O-noya: Unforgettable Tempura | CoolJapan

With the impending approach of Typhoon Hagibis, touted to be one of the fiercest typhoons to hit Japan in the last 60 years, the outlook for our planned leisure programs in Osaka over the coming weekend was looking dim. Our spirits were lifted when our Japanese business partner treated us to a lovely dinner.

O-Noya interior

Left: O-Noya Private Room (o-noya.com); Right: Inside O-Noya

Established in 1951 in a quiet residential-looking section of Shimamachi, Chuo-ku of Osaka, O-noya (大乃や) occupies a large verdant courtyard housing a banquet hall that’s elegantly decked out in traditional Japanese beige tones contrasted by timber pillars and wood trimmings, with private tatami rooms framed by shoji doors that open up to views of the zen sculptured grounds. The main restaurant specialises in Kaiseki cuisine that celebrates the changing of the seasons.

O-Noya ambience

Our dinner was at a separate tempura restaurant adjacent to the banquet hall, linked by a wooden covered walkway that's flanked by pebbles and pockets of beautifully manicured gardens and water features, gently lit up by the soft glow cast from strategically placed lanterns.

The intimate tempura restaurant has only 13 seats planted along a long counter crafted from a single piece of wood; our host, a close relative of the restaurant owner, had booked the entire place for our group.

The dinner began with an introduction to three kinds of exotic salt dips: a sea salt from Nagasaki, seaweed salt from Awaji Island and salt from Bolivia up in the Andes Mountains. Our meal started with a deceptively simple-looking Tofu on a bed of soya sauce, garnished with a drop of wasabi and delighting with its creaminess, heralding good things ahead.

O-Noya Sashimi

A plate of Sashimi

Before the main act came a plate of Sashimi comprising an assortment of seafood: Tuna, Sea Bream, Shrimp and Japanese Horse Mackerel, each piece as fresh as it can be.

Ueda Tooru

Tempura Masterchef Ueda Tooru

Lording over the kitchen is Tempura Masterchef Ueda Tooru, with over 10 years of tempura-making under his belt. We’re mesmerised by his deft movements, weaving seamlessly from the preparation of the tempura batter to skimming the loose crisps from the oil — skillfully turning the raw ingredients into light and delightful golden morsels. We were impressed by how he, with a few quick moves, transformed the Ayu “sweetfish” — a small fish pregnant with roe that’s in season — to stand on our plate.

Tempura Tile fish

Left: Tilefish; Right: Shrimp

Beet and Fish

Left: Fig & Vegetable; Right: Butterfish & Shiso

The stream of tempura items kept coming, so it was hard to recall all of them, except that nothing that could be faulted. Worthy mentions were the tasty Conger Eel, a thick fillet of Tilefish that exuded a firm bite served with a small citrus fruit, and a Butterfish patty wrapped with Shiso leaf. The final item of Tempura Figs was surprisingly delectable, the soft sweet fruit contrasting well with the crisp savoury batter.

Kubota Manju Junmai Daiginjo

The dinner course was well paired with a bottle of Kubota Manju Junmai Daiginjo, a top-shelf sake by the revered century-old Asahi Shuzo Brewing Company in the Niigata Prefecture. This divine sake harbours flora notes and delivers a crisp and clean finish with a rounded, velvety mouthfeel.

Different courses at O-Noya

A rice or noodle dish is a customary end to most formal Japanese dinners. We agonised over options of chilled Green Tea Soba with soy dipping sauce, Tempura Cake on rice and miso soup, Flavoured Fishbaits on rice with Japanese sansyu pepper and miso soup, and my choice of Tempura Cake Chazuke — battered mixed vegetables atop a small mound of rice, drenched with piping hot tea.

Dessert came in the form of a zesty Yuzu Sherbet, ending an exquisite dinner filled with convivial conversations that enlightened us with insights into Japanese food, culture and customs. As we left the serene ambience of O-noya, the stillness of the night air reminded us of the calm before the storm — but our spirits were high, literally and figuratively speaking, thanks in part to the generous flow of the unforgettable sake and the artisan culinary experience that will long linger in our minds.

O-noya Tempura is at 1 Chome-3-5 Shimamachi, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 540-0034, Japan