If you are looking for a healthy and rejuvenating start to a Sunday or to enjoy quality time with friends and family away from the hustle and bustle of manic Tokyo, look no further than an idyllic lunch at Toufuya Ukai.
Toufuya Ukai is located adjacent to the historic Shiba-Koen at the foot of Tokyo Tower, a 5 min stroll from Akabanebashi station on the Toei Oedo line. As you come out of the Akabanebashi exit, the first thing that catches your eye would be the resplendent Tokyo Tower. Resist the temptation to whip out your camera at this point as the view gets better each step closer.
Toufuya Ukai is set in an oasis of stone and wood buildings quite like the ones in the Edo era. Once within the inner compound, I found myself in a Japanese garden that exuded a certain aura of tranquility and elegance, hauntingly beautiful on a wintry morning.
As I approached the reception desk in the main building, I was greeted by kimono-clad staff (some English spoken, phew!) and ushered through the maze-like corridors to the dining room. On the way, my host pointed to a giant wooden sake press and told me they brew their own sake.
Toufuya Ukai offers a seasonal choice of tofu kaiseki starting from 5,500 yen for lunch and 8,400 yen for dinner. The difference between the 5,500 yen Take lunch set and the 6,500 yen Matsu lunch set is an additional course of grilled Spanish mackerel seasoned in yuzu for the latter. Remembering my objective of a healthy start to the day and that Toufuya Ukai is a tofu restaurant after all, I picked the Take. For my main course, I chose their house specialty Tousui Tofu (tofu in seasoned soy milk) over the Okina Tofu (kelp soup with tofu).
Of my eight-course lunch, I was most fond of the Age Dengaku and the Tousui Tofu.
The Age Dengaku is a couple of thin squares of deep-fried tofu lightly grilled over charcoal and basted with a sweet miso sauce. The tofu is freshly prepared in the thatched house in the center of the inner garden, visible from where I sat. The tofu was crispy yet light to the bite and left me want for more.
The Tousui Tofu is an impressive nabe (hot pot) of smooth tofu in a steaming soup of soy milk, accompanied by condiments of konbu (kelp) strips and a special soy sauce. My host recommended I eat the tofu on its own in my first tasting, with konbu added in the second and with soy sauce in the third. Accustomed to soybean curd in sweet soy milk back at home, I was pleasantly surprised by the fragrant and savoury taste of the soy milk. I liked the tofu unadulterated best while the konbu added a subtle sweetness to the tofu and milk. As the soy milk soup has been prepared with a generous amount of dashi stock, I recommend going easy on the soy sauce. I think the Tousui Tofu is the dish that did it for me, simply delicious.
Overall, I found the experience a pleasing combination of good food and impeccable service set in an elegant and tranquil environment. That the tofu is of such exceptional quality is no surprise at all. I learned that Toufuya Ukai produces their own tofu in Owadamachi in the foothills of the Okutama mountains from beans grown in Hokkaido. The tofu is made and delivered daily.
Tokyo Shiba Toufuya Ukai
Shiba-Koen, Minato, Tokyo 105-0011, Japan