Tokyo may have more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere else on Earth, but the real fun in Japan isn’t the flashy stuff—it’s discovering tiny, perfect eateries down some mist-shrouded alley like you’re a character in a Miyazaki movie.
And here’s the weirdest bit: it happens all the time.
Well Yuki Tei in Toorak is about as close as you’re going to get to that feeling in Melbourne. It’s a pint-sized tempura bar, hidden behind Toorak Village, that only serves omakase (chef’s choice) for dinner. The chef in this case is Yukitoshi, but everyone calls him Yuki-san. He’s Melbourne’s undisputed—and unsung—king of tempura. There’s nothing this guy doesn’t know about frying delicate vegetables.
There’s a tight lunch menu at Yuki Tei—you can get Katsu Don, Tori Don, soul-warming curry on rice or crispy vegetable gyoza. But the real magic starts at dinnertime. The lights dim, you sit up at the bar, and Yuki-san preps you 10 or so pieces of perfect tempura. You get to watch it all: the flour dusting, the frying, the thoughtful selection of condiments.
Yuki-san will instruct you how to season each individual piece. Maybe a squeeze of lemon or a puff of curry powder. Your natural instinct will be to head straight for the prawns (the tempura equivalent of strawberries and cream in a lollybag), but the whole point of Yuki Tei is trust: when Yuki-san puts fried okra in front of you, assume it’s there for a reason.
Dinner omakase also comes with rice Ten Cha (a bowl of rice with warm tea, topped with shrimp tempura), plus a cup of miso soup that makes your toes tingle. And for dessert? Tempura ice-cream.
When we left Yuki Tei, the streets were dark and the rain was coming down. We looked back, half expecting the place to have magically turned into a dry-cleaners or something. But it’s still there, warm and small and perfect.
Image credit: Michelle Jarni