Kitenya restaurant – the best tempura in Kyoto, Japan
Having spent Day 3 of our 4 days in Kyoto seeing some of the city’s impressive historical sites, including bucket-list Buddhist temples and ages-old imperial dwellings, we were ready to wind down with some food and to reminisce on our day’s sightseeing.
We were also keen, while making our way around Japan, to experience the many different types of cuisine that the country is famous for. One of which is, of course, the comfortingly battered, deep-fried crispiness that is tempura.
So for dinner that evening we had asked our Kyoto hotel to make us a reservation at the exemplary Kitenya tempura restaurant, situated in central Kyoto just outside Shijo station. Listed in the Michelin bib gourmand guide to restaurants that offer ‘good quality cooking that is also good value’, Kitenya would be a treat for any lover of Japanese tempura.
Dinner at Kitenya tempura Kyoto
Arriving at the unassuming restaurant entrance, we were welcomed for our dinner booking and seated at the counter facing Kitenya’s chef, with a perfect view of the tempura magic about to kick off right in front of us.
Having ordered some sake, courtesy of the one member of staff with a bit of English, we settled down as the tempura dishes began to arrive.
Everything served at restaurant Kitenya is super fresh, and lands on your plate only moments after having left the oil it has been sizzling in. No soggy tempura here!
Over the course of the next hour or two, a parade of delicious tempura made its way onto our eagerly awaiting plates. There were a couple of types of fish, with names like ‘happy fish’ and ‘ice fish’ - unrecognisable to us, or possibly simply lost in translation, but nevertheless delicious – as well as at one point a deep-fried oyster, to our astonishment. There were also a few varieties of tempura vegetables like squash and aubergine, and an enoki mushroom tempura that was definitely our favourite dish of the night.
The chef at Kitenya does not speak much English, but even so was highly engaged in our experience, eagerly observing our enjoyment of the tempura and enquiring with animated facial expressions on our review of the meal.
It is no exaggeration to say that this was by a long stretch the best tempura we had ever had, the ingredients of the highest quality, and the batter melt-in-the-mouth light! Given that we were surrounded by Japanese diners, and that in the establishment itself there was not much English to be had, we felt like we had somehow lucked into a local Kyoto secret. It is surprising how much communication can be had with hand gestures and just a few words in common, as well as a willingness to simply partake of what is put in front of you.
Together with some superb sake, we had a meal to remember, and we think you would be hard pressed to find a better example of tempura than that served at Kitenya! This intimate restaurant is a Kyoto hidden gem, far from the kind of place frequented by tourists, where you will be accompanied by other Japanese locals and have a truly authentic tempura experience.
If you would like to dine at Tempura Kitenya (and we enthusiastically recommend you do!), ask your Kyoto accommodation to make the reservation, given the language barrier. The Kitenya menu options are easy, choosing between 3 set menus with prices costing around 5,000-9,000 Yen. Take cash.