Words by Vanessa De Lisio
It took owner Desmond Wong just one week in Japan to know that he wanted to bring the art of Chef Akimitsu Tanihara’s award-winning tempura to Australia. Chef Akimitsu works with tempura recipes honed over five generations, and as soon as you walk into the intimate Shitamachi Tendon Akimitsu restaurant on Hindley Street you can see that a piece of modern Japan with traditional roots has been transported here for us to enjoy.
Akimitsu seats around 70 people including an outdoor area ensconced by planter boxes, or you can book the private tatami mat room for up to six people. Even as the restaurant fills up, you can still enjoy the tranquil music in the background, while you watch your meals being cooked in the open kitchen. The striking red wallpaper, dark timber beams and panelled feature wall are in direct contrast to the bright silver cherry blossoms on the back wall. Contrast is everywhere you look at Akimitsu, where their specialty is displaying the traditional art of tempura in modern ways, with flagship dishes designed to integrate the Japanese culture in a way specific to Adelaide.
Owner Desmond Wong explains, “Our most popular dishes are the lobster tempura and the Akimitsu Deluxe Tendon. We are the only restaurant in Australia to make lobster tempura as it is our flagship dish.” Specialising in tempura and tendon (which is a Japanese-style rice bowl topped with tempura), the lobster tempura is a distinctive, sweet and delicate taste among the more familiar tempura. Each piece of tempura at Akimitsu has an artwork of patterns within the batter, for an artistic look, and light crunch, before you reach the contrasting tender seafood or vegetable inside. The prawns, salmon, kingfish and oysters used for the tempura are chosen depending on availability as they are sourced fresh daily. Each tempura bowl is accompanied by zucchini, mushroom, capsicum and pumpkin; however, the vegetables will change with the season too.
The whole team at Akimitsu is friendly and welcoming, more than willing to share the history and traditions of each dish. Before eating at Akimitsu, I wasn’t aware of the importance of eggs in the Japanese culture and cuisine. Eggs will be served at almost every meal in Japan, especially to children to give their growing bodies extra protein and energy. On the Akimitsu menu the eggs are an important part of the texture and plating of many dishes, where they serve a Sous Vide egg called Onson Tamago or a coddled soft poached egg traditionally called a Sweetheart Egg with the donburi bowls. The salmon, chicken, pork belly and beef steak donburi are new additions to the menu at Akimitsu and each is delicately cooked or even blowtorched before resting on top of Japanese-style rice bowls, which are then eaten by breaking up the soft egg and mixing it through the dish for a rich creamy dressing.
Eel is also a popular dish in Japan even though it is an expensive ingredient there. The locals are willing to pay more for the eel’s high nutritional value which is important in the colder months to add fat to your body for warmth, and in summer to replenish your energy under the sun. I’ve only ever tried eel in the pickled Eastern-European style, however the Unadon grilled eel at Akimitsu was a balance of sweet and salty tender flesh, which dissolves into flakes in your mouth. Another dish which is sure to be popular in winter is the Udon Soup Bowl. It is a simple and clean dish with a slight smoky taste and noodles with just the right amount of heft and resistance.
To create the light and crispy texture of tempura, the Head Chef uses a specialist flour imported from Japan and cooks in a signature blend of oils. The sauces and dressings are also all made onsite and can take up to two hours to make a batch, with a specially matched chef’s sauce for the tempura, and another for the tendon bowls which should be poured over the dish before eating. Akimitsu have also recently added a curry sauce to accompany their tendon which adds a rich depth of flavour.
The accompaniments to each dish are as important for their flavour as much as for their ceremony, which any of the staff will gladly guide you through to make sure you enjoy the complement of flavours the way they were designed. The pink pickled ginger and sunlight yellow pickled radish are perfect sweet, sharp, vibrant bright spots on each dish. The green tea on the menu is also imported from Japan and accompanies the dishes well, yet it is becoming more popular in Japan to match tempura with Champagne rather than the traditional beer.
I learned last year that there are more Michelin star restaurants in Japan than there are in Paris, which is not hard to believe when you have been treated to the hospitality, attention to detail and calming surroundings of Akimitsu. In 2014 Chef Akimitsu earned the ‘King of Tempura’ Gold Award in the Donburi Championship in Japan. Although Japan has recently moved to the top of my holiday destination list, while I wait for that trip, Akimitsu Australia is the next best thing. Akimitsu is open for lunch and dinner seven days, and I’m sure to see you there again soon.