The moment you walk into Tempura Matsu, you feel transported back in time. The decor and cooking equipment give you the impression of having come to a restaurant that does things as they were done fifty years ago. Combine this with the warmth of the hosts (mother and daughter look after the guests, whilst the son is in charge of the cooking), and you have a restaurant that immediately feels like a second home.
What you begin to realise as the meal unfolds, however, is that there is much more to Matsu than initially meets the eye. First of all, this is not a classical tempura restaurant. A menu will most likely feature some very fine tempura, but unlike at specialised tempura restaurants, this will only take up a small part of the sequence of dishes served here. Similarly, whilst chef Toshio Matsuno serves decidedly Japanese cuisine, touches of modernism appear here and there. Soba noodles are served in a gigantic ice block, and the meal begins with a refreshing shiso granité. Given his background of having worked with chefs such as Alain Ducasse and Grant Achatz, this is not all that surprising. What is impressive, however, is that Matsuno manages to integrate modern twists in a most harmonious and unobtrusive manner.
The food itself is spectacular. Simple, unadorned and based on excellent produce this is a type of cuisine one could eat every single day of the year. Next to the shiso granite Matsuno serves bonito, seared over charcoal and served with soy jelly. The simplicity and completeness of this dish exemplify the strength of this restaurant. Even better are slivers of marinated, lusciously marbled tuna belly, laid atop steamed rice. The warmth of the rice results in the tuna’s fat melting and renders its texture butter-like. Combined with the richly flavoured marinade, this is remarkably refined comfort food.
Tempura Matsu is a restaurant that offers a unique dining experience. A meal here combines the warmth of the owners and their team with the cosy room, and excellent food. Together, they make it into a place that you can only dream of having in your neighbourhood, unless of course, you do live in Kyoto.