Naka-Meguro: Udon
Buzenbo (Naka-Meguro: Udon)
Open 11:45am-2:30, 7pm-2am daily.
late: Open late
Sun: Open Sundays

At first glance this elegant space looks like a typical cafe - artful ikebana arrangements on eight white tables for two, a small counter, and Bossa Nova music playing softly in the background. So it may come as a surprise to learn that they offer more than just good espresso; you'll also find some excellent Kyushu-style udon noodles.

The udon here is made according to an exacting recipe - the broth contains only dried sardines (iriko) from Saeki in Kyushu, and kombu (kelp) from Hidaka in Hokkaido. No chemical seasonings are added. Especially recommended is the popular namesake dish, Buzenbo Udon. Hot noodles are topped with shredded kombu, fried fish balls and deep-fried tofu, and the flavor is simply exquisite. The rough-cut noodles have full body, but a softer texture than typical udon. The combination of noodles, broth and shredded kombu topping is perfectly balanced, and may prove to be addictive.

If you'd like a little extra spice you can try adding some black chili pepper from Kyoto. Or try the "pirikara niku udon" (spicy meat udon), where the noodles are topped with a hefty portion of garlicky sauteed Matsuzaka beef, onions and green peppers. If you're in the mood for cold noodles, the "ume oroshi udon" (cold udon with shredded daikon radish and plum) is also fantastic.

One great thing about Buzenbo is that the a la carte dishes match the high quality of their noodles. The grilled free-range chicken and itawasa (fishcakes with wasabi) are well above average, and the atsuyaki tamago (rolled omelette) is as good as what you'll find in the best of Tokyo's established traditional soba and udon restaurants.

The tableware is elegant as well - udon is served in Arita ware, and shochu (your choice of ten varieties) comes in beautiful Edo kiriko cut-glass vessels. Chinese almond jelly is the only dessert, but it goes surprisingly well with espresso.

Buzenbo attracts a diverse range of customers - you might see a lone female diner, perhaps a worker at one of the trendy shops nearby, enjoying a meal next to a lively party of ladies in their fifties. The cafe is open till 2am, and dinner without drinks generally runs around Y1600-2000. Udon prices are lower at lunchtime, and the noodles are served with takikomi gohan of the day (rice with seasonal ingredients). With their reasonable prices, high quality and comfortable atmosphere, it might be tempting to move to Naka-Meguro just to be able to eat here all the time.

Buzenbo is about a 10-minute walk from Nakameguro station. Walk down Yamanote-dori towards Ikejiri-Ohashi, and turn left at the corner of the Meguro Higashiyama Ichi Post Office.

by Hikaru Okabe
Meguro-ku, Higashiyama 1-11-15.
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Venue listing from Bento.com4 Star Rating: recommended