Family-run riverside restaurant in Kyoto offering very good value or money
Tempura Matsu is a family-run restaurant on the banks of the river Katsura which is on the very Western edge of Kyoto (a fair drive from the central town). The originator, Shunichi Matsuno has passed on to his son and heir to the business Toshio who was present on our visit. Toshio has had work experience under some heavyweight 3 Michelin starred chefs in Europe and America. This will explain the inventiveness that is seen in the food offered here which is served with genuine care and attention and with some very good food moments, this was a lovely experience all round; Toshio’s Mother was a delight looking after us with such genuine hospitality and the chef himself was cutting around at full steam helping others and leading at most of the service in front of us at the counter. Although more Kaiseki than tempura, this was a great meal at a reasonable price for good quality food.
The restaurant has a counter and booths at the back of the restaurant. It seems that the format for the restaurant is that being sat at the counter is prized seat and that if you are in the booth, they will try and get you sat at the counter for the latter part of your courses. This is indeed what was afforded to us. As we sat in the booth, the first course brought was a snow crab with fig, crustacean jelly and caviar which was an absolute gem. Crustacean jelly was something I had had barely a day prior in 3 Michelin starred Chateaux Joel Robuchon and was nice to see in Japanese form.
Second up was amadai (tilefish and a part of the sea bream family) with egg sauce, mushroom, truffle & shrimp skin and this too was an absolute winner on all grounds with the fish being perfectly cooked with such a decadent sauce and truffle complementing the mushroom so well. Next came sashimi of red snapper (red), time fish (silver) and sea bream (white) with ponzu and soy sauces, ginger and wasabi. These were all good quality. I also liked the way that the bamboo was hollowed out to make a drinking vessel for the sake.
We were then moved to the counter where mackerel was grilled on charcoal in front of us and served with soy jam – this had a beautifully subtle touch of smoke and was a nice bit of theatre to have in front of us. The crab in miso soup was brilliant; deep in flavour and with excellent crab. I couldn’t keep up with the explanations of where the crab came from but we were reassured that they get their crab and produce at premium locations around Japan and I have no reason to doubt them.
Chutoro with sesame sauce, sesame seeds, wasabi and soy with lovely rice was gorgeous and served in a bamboo basket and on the underside was anago (seawater eel) – these were fine. Next up, an original way to serve beef. Our A4 grade Kobe beef was cooked in soy sauce which began to caramelise and then dipped in egg yolk prior to being served. This was absolutely great with a lovely sticky sweet from the soy and richness from the egg.
Prawn and ginkgo nuts were the start of the actual tempura pieces for the meal and were a welcome element of light tempura batter and nicely done. Next were silverfish and potato – this was absolutely lovely and a genuine hit. Perhaps even better than the ‘fish and chips’ served at London’s 2 Michelin starred Japanese restaurant Umu, where I have had this play on fish and chips.
Seaweed Noodles with soy and quail egg and wasabi was the finale savoury served in a huge ice block. Visually this was stunning and whilst the decision to serve cooked noodles ice-cold was actually not my favourite decision, the texture was great combined with the timeless combination of soy and egg. Genuinely innovative and good to see.
The meal finished with Japanese tea ice cream and a superb dessert I have not had in Japan and the description of which was lost on me. Thankfully on hand, as ever, my associate, Mr Bainbridge steered me of this being a red bean sugar with bean paste and a sugared, nutty powder to coat to taste. The whole dessert was original, fun and delicious – a cracking end to a quality meal.
This was a superb experience and all in the charm of an undiscovered gem. The final tally was just under £200 per person, but roughly a quarter of this was on account of the Kobe beef and the meal was fuelled with refills of sake throughout. Therefore, this is a brilliant option to go for in terms of quality, homeliness and value for money – well worth doing.
Food Grade: 87%
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