It wasn’t a usual launch; people were already seated and being served their orders even before the ribbon cutting ceremony. Then again, Asakusa: Home of Tempura is not your usual tempura place (in this country at least)— it specializes in the stuff, so experiencing tempura is a ceremony in itself.
Two hours may seem like a lot of time to devote to fried food. It’s not omakase style, face-to-face with the chef; still, the orders come plate by plate, not all at once. A future meal here will confirm if this is the norm or just the new branch shaking off the soft opening. But it’s like observing a performance, and the tempura is the balancing act of batter and flesh, while I wait in anticipation for what happens next.
This is the restaurant’s second branch (the first is located at the Grove by Rockwell); it’s situated on the second floor of Ayala Malls Vertis North, the country’s first “millennial mall.” The packed 70-seater is casual and modern, but peppered with elements brought in from Japan, reminders of authenticity—after all, the restaurant is named after a traditional district in Tokyo.
Asakusa offers food that is very familiar, but introduces things you never thought could be battered and deep fried: a sea urchin’s gonads, for example. The menu isn’t limited to tempura (which is served on racked tins and not baskets or lacquerware, by the way). There’s also a list of hot and cold small dishes, “other dishes,” and dessert. The Salmon Salad, Hot Soba, and Coffee Jelly all have the stray bits of batter in them, strongly insisting you order the main attraction.
Choose any one of the Tempura Sets like the Shogun (all Black Tiger Prawns) or the Emperor to try a bit of everything. These sets come with a drink and rice, which can be upgraded to a bottomless drink and soba or udon.
The inspiration for Asakusa came from the tendon an old couple serves in a quaint little house in Asakusa, Japan. Another couple, although much younger, Celline and Jacob Bautista, tried this life-changing dish and wanted to bring the old couple and their restaurant to the Philippines. The old couple became consultants instead and taught Celline and Jacob the techniques to make their own tempura. With that information, but without the training time tradition calls for, Celline and Jacob found a machine to prepare and approximate “perfection”.
“The machine we use cooks the tempura at a consistent temperature all throughout, which is why it is of the same quality every single time,” says Celline. So expect blotted golden blushed bits that are crispy bordering on crunchy.
Innovation in the menu is not the focus; it’s in the kitchen and concept. It was my first time to eat in Asakusa, but regulars seem to find that it sustains that innovation and delivers on consistency and warmth. For the discerning diner, that’s when a restaurant becomes more than a go-to, and turns into a home.