Eating Japanese soba noodles at Tamawarai Tokyo is a slow food act with a Michelin stared attentiveness to quality. For most Japanese eating lunch at a sobaya is a rushed experience in any fast metropolis on the island country, but not at Tamawarai, where fresh and hand-cut “te-uchi soba” is slowly made and served in a snail pace. The meal starts in a waiting lounge just by the entrance, where the call for tables is being made, one at the time.
The traditional Japanese house where Tamawarai resides stands out in the contemporary residential core of the commercial Shibuia-Harajuku area. A short stroll will transfer you from the hive of caffeinated shopping to a serene spirit of zen.
Simplicity breaths out from its minimalist interior, only a handful of barren tables, laced with stiff, straight wooden chairs and a counter along the wall with small windows letting in just a pinch of daylight. The ubiquitous solitary diners at tiny Japanese eateries call to my mind a prison, be it an indulgent confinement to one’s mind and the meal served often with a muted non-engagement of the server. Some foodies revel in this focused experience. Whether it is meditative or in other way soothes their over-stimulated urban minds, only they know. To me, eating alone is enjoyable for a day or two, but then I seek company, a table full of people sharing the meal’s bountiful pleasure.
Despite the claustrophobic restraint, dining at Tamawarai Tokyo is a happy meal. Our lunch there was a shared affair with friends, injecting in an engaging conversation, plus ordering most of the menu and tasting it all, not wasting a morsel.
The meal at Tamawarai is not just about the long thin spaghetti-like, yet naturally gluten-free soba. You should order the splendid starters and sides. A group of five can share one of each. We doubled the favourites like the perfectly soft rolled egg omelet, the umami reeking baked shiro (sweet white) miso, the pickles or the freshly strained house tofu topped with a dab-full of fresh, pungent wasabi. In spring a cold fern salad is on the menu, their firm bite reminded me of blanched string beans. The grilled mackerel was good, but not outstanding, and can be ordered before or with your soba. We all agreed that the tofu and the miso overshadowed through their brilliant yumminess the main deal at Tamawarai – the buckwheat noodles.
For my main course I ordered the house speciality of zaru soba, soba served in a bamboo basket that’s dipped into a soy sauce. A side of crispy seaweed complemented the noodles with more umami. Two of our friends went for the chilled hiyakake soba in a delicate broth slurped like a cold soup. A hot broth version is “kake soba”. Farming its own buckwheat for the wholesome “Juuwari soba” noodles, so powerful on the palate and visually dark that you suspect if any other condiment was blended in, but as you chew slowly the softness of their soba made of 100% buckwheat flour ground daily in the kitchen, sates you fully with its high fibre content. At first, only a small serving is placed in the bamboo straw basket before you are asked about another round. This waste-reducing portioning is practical also for the diner who mindfully assesses his/her level of fullness.
You must come early if you want the tempura shrimp pickled in Saikyou miso and deep fried served over the soba, otherwise you can have the noodles just with the wasabi and soy sauce.
At Tamawarai sip on soba-cha, a caffeine-free warm beverage brewed from roasted buckwheat groats, that is confusingly referred to as tea. There is beer and sake too put for a complete Juuwari soba experience, try the vitamin-rich soba tea.
Tamawarai Tokyo: 5-23-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Lunch Wed-Fri: 11:30am-3pm; Sat 11:30am – 8pm & Sun: 11:30am – 4:30 pm; Dinner Wed-Fri: 6-9pm; Closed on Mondays
+ 81 3 5485 0025