The Japanese food of late here in Manila has been dominated by every restaurant doing signature sushi rolls and, more recently, deep-fried breaded cuts of pork and seafood that we all lovingly know as katsu. It was a pleasure to find out that a new Japanese restaurant that specializes in tempura had opened over at the Grove, which is a quick 20 minute drive from the house.
Now I have always had a soft spot for tempura. When I was a kid, my parents knew that the only way to make me eat whenever I would get sick would be to bring me to Kamirori over in Katipunan to get me an order of ebi tempura. If we were lucky, we’d drop by the video rental shop next door and rent ourselves a laser disc copy of either Top Gun or Mighty Ducks. So yes, sick times were good times when I was a kid.
Now on to Asakusa. Asakusa: Home of Tempura is located in the new building behind Starbucks and Sunrise Buckets in The Grove. They are still in their soft opening at the moment and are only open for lunch and dinner service. Don’t worry though, they shouldn’t be hard to miss as they are the only restaurant open in the new section for now. The interiors are very clean and very inviting. As my brother put it, it reminded him of the interiors over at Kenji-Tei in Greenbelt 5.
We ordered quite a bit of everything for lunch, even more than what we would usually order whenever we would eat out. The good thing about this though is that we were able to get a sampler of sorts of what they had to offer. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a photo of everything that we ordered because the chopsticks were just really aggressive earlier today.
California Maki (Php 158)
Their take on the California Maki came topped with some tempura batter bits. The density and flavour of the rice was really nice, not too packed and not too loose that the roll would fall apart after dipping in the soy sauce. The other ingredients are what you would expect from your usual California Maki. The fact that the rice was done well and the addition of the tempura batter bits made it significantly better than what you would get for the same price from other Japanese restaurants.
Salmon Maki (Php 278)
Their Salmon Maki reminded me of spicy salmon salad on a sushi roll. This time around, they were more generous with their tempura bits. This really made me take notice of these little golden crunchy bits of deliciousness.
Speaking of the tempura bits, these were the farthest thing from greasy. If these were meant to set my expectations for the main tempura dishes then the expectations were set pretty high.
Gyoza (Php 158)
The cook on the gyoza wasn’t what I expected, as you can see in the photo. The one I had was one of the farther pieces that were closer to the golden brown colour that you would expect from the fried side of gyoza. My mom, on the other hand, took the very first piece here in this photo. Just to be clear, my mom would usually avoid anything that tastes burnt. It was very interesting to see that my mom really enjoyed this one which made me start thinking that maybe I should have had one of the crisper pieces.
Tofu Steak (Php 218)
This dish has deep fried pieces of silky tofu in a very generous pool of their sauce. Since I’m not really the biggest fan of tofu, I just had a taste of the brown, gooey sauce the tofu came in. This sauce was really, REALLY good. It had a really good balance between sweet and salty with a very meaty flavour. This would go perfectly over some plain rice (or some fried rice. Yes. Let’s go with fried rice.).
Chicken Karaage Teriyaki (Php 238)
Their take on chicken karaage comes bathed in teriyaki sauce that I personally found very sweet. The taste really reminded me of the Samurai sauce of Hooters over in Singapore so it really isn’t that bad. Do know though that I am really not fond of sweets. When other people would always make room for dessert, I’d rather leave more room for that extra piece of steak, crispy pata, or, in this case, tempura. Mmm.. Food.
Shogun Set (5 Star – Php 488, 3 Star – Php 308)
They have a variety of tempura set meals that you can get. Each set comes with plain rice and a choice between the traditional tempura sauce with grated radish or their special sauce. Their special sauce is a thicker, sweeter, and overall tastier sauce that you can tell was created for the Filipino palate. I personally prefer the traditional sauce but I really wouldn’t be surprised if their special sauce ends up being a winner for some people. You can also choose to replace your plain rice with other sides, photos of which will follow after this.
Now on to the tempura. They serve the ebi tempura on a wire rack. This is a very smart move since it ensures that each piece of tempura will remain crisp longer. Think of how katsudon places like Yabu and Ginza Bairin would always serve their katsu on wire racks. This is done for the same reason in Asakusa. The tempura itself is mostly prawn with a thin and crisp layer of batter. The prawns were very juicy and were just bursting with flavour. With their prices, I would definitely not mind coming back for a quick ebi tempura fix.
I swapped my plain rice for some fried rice. The flavour on this was very good as well. As with most of their dishes, everything was very well-balanced.
As for the other sides that you can swap for the plain rice, you can opt to pay around Php 40 to upgrade your sides. These are the ones we tried:
Asakusa is a breath of fresh air for the Japanese food options in the Katipunan/Libis area. Their menu isn’t as vast as other restaurants but their decision to focus specialize on tempura really worked out for them. All their fried dishes were perfectly fried, stayed crispy, and were not oily. The ratio of the batter to the main ingredients was also on point and that, I feel, is something that not a lot of Japanese restaurants have been able to do. I will definitely find my way to The Grove if ever I am in the area and looking for some proper tempura, no matter if I’m sick or not.