When my dad told a good friend of his in Tokyo that Brad and I were going to be visiting in November last year, his friend asked if he could take us out to dinner to a soba restaurant that he also took my dad and brother to, which they had enjoyed immensely.
When we were trying to find a date that worked for us to meet, we could only agree on one night, the Monday night before we left, since he was travelling extensively prior to that.
We then found out that the soba restaurant is usually closed on a Monday, but because I was the daughter of my dad (who they had previously hosted) they insisted on opening…just for us.
If I had to choose a better way to end my Tokyo trip last year…I couldn’t have asked for anything better. This dinner was one of the most amazing experiences Brad and I had, for a whole multitude of reasons, and will stay as one of my most memorable meals for a long time to come.
So. What exactly is this place?
Dinner was at Kyotei Daikokuya, hidden down the backstreets of Asakusa, the same neighbourhood as the immensely popular Sensoji temple.
Kyotei Daikokuya, is all about the soba. The owners are a gorgeous old couple, who I could call my grandparents, and long time friends of my dad’s friend. They make everything, absolutely everything themselves; the owner grinds his own soba; some of which comes from soba fields he owns, and transforms it into noodles.
This soba is so good; it used to be one of the young prince’s (forgot his name, but he was well loved and left the world too early) favourite soba restaurants, and the royal family would visit at least once a year.
But it’s not just about the noodles, there’s a whole meal to be enjoyed, and it’s not quite what you expect. Prior to arriving my dad’s friend warned us not to be too hungry, as they do serve quite slowly, since it is just the two of them with the husband in the kitchen and the wife, in her adorable white apron, clattering in and out on her wooden geta (slippers) to serve us. More often than not the group that we were with would all get up to help her serve.
Our night started (with a whole lot of sake, three glasses worth actually) and this wooden spoon of amazingness. It’s grilled miso paste, with toasted buckwheat kernels and walnuts throughout as well. Oh my goodness. I cannot begin to explain how delicious this was. Although our host said to eat this slowly, since it would be a while until we got our next dish, how can you stop yourself from picking at this umami deliciousness? Umami, with a salty punch, lightly grilled with a gorgeous char to the flavour, with crunchy kernels adding an earthiness and texture.
Dish two, well, was kind of insane. When I was told I was going to a soba restaurant, I was not expecting hotpot. Apparently the dishes that we were served, are served in a specific order, as the owner believes that this is the best way, to eventually, savour your buckwheat soba noodles the most.
Our hot included a bevy of gorgeous greens and root vegetables, yam, pumpkin, enoki mushrooms and the piece de resistance, wild duck meat (or that’s the closest translation we could get). Just look at the beautiful fattiness of that! I had not really had duck sliced like this before either, and in a gentle warm bath, it was all so very good.
Sushi? Not just any sushi, this was soba sushi. With the finest of fine soba noodles replacing the rice. This is apparently very difficult to make, and intensely time consuming, since you need to make the noodles first, then cut, then cook in vinegar (just like sushi rice) before carefully rolling it up, since it’s a different shape and doesn’t act like sushi rice. I mean, can you imagine, making every single piece of soba noodle line up neatly like our friend has done in this picture? Gorgeous. And delicious. Cool, refreshing, but so sweet as well. And so tender, the noodles, although they still had body, just gently melted into the mouth. Would easily eat this all the time.
And on to noodles…udon noodles that is! Wait. What? Apparently this is what comes next in line, which we dip into a sauce and slurp up with vigour. The noodles are lovely and springy, but I’m really just excited about the next dish that comes out…
Finally. Finally, we’re greeted with a plate of cold soba, served with all the usual condiments, dipping sauce, radish and a dash of wasabi. The noodles are in two neat piles, so fine, yet rustic, I love you can see the grain throughout, and boy, the are tasty as well. Aromatic, nutty, earthy, yet also refreshing when dipped in the sauce. I can safely say no soba has tasted the same after that (although I still enjoy it!).
Apparently the little guy hanging off our sauce cups is a child. Not totally convinced.
Think we were done with the soba? Not in the slightest. To finish, our ‘dessert’, for lack of a better word, was a sticky buckwheat paste, not dissimilar to some kind of mochi, but with a much nuttier flavour. With spoonfuls of this, we would either pour soy sauce over it, to make it a little salty, or dip it in a bean curd powder (or I think that’s what it was), which made the whole thing taste like a peanut mochi for some reason, which I was totally in to.
At the end of the meal, with too much sake and very full bellies, we found ourselves popping our heads in and out of the tiny little kitchen (where on earth does he make all the food?!), where the owner kept his many treasured photos of the crown prince visiting the restaurant, and their pictures with him. There was also a volume of books produced that he showed us, after the passing of the crown prince, where their restaurant name is mentioned.
The hospitality of the Japanese is just incredible, although language barriers were abound aplenty, whilst for the most part our host helped translate, I could still get by with a little broken Japanese and a lot of laughter. The wife was the cutest person I had ever come across, smiling the whole night, and even giving me a little candy container with a squeaky toy at the top after I gave her some manuka honey.
And despite us just meeting, they brought out the green tea mill to show us how it worked, and insisted when we next visited that they do a tea ceremony for us. I for one, am definitely looking forward to it!
4-39-2 Asakua, Taito-ku, Tokyo