Tsunahachi (つな八) is like so many restaurants in Tokyo. From the outside you would have little idea what it is they specialise in nor how popular they are.
But thanks to an entry in the Lonely Planet Tokyo, business is good as they’re full, and this is on a ka-yōbi no yoru (Tuesday night: 火曜日の夜).
According to the LP guide they do tempura and they do it very well.
I had been looking forward to eating this wonderful, lightly battered, deep-fried dish of either seafood or vegetables but up until now had not found a restaurant that served it as anything other than a side-dish.
Located in one of the many side-streets of busy Shinjuku, the chefs behind the counter adeptly cook the food to perfection.
Live prawns scurry in the tank near to my seat as I order the set-menu called Tempura Zen and a bottle of Asahi Dry bīru (beer).
Efficiently and seamlessly they provide me with genmaicha (mentioned previously), miso soup flavoured with tiny molluscs, a bowl of rice, sweet pickle mixed with the petals of a yellow flower, a small bowl of tentsuyu sauce for dipping (天汁), some plain grated radish and one mixed with pickled plum of tomato giving it a reddish-orange colour.
Then piece-by-piece my chef serves me fish, prawns, eggplant and finally eel. Each one hot, crisp and thoroughly delicious. And the chef kindly explains in eigo (English) what each one is. What more could you ask for?
Surveying my surroundings, the place is nothing to look at. It probably hasn’t changed in appearance since it opened about 80 years ago. Some may think it grubby but I like the down-to-earth, genuineness of the place. No pretentions. Just great tucker!
The staff are helpful & typically courteous, despite my almost making a terrible faux pas by pouring soy sauce on my grated radish and also into my dipping bowl.
On the table are additional condiments: salt, pepper, wasabi, and tiny wooden paddles for serving them.
I’m flanked by tourists: to my left are a couple of Germans and to my right are some vocally expressive Italians.
To finish there is the option of deep-fried aisu kurīmu (ice cream). Perhaps next time as I’m feeling completely full.
Other menu options include sashimi and a wide range of additional items apart from the three set-menus.
There are also separate rooms for privacy and large groups not suited to eating at the counter.
On the wall hangs timber boards about one-foot long with painted words in black script representing items on the menu.
15/20 food (taste) : excellent
13/20 food (selection) : good range of options given that they specialise
15/20 staff : friendly and helpful as always, and they speak adequate English
12/20 atmosphere : fairly plain, drab interior but plenty of character; thankfully the place is comfortably air-conditioned which is a blissful relief from the summer humidity
14/20 price : ¥1995pp seemed fair and reasonable for dinner although the other set-menus are more expensive however I read that lunchtime prices are cheaper
69/100 total : soon to be a regular haunt
As I leave the restaurant I’m amazed at how, despite the time (10pm), Shinjuku is still wide awake and pumping. There are plenty of places open for business and the streets are crowded.
Given that the station sees about 3.6 million people go through it mai-nichi (every day: 毎日) it’s no wonder.
I can’t wait to return!