The art of soba: Muto in Nihonbashi (Tokyo)

Soba

Sitting in my room in Tokyo last year, suddenly a desire striked me: I love soba and what could be a better place to taste those lovely noodles than Japan itself ?! So I was looking for a restaurant that served classic soba menus.

So I started to google around a bit and found a wonderful article about Muto Soba in Nihonbashi. Finding the small restaurant in „real life“ was trickier than I thought though. After walking around the block 3 times and not finding it, I googled the Kanji for the restaurant’s name and looked for that…which was more successful.

Muto soba-ya: Outside
Muto soba-ya: Outside
Muto soba-ya: Kanji
Muto soba-ya: Kanji

Muto is a very small place. I was received by a middle aged lady (I think it was the chef’s wife) who told me – a little bit scared that a stranger found his way here – that there is only a 5-course fixed menu. After accepting that she guided me to my table in a small room. Soon she thawed and was very friendly and tried hard to talk to me in english which was really sweet. I started with a beer.

Turnip soup
Turnip soup

The first greeting was a turnip soup, very dense though elegant and full of taste. It was simple, yet beautiful. After some time Mr. Muto came to my table and we talked for a while. He is not only a wonderful cook but a very kind and polite person.

Dumpling of soba dough filled with fatty pig in a clear broth
Dumpling of soba dough filled with fatty pig in a clear broth

The next course was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten: A bit of Mr. Muto’s raw soba dough which literally melted on the tongue and built a mellow ground for the intense, meaty filling. This taste bomb was balanced by some horseraddish and greens, that added complexity to the dish. Just wonderful.

Cured baby fish
Cured baby fish

In the meantime I changed to Sake. It went perfect with the small cured fish – they have the texture of toffee. Kind of chewy and a bit sweet, perfect with the clean taste of sake.

Tempura (fish and wild vegetables)
Tempura (fish and wild vegetables)

Then some tempura was served. There was some fish (I think it were sardines) and wild vegetables, I’ve never seen in my life. The fish was perfectly fresh and tasted clean, the vegetables were wonderfully green and had bitter notes. The highlight in this course was the perfect execution: Only an idea of dough surrounded the pieces, fried to wonderful crunchyness. Not a bit fatty or heavy – you wouldn’t believe that fried food can be this elegant. Together with the dip this was shere perfection.

Soba
Soba

Then the main course came: SOBA. Mister Muto serves soba seiro style, meaning that the cold noodles are presented on a bamboo tray next to the rest of the ingredients. And what should I say – the noodles were the shere idea of soba. Nutty, crunchy, earthy – the beauty of simplicity. Together with the incredibly intense sauce they were a wonderful meal. Again different raddishes gave additional complexity.

In the meantime two gentlemen had started eating opposite of me. I tried to eat the (rather long) noodles „european style“ as I’ve learned from my childhood on…making no noise. At some point the lady came to me, looked somehow pityful at me and said „no no no“. Looking back at her she said: „You have to make noise. Japanese style“ and showed me with gestures how to eat. This was maybe the most beautiful service experience ever 🙂 So I started so sip loudly. But compared to what the two gentlemen next to me did some minutes afterwards I was still…silent.

Dip sauce with soba cooking water
Dip sauce with soba cooking water

After finishing the soba themselves I was served a vessel with cooking water of soba noodles. The dip sauce together with the water were blended into a thick umami-bomb-soup. This soup, containing all the wonderful components of the main course, was everything toghether: A childhood meal, a warm soup on a cold day, the soup your mother gave you when you were sick, the meal you will have when being old. It was all together. Simple, pure beauty. This is the soup I will never ever forget.

Desert (red bean mousse with roasted nuts)
Desert (red bean mousse with roasted nuts)

The desert was very good too, nutty and light.

Visiting Muto soba was a wonderful experience. It was not only an unforgettable meal but also a very good experience of Japanese hospitality. When I left Mr. Muto greeted me, gave me his card (excusing that it is only in Japanese) and even shaked my hand – an act that I appreciated very much (normally Japanese people seem not to be comfortable with it). So thank you, Mr. Muto!