Few restaurants are as popular with tourists, and locals alike as Kondo. It attracts numerous from all over the world, and commands respect among local chefs, and gourmets. So it is no surprise that whilst one can book a seat here with some advance notice, it is one of the busiest restaurants in Ginza.
Surprisingly, however, it is far from the calm, controlled atmosphere of other high-end restaurants in the area, and it all feels a little more hectic here. The centrepiece of the room is inevitably the fryer, where the chefs produce one course after the other.
One of Kondo’s most famous dishes is its tempura of sweet potato. A large chunk is coated and fried before being wrapped in paper, and left to rest. Served in wedges it is indeed an interesting piece of cookery. The pulp is warm, and soft, whilst there is a slightly crunchy exterior to it.
What seems odd at Kondo, however, are the other pieces of tempura served. Unlike in other high-end tempura restaurants, the pieces here seem incredibly heavy, soaked with oil, and the batter often lacks crunch. The cooking seems sloppy, and at times even the service is a little lacking. During a meal here, it is not uncommon that slow eaters will be served a new piece before having finished their current course, and if a splash of frying oil hits a diner’s hand no apology is offered.
The product quality is decent, but no match to what you can find at Raku Tei, or Tatsumi, where prawns are sweet and springy, rather than mealy, and bland. Ice fish wrapped in shiso leaves is perhaps the most successful part of a meal here, but suffers from the fat-dripping batter that makes all of the pieces appear rather heavy.
Kondo is most likely Tokyo’s most famous tempura restaurant. Its reputation attracts diners from all over the world. The service, food, and product quality served here make us question what sustains its fame. This is certainly not a restaurant for anyone looking for high-quality tempura, but more of a tourist institution that lives off its fame.