tokyo shiba tofuya-ukai
I adore tofu, especially that of the fresh handmade variety. So when I heard about a tofu kaiseki restaurant near Tokyo Tower, I knew I had to go. It was cherry blossom season back in April and the pathway leading to Tokyo Shiba Tofuya-Ukai was lined with breath-taking sakura trees resplendent with pink blooms.
At the entrance we were greeted by traditionally garbed waitresses, one of whom led us through the lush stone-paved gardens to our tatami room (all diners are given their own private space).
On the way we passed the restaurant shop stocked with a wide variety of bean curd products, all made on-site, and a chef grilling aburaage (deep-fried tofu) for one of their signature dishes.
We were given a choice of lunch sets ranging from ¥5500 (£45) to ¥10500 (£85) – each consisted of 8 courses, with the price variations reflected in the ingredients. I went with the most expensive, the Tsuki set, which opened with a trio of Grilled Bamboo Shoot and Rape Blossoms, Sea Bream Sushi in Sakura Leaves, and Vinegared Mozuku Seaweed with Surf Clam.
Next came the Deep-fried Tofu with Sweet Miso we saw being prepared earlier. It was incredible – soft yet crisp and so light, with a lovely charred aroma. A scant brushing of miso imparted a deep complex sweetness, which was balanced by the freshness of spring onion slivers.
I enjoyed the delicate flavour of the soothing Cod and Pea Soup but the green chewy mochi-like dumplings were a bit bland for my liking.
A small Sashimi selection, served with grated wasabi, was fresh but nothing spectacular.
Clam and Sea Urchin was more memorable – the creamy lobe of uni a nice contrast to the meaty clam beneath.
Tofu in Seasoned Soy Milk, another house special, was served table-side to us by the waitress from a large clay pot.
The simple preparation really let the quality of the tofu shine – smooth and silky on the tongue, its subtle taste enhanced by the faint savouriness of the steaming soy milk.
Grilled Red Tilefish was fine, but paled in comparison.
Soy Milk Jelly with Azuki Beans and Strawberries made a pleasing end – the quivering milky cube a great canvas for the rich sweet red beans.
I had expected a higher ratio of tofu dishes on the menu, and it’s such a shame the star ingredient doesn’t feature more prominently as the two bean curd offerings were clear standouts with the rest being pretty pedestrian as kaisekis go. It was a lovely experience nevertheless, thanks in no small part to the picturesque setting, and I’d definitely recommend it as a lunch venue, especially during sakura or maple season when the gardens are particularly beautiful. Perhaps opt for one of the cheaper sets – don’t worry, they all include both signature tofu dishes so you won’t miss out!
Tokyo Shiba Tofuya-Ukai
t. +81 (0)3 3436 1028