Tenshin Tempura at the Regent Singapore
I deserve to be shot for spending the money that I did tonight at this place. I seriously feel guilty. In my defense though, I honestly didn't know that it was this expensive until it was too late. I had heard about this genuine tempura bar a while back, and was aching to come here (the Regent Singapore on Cuscaden Road #03-01, 6735-4588) given a great experience I had at a tempura bar on my first visit to Tokyo a good number of years back. The thing is, I forgot that that meal in Tokyo was paid for by a corporate host with an expense account. Tonight, I had already ordered my drink before I opened the menu and realized what I was in for. By that point, it was too late to back out.
Well, I will say that the food was damned good (I would hope so at those prices). Wow - every single morsel was just amazing, be it from the little kaiseki-like cups to the incredibly fresh and delicate fish (two types, BTW) to the requisite prawns (with the legs fried separately, mind you - delightfully thin, crunchy, and lighter than air). Other highlights of my set included a miniature onion, simple asparagus, and a mildly spicy yet very refined salad dressing. They gave a generous heaping of daikon for use in the sauce, but honestly, I didn't really dip in the sauce too often as I wanted to try to taste the natural flavor without the sauce covering it up.
Indeed, the batter was just as I remembered it in Japan: very light, exquisite, and tasty without being too heavy or crude. This is the key difference between tempura from a tempura bar and generic tempura from anywhere else. The freshness of the ingredients of course plays a key role too (they show you the ingredients before they cook them - a bit like Morton's - ha ha), as does the labor of the chefs, who carefully fry each piece in front of you at the bar, and then shake off all the extra grease before laying it in front of you on a clean white sheet of paper. Again, I love how the Japanese can take foreign food (this was apparently introduced to them by the Portuguese) and turn it around into an absolutely amazing dish.
Perhaps one of the reasons why these sets were so expensive was because of a truffle-like fungus that totally blew me away and was by far the highlight of the meal for me. I don't even know what it was specifically, but it was so tasty and delicate, and the airy batter only accentuated that incredible flavor. Whoa - that was good. It was nice to be able to finish off the meal with a scallop ten-don, which was by itself rich too. The asari miso was also a nice touch. At this point, I was so shocked by the food (and the prices), that everything seemed like the best thing I'd ever had, including the sorbet and the tsukemono. Was there anything to complain about? The tea was a bit weak (whine, whine). But at least they even brought out two kinds of tea: hoji-cha with the rice and finally green tea to close the meal.
I'm not even going to say how much I spent here - I'm too embarrassed. It felt a bit like walking into a Vertu store...not that I've ever done so, but I can just imagine walking into those museum-like stores where the sole well-dressed salesman devotes all his attention to you as you contemplate the purchase of a $10,000 mobile phone (yes, the service here at Tenshin was of top-class attentiveness too). OK, I guess by kaiseki standards, this place is par for the course price-wise. And the prices are not as egregious as Masa or Alain Ducasse in Manhattan (not that I've eaten at those places either, but just from what I've read). But that's still not cheap, and I wasn't exactly expecting to spend on a kaiseki-like meal tonight. It was more expensive than Morton's (for a lot less food!). Maybe Richard Branson or Li Ka Shing could eat here every day as a casual meal. But for me, I need someone with a *fat* expense account to pick up the tab.