This is the fourth post in the extended Japan Series 2018. Other posts in this series include Totoro, Fall Foliage, and Tofu Kaiseki , Potsura Potsura - Japanese modern izakaya, and Sushi Ya with Takao Ishiyama plus new Sushi Ishiyama
At the foot of Tokyo tower lies an unlikely oasis tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Nestled inside a stunning Japanese garden complete with a tiny stream, bridge, and perfectly manicured trees, Tokyo Shiba Tofuya Ukai is a Japanese kaiseki restaurant that specializes in tofu, one of my favorite foods in the world. The tofu is homemade using specially chosen high quality soy beans and spring water.
Entering this oasis feels like a trip back in time. You are whisked away into the Edo period, experiencing what Tokyo was like 200 years ago. The buildings reflect the era, and the servers all wear traditional dress.
The restaurant is located inside of a 200 year old sake brewery (transplanted here from Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture) within a samurai-era merchant's residence. The building is huge, with 55 rooms, and seats over 500 people. Most rooms are private tatami rooms, although there is at least one larger room with several tables, useful for small parties or solo diners like me who don't need a whole private room.
The focus on high quality and impeccable service is characteristic of the Ukai group, who run three other well-known restaurants in Tokyo, including the fantastic Ukai-Tei Teppanyaki in Omotesando (where we had some of the best beef we've ever had).
There are three tasting menu from which to choose: the Hana (JPY 10,800), the Tsuki (JPY 13,500) and the Shiba Tokubetsu Kaiseki (JPY 16,200). All include the restaurant's signature homemade tofu, the star of the show. The latter two menus also include grilled Wagyu beef, and the most expensive menu includes additional premium ingredients, such as higher quality Wagyu, ayu fish, and unagi (eel). I chose the "Hana" menu because I wanted something a bit lighter and didn't feel the need for beef.
I wanted to focus on the tofu.
The meal started with an assortment of appetizers. Inside of a hollowed out lemon rind were pickles topped with salmon roe.
This perfectly fried rice cracker coated scallop was excellent.
A single salmon nigiri sushi came wrapped in a leaf. It was lovely, and probably the first time I have ever had salmon sushi in a restaurant in Tokyo (most high-end sushi places never serve salmon because it is not local).
After the appetizers, we moved onto our first course, two flattened pieces of deep fried tofu with a dark miso sauce.
Next up we had a few slices of sashimi, which were average at best (compared to the high-end sushi places in Tokyo). Next came steamed yam and surf clam, which was fine but did not blow me away.
THIS, on the other hand, was phenomenal. The warm homemade tofu served in a dashi-seasoned soy milk is their signature dish, and deservedly so. The dashi added a fantastic depth to the soy broth, and the tofu itself was so delicate and smooth. Despite the rest of the meal up to this point being only OK, this was stellar.and made it so worth it.
The next course, a grilled, braised, and deep fried pork, Shiba style, was delicious as well.
My last savory course was grilled red snapper on seasoned rice. Ha ha, unfortunately I forgot to photograph it, so all I can show you is this short video I took, probably for Instagram Stories at the time.
Dessert was simple, a slice of sweet persimmon.
The surrounding garden is beautiful and zen-like. I took my time wandering the area after my meal just to take enjoy it at my own pace.
It was a refreshing chance to get away from the crowded hustle and bustle of Tokyo and just be still for a moment.
After spending a good 15 minutes in the garden, I finally stepped out into the real world, where I heard laughter, chatter, and saw numerous couples taking selfies with the Tokyo Tower. I very much enjoyed my time of solitude in the garden, but at the same time, I welcomed the diversity and energy that define this amazing city.
General Thoughts - Tokyo Shiba Tofuya Ukai
I love tofu in Japan, and I haven't had such good tofu since my magical tofu kaiseki experience in Kyoto. The grounds are beautiful here, the service is excellent, and the tofu is unforgettable. The rest of my tasting menu was fine, although it did not blow me away. It's possible that a more expensive tasting menu would have impressed me more. Sometimes I think I gravitate too quickly towards the smaller tasting menus because I don't eat much, not taking into account the fact that the nicest ingredients often only come with the larger, more expensive menus. It's unfortunate that the tasting menu world works that way (for smaller eaters such as I), but thus is the reality.
I loved the tofu here and I would still be willing to come back just for that course. The combination of the unusual location, the excellent service, and the stunning environment complete with a Samurai-era house and exquisite Japanese gardens makes this still a very worthy place to visit overall.
Tokyo Shiba Tofuya Ukai
4 Chome-4-1-3 Shibakoen
Minato, Tokyo 105-0011, Japan