MIkawa Zazankyo is a legendary restaurant. Chef Saotome is to tempura what Jiro Ono is to sushi. It therefore doesn’t come as a surprise that when one of his long-time disciples decided to come back to Mainland China and open his own tempura restaurant Xuewei in Beijing, expectations were sky-high.
From the moment you walk into the small restaurant, opposite the Worker’s Stadium’s East Gate, you feel transported to Japan. The look, materials used and attention to detail are of a level that we have not seen before in China. Every aspect of the room has been taken into consideration, and that is something that is encouraging to see.
Menu-wise, it’s simple: there are two choices, one of which is a little pricier than the other. The main difference is that the more expensive menu has two extra cold dishes and the one or other extra piece of tempura.
The first course served is a simple mound of crab meat with its innards. This is simple, but remarkably satisfying. The flavours are pure, complex and comforting at the same time. What follows can be sashimi of superb quality fish, or things such as oysters breaded in panko and deep-fried. Each little appetiser is simple and to the point.
The main event is inevitably the tempura. Whilst our first meal here featured a surprisingly generous selection of fried pieces that culminated in a magnificent piece of eel, the quantity of food has been drastically reduced ever since, which is a bit of a pity. Quality-wise, there is nothing to complain about here, however. The meal starts classically with two prawns that are followed by their heads. The latter part has a concentration of flavour that the tails do not have, and that crunchy texture that make this one of the best parts of the meal. Equally good is uni, wrapped in shiso leaves and deep-fried. The uni’s flavour is remarkably subtle after being fried, and the shiso’s electric qualities pair well with the batter and the sea urchin. What is striking with all of the tempura is the product quality, the delicate texture of the batter and the progression of flavours that builds up during the meal.
Beijing is a city that has very few restaurants that really serve an excellent product. Xuewei is one of the pioneers in this respect and its immediate success shows that there is demand for restaurants like this. As long as you don’t plan to go and eat in Japan, this is as good as tempura gets in Mainland China.