Simplicity in the search for perfection should never be overlooked. Some of the simplest foods are the best, a slice of perfect fish, raw, uncooked and unadulterated; a Naples pizza, a perfect base with a dash of tomato sauce etc. But is soba such a food? I am a fan of soba, and have had many memorable meals, but if simplicity is one of the routes to sublimity (and yes, I made that word up, but I am sure you get the jIst), the soba must be one of the hardest paths. Although it is not uncommon for certain other ingredients (such as normal wheat or potato starch) to be added to the mix, for many purists soba should be made from 100% buckwheat.
Now I am not going to dismiss a grain (actually ground seeds from a flower I think), but there is not that much to soba, no gluten as in wheat, no enzymes do much to change things, not fermentation and drying process that gives us the god of grains, malted barley, not even a bit of added mould to coax out the flavours as used with rice. The only thing added then is a bit of water and call me a philistine, but even if the water is from some magical spring that gives eternal youth, it is still only good old H2O and probably not likely to make a huge impact on the final taste.
Even old time locals who rave about soba almost always praise it not for its taste, but for its texture. The ultimate praise given in respect of a good soba restaurant is koshi ga yoi or nodogoshi ga yoi,.i.e. the texture is firm or it goes down the throat well. I appreciate good soba, hopefully as much or perhaps even a little more that the next guy, but given that it is a food whose ultimate praises are about its texture as opposed to its taste, I cannot see those men from the tyre company in there anytime soon to check it out for their red book.
The food: The soba was good. Not the best I have ever tasted, but still pretty good. I had mine with a duck soup, which was based on a fish stock with a good citrus accent (yuzu I guess). 25 points.
The price: 1,680 yen for a small plate of noodles and a small bowl of soup containing 4 slices of duck is taking the piss. More expensive ingredients perhaps, but we are talking about a meal made out of buckwheat flour, hardly up there with gold as a precious commodity. 2 points.
The volume: Sorry, but if you are going to price you self at over 1,500 yen for lunch, you need to ensure that your punters leave satisfied, and I wasn’t. 4 points.
The extras: Soba yu was about it, and that comes as a given with soba, and also is something that would be thrown out anyway. OK, I know that in the naughties, being ecological and using things which would otherwise be thrown out is all good, but at the end of the day, this is just the water that boiled the noodles in. Come on, I don’t think anyone would be impressed if a spaghetti house did the same. 2 points.
Bonus: House in a nice old house, kind of felt Japanese; also the tea was soba-cha, which I guess is worth a couple of points for keeping in nature of the place. Lost points though for not turning up with a fork/bowel for Little Trouble until we asked. There is a rant welling up inside me as to why young Japanese female waitresses generally don’t have a clue about how to deal with child customers. The next time a waitress carries a hot meal over the head of Little Trouble, I swear that I am going to take the hot meal and pour it all over the waitress in question. This is something that older (i.e. probably have kids) waitresses never seem to do. 5 points.
The details: 3-10-7 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Phone 03 3505 5338
Web site: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/a970700/