TenTo review

This Japanese cafe has turned a traditional way of dealing with leftovers into its signature dish.
This Japanese cafe has turned a traditional way of dealing with leftovers into its signature dish. Photo: Flavio Brancaleone

8 Hill St Surry Hills, NSW 2010

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Opening hours Monday to Saturday 8am-3pm, Sunday 9am-3pm
Features Family friendly, Breakfast-brunch, Cheap and cheerful, Outdoor seating, Romance-first date, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)

You'll find a dish with a 1000-year-old history at TenTo. It's called ochazuke, which means "submerged in tea" in Japanese. It's a way of reviving cooked rice by pouring green tea over it.

People began emptying teapots this way in the Edo period (1603–1867), but this reheating trick began during the Heian era (794-1185), when a stream of plain hot water softened old rice into better leftovers.

"Ochazuke is a very common, home-cooking meal," says TenTo's co-owner Ryota Kumasaka, who grew up in Fukushima. Today, you'll more likely to see it at home or in a supermarket (in instant sachet form) rather than at a restaurant. And if you do, you might be in trouble.

Vegan ochazuke with teapot and pickles.
Vegan ochazuke with teapot and pickles. Photo: Flavio Brancaleone

"If you go to a really traditional Kyoto restaurant and you got a little bit more tipsy than you are supposed to, you get served ochazuke as a sign of 'please get out!'" he says, laughing. 

At TenTo, ochazuke is a welcome sight (and not proof you should be ejected from the premises). The vegan ochazuke billows with a sculptural rice paper basket, delicately filled with flowers, tempura greens and mushrooms, seaweed and bean sprouts.

Underneath, the rice is shaped like onigiri, a Japanese rice ball, and when the creamy seven-vegetable broth is poured over it, you're bathed in the smell of buttered popcorn.

Vegan ramen is dressed up with a bridge over a rugged bowl.
Vegan ramen is dressed up with a bridge over a rugged bowl. Photo: Flavio Brancaleone

The salmon version is flavoured with a traditional ichibandashi stock, fortified with seaweed, finished with green tea and seasoned with smoked bonito. The chicken special is rich with a collagen broth, braised leeks and chilli oil. This isn't regular ochazuke.  

"In Japan, they don't serve it like that," says co-owner Din Haikin. The pair first met in 2012, as neighbours in Newtown: Haikin's Shenkin espresso bar is next door to Kumasaka's Shinmachi izakaya.

For TenTo, they've brought on Shinmachi's chef Gabriel D'Agostini. His CV includes time spent in Japan, including a stint with the legendary Japanese Iron Chef Rokusaburo Michiba. "Everyone knows [Michiba] as the Japanese Jamie Oliver or better," says Kumasaka. 

A stylishly presented salmon ramen.
A stylishly presented salmon ramen. Photo: Flavio Brancaleone

TenTo has taken a humble dish about revitalising cold leftovers and stylishly shot up the presentation and flavour levels. It's the same with the ramen, which might be served with a plank of salmon fillet, or tempura vegetables – they look like poetic bridges atop rugged bowls Kumasaka crafted by hand.

In fact, every detail at TenTo is visually impressive: the bowls and cups are all hand-crafted by Kumasaka and the mugs that serve coffees, matcha and black sesame lattes come with their own spoon stand, drilled into place by Haikin's brother.

There are good vegan and vegetarian options, inspired by Kumasaka's vegetarian wife and his visits to "underground" cult vegan restaurants in Japan.

Matcha karesanui dessert.
Matcha karesanui dessert. Photo: Flavio Brancaleone

It all speaks to TenTo's next-level dedication. Even the matcha karesanui dessert is a mini raked Japanese garden that staff bought seven different tools for, just to get the "scraped" surface right.

Haikin's father created the chocolate mousse with embedded white chocolate "rocks" for this dessert and the sculptural fruit slices and nasturtium leaves are spritzed twice – with triple sec and sweet syrup – for dewy effect. It makes the right impact in an understated way, like the Japanese rock garden it's named after.

Just like ochasuzke, karesansui has been around for centuries, but TenTo offers a dazzling new spin. For full magical effect, just add (hot or spritzed) water.

Black sesame latte with spoon stand.
Black sesame latte with spoon stand. Photo: Flavio Brancaleone

The low-down

TenTo

Vibe Eye-catching remixes of ochazuke, ramen and other Japanese staples in an outdoor-friendly setting.

Insta-worthy dish The matcha karesanui dessert that required many attempts to perfect. "It took us one month!" says Haikin.

Average cost for two $60, plus drinks

https://www.tento.com.au/