempura institution Tenichi, this is Chef Niitome’s first independent foray. At home in the tasteful interior of his own space, Niitome works fervently to push the boundaries of tempura. Obsessed with quality and technique, Niitome’s tempura is in a class of its own, drawing chefs from all over Japan. At the intersection of incredible skills and premium produce, Tempura Niitome overturns every conception of tempura with his extremely delicate batter.
Tempura Nitome can be found not far from the majestic Nagoya Castle with its glistening gold kinshachi tiger-headed carp or the busy nightlife area of Sakae. The May 2017 move to this new location was motivated by a desire to take tempura to the next level. On the second floor of a building, the space created with high ceilings and intricate craftsmanship is deeply infused with the Japanese aesthetic. The unvarnished Kiso hinoki Japanese cypress L-shaped counter has a refreshing, refined feel, seating just ten to ensure each guest enjoys the ultimate dining experience.
The elegant simplicity of the space serves as the backdrop for the jaw-droppingly delicious tempura about to make its way to your plate. Taking a seat, for a moment you are whisked away into the landscape painting carved into Japanese tin, just until the slight popping sound of the batter as it crisps in oil brings you back and sets the relaxing soundtrack for your evening.
Used to serve tempura bites during summer, the cooling glass platters are the work of artist Keiko Maki , whose pieces from her Yobi Studio in Osaka are highly sought after by traditional Japanese restaurants and inns. She was also responsible for the calligraphy signage for Tempura Niitome, collaborating with Chef Niitome on a non-traditional character for the “pu” sound in tempura, together settling on the character for wind, because it conjures up images of the chef’s new style of light-as-air batter.
The Nagoya location was chosen for its proximity to the family homes of both husband and wife in this formidable team. It limits their outings, which would be endless were they based in Osaka or Kyoto, but it certainly does not stop patronage by gourmands, eighty percent of which come from outside the region. From well-known sushi chefs to dedicated food lovers, guests are desperate to witness Chef Nittome frying skills with their own eyes.
Memorable. It is Chef Niitome’s wish that the flavors of his premium ingredients in light-as-a-feather batter stay in your heart forever. No doubt this is a full course of food, but with the light batter, perfect tempo, and fun conversation, you leave feeling fulfilled but not in the least heavy. Be sure to keep your evening schedule open, however – this journey through tempura delicacies takes four hours.
Niitome has mastered the art of a batter so fine that it wows you with its texture without masking any of the produce’s innate flavors. Not only is his flour stored at almost freezing point, Niitome makes the unconventional move of turning down or even turning off the oil midway through the frying process. He controls the flavors through minute changes in temperature, driven by a creed of intervening just enough to enhance the ingredients’ flavors through frying.
The course starts with three exquisite appetizer dishes, followed by two perfect tempura prawns and an additional seven to nine seafood and six to eight vegetable tempura bites. Vinegared items are introduced as palate cleansers, and in those intervals, Chef Niitome takes the opportunity to change the oil.
In an early summer menu, Mie Prefecture abalone that has been steamed for three hours is served chilled with togan winter melon, followed by aji horse mackerel that has been aged for five days using techniques acquired from sushi chefs. It is topped with grated cucumber and dainty shiso flowers and dressed with a refreshing Tosazu vinegar and dashi sauce. The highly refreshing dish of watarigani Japanese blue crab with its own eggs, a fruit tomato, junsai watershield plant and a traditional Kanazawa vegetable with purple leaves called kinjiso, comes in a charming bowl with a hydrangea motif plate to celebrate the rainy season. Next come the crispy fried legs of prawns and flesh in paper-thin batter, signaling the arrival of the star of the show – tempura. The meaty flesh of locally caught Morosaki squid has been tenderized through meticulous knife cuts and the kisu whiting fish gets a dusting of flour on the skin side before being dunked in the batter to ensure even cooking. The vivid color draws you in to the delectably sweet asparagus from Nagano, with different parts of the spears offering noticeably different textures.
Manganji chili peppers of Kyoto fame have been charred to aromatic perfection; its strong sweetness achieved through a two-step cooking process in which the flame beneath the oil pot is turned off once. Live ayu sweetfish from Gifu Prefecture are plunged into iced water before dressing in batter. Once tossed into the oil they appear to be swimming, and as you bite into these unbelievably fresh fish, the flavor unfolds from elegant bitterness into delicious sweetness. Sweet baby corn offers a true summer treat fried with its silks. Generously plump hamaguri clams from Kuwana, Mie, grow even fuller upon frying, infusing the tempura batter with umami-rich shellfish brine. Seaweed from Miyagi Prefecture made by appointment to the Imperial Family by Aizawa has batter applied to one side before frying, and the piping hot edible vessel is topped with delicious, velvety fresh sea urchin.
Anago conger eel fillets are fried whole, and the crisp sound as they are cut into bite-size pieces effortlessly with chopsticks is irresistible. Lucky you don’t have to wait long to devour the fluffy succulent flesh. To finish you are given the choice of either tendon or tenchazuke: the former a bowl of rice topped with a fritter of prawns and kobashira trough shell adductor muscle rounds and rich tempura dipping sauce; the latter the same with the addition of umami-rich green tea poured over the top. These are sublime salty-sweet flavors that you will want to savor forever.
Niitome makes no compromises when selecting the premium ingredients for his cuisine. His pursuit of the highest quality sees him selecting seafood more often making its way into the hands of Ginza-based sushi chefs. He accesses Nagoya’s Yanagibashi Central Market and Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, and makes direct contact with fisherman in ports around Japan to secure his key seafood ingredients. The ‘Aroma of Aichi’ (Aichi no Kaori) rice grown at his wife’s family farm has ideal sweetness for Niitome’s finishing dishes, and Niitome loves the clean taste and fine texture of salt from Okinawa. His oil is a blend of Taihaku and Taikou sesame oils from Takemoto Oil & Fat Co., the ratio of which is altered to complement each ingredient. His tempura dipping sauce, containing dashi extracted from the dark flesh of the bonito fish, takes on two faces: an elegant version for dipping individual tempura bites and a robust version for the tendon bowl. The latter is a living sauce, constantly tended to, added to, and aged using hints and techniques acquired from a soba restaurant.
The beverage selection of wine, sake and shochu has been compiled by Master of Wine Kenichi Ohashi. The wines are lined up by taste and body making ordering easy for customers; the sake varieties with their mild sweetness pair superbly with the tempura. Ohashi’s selections offer perfectly complementary flavors because they were made from a place of deep understanding and love for Chef Niitome’s cuisine.
The batter is everything at Niitome. He switched from Nisshin Super Violet cake flour typically favored by tempura chefs to Fukuoka-grown “Yameno” flour from Tanaka Flour Milling allows Nittome to create his ideal batter. Resting the flour on the cusp of freezing at -40~-60°C for two days prior to use yields extremely fine grains that dissolve beautifully in the batter. When ready for use, the flour is transferred to a small refrigerator set to -20°C behind the counter, from which it is pulled out and whipped into batter with eggs at lightning speed at the last minute. Light-as-a-feather, Niitome’s infatuation with the batter’s texture is certain to make your jaw drop and your palate sing.
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥4,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥4,000