Despite the wealth of Japanese restaurants in Bangkok, Central Restaurants Group is convinced there's room for more and recently introduced the fast-service food chain Tenya in a bid to offer hungry diners an alternative to Ootoya, Yoshinoya, Chabuton and Pepper Lunch.
Tenya is one of the most successful chain restaurants in Japan with 137 branches across the country. Since opening its first outlet in the Yaesu underground mall at Tokyo Station in 1989, it has become a popular choice with office workers in a rush. Its speciality is tendon - crisp tempura over a bowl of rice. With tempura one of the top best-selling dishes at any Japanese restaurant, Central believes Tenya can make a splash in a highly competitive market thanks to its affordable, quality servings.
The Central Bang Na outlet exudes simplicity and is always packed at lunch and dinner times. Customers have quickly latched on to the fact that this is the place to enjoy tempura without burning a hole in your wallet. The best-selling dish, Jo Tendon, costs Bt139 and for that you get two large tempura prawns, eggplant, pumpkin and green beans spread over 180 grammes of steamed rice.
"The fried batter is light and crunchy and the tempura is deep-fried so it's light and crisp and not too oily while the ingredients remain juicy. For shrimp, we carefully select shrimps grown in an antibiotic-free aqua-farming system and each shrimp should weigh around 16g. Oil, flour and rice are sourced locally but we have to import the tare sauce that's made to Tenya's secret recipe. It's a blend of soy sauce and unagi (grilled eel) sweet sauce and gives just the tendon right combination of sweet and salty," says operations manager Teeraporn Chanha, who was sent to Japan for training at Tenya's headquarters.
Equally tempting is All Star Tendon for Bt159 featuring a bowl of rice topped with shrimp, squid and scallop tempura together with maitake mushroom, lotus root and green bean. Three chicken fillets, each weighing about 20g and cooked tempura-style, are served with onsen egg tempura, green bean and pickled ginger in the Oyako Tori Tendon for Bt129. Perfect for sharing is Tenya Tempura Special for Bt389 with four shrimps, four pieces of squid and kisu fish fillets but no rice.
You can also order your favourite add-ons with prawn and scallop tempura going for Bt39 apiece and squid and kisu fish for Bt29. Vegetable add-ons ranging from maitake mushroom, lotus root, sweet potato, pumpkin, eggplant and green bean cost from Bt9 to Bt29. Side dishes are also available at Bt29 a pop and include ebiko seaweed salad, spicy surimi salad, mixed salad and cold tofu.
Tenya also offers udon and soba noodles served either chilled with a dipping sauce or in a hot broth. Both the thick wheat flour udon and the thin buckwheat flour soba are brought in from Japan while the fish-based broth is light and clear with a pleasant savoury taste.
Shrimp or seafood tempura sets with either udon or soba noodles are also available. Worth checking out are All Star Ten Soba for Bt219 featuring chilled soba noodle with seafood tempura and All Star Ten Udon for Bt199, which is hot udon served with seafood tempura on the side.
If all that sounds like too much, opt for an appetiser of gyoza stuffed with ground pork and served with the tare sauce for Bt79.
The desserts also come battered and deep-fried and you can sample either Tempura Green Tea or Tempura Vanilla ice creams for Bt59.
From Thursday through to the end of June, Tenya is offering two special menus at great prices. The Namazu Tendon (Bt89) has five tempura fillets of dory with green beans on rice while the Cold Udon Salad (Bt99) comes with fresh green salad, shredded cucumbers, tomatoes, red beans, corn and chilled udon and two choices of dressing; spicy shoyu and white sesame.
> Tenya has two branches in Bangkok. The first outlet is on the third floor of Central Bang Na and the other is on ground floor of Central Lat Phrao. The phone numbers are (02) 339 2603 and (02) 541 1808 respectively.
> Both branches are open daily from 10.30am to 10pm.
> Visit Facebook.com/TenyaThailand.