I visited Kawakami-an Azabu (麻布 川上庵) for their famous soba but was even more impressed by their other dishes. This is a stylish izakaya for delicious and elegant Japanese food in Azabu-Juban.
Kawakami-an began as a soba shop in Karuizawa in Nagano prefecture which is a famous buckwheat growing region. The rich soil in its highlands are perfectly suited for growing buckwheat which is then ground and mixed with fresh, clean water from Nagano’s many mountains, and now you can taste this simple yet incredibly aromatic soba in Tokyo. Kawakami-an has two locations in Tokyo: Azabu Juban and Aoyama.
The soba can be served hot or cold and there are several dipping sauces. Half portions are also possible. I had the Kamo-Seiro Soba, served cold and paired with hot wild duck broth. The soba noodles were al dente with a rich, earthy flavour and the broth was very flavourful - I can understand why their soba dishes are so popular. The only let down was the duck meat which had been pan fried and sat in the hot broth for a bit too long so it was quite dry. Update: On my second visit (see below) - I had the Kurumi soba with a walnut dipping sauce and that really impressed me!
However, I quickly got over the disappointment when the Kamo-tataki (seared wild duck loin) arrived. The flesh was tender and full of flavour. Next came the Umaki (Japanese omelette with eel and green onion) - I love Japanese omelette and eel so I am a bit biased but this was so juicy and just melted in my mouth (I just wish there was more eel in the omelette)! Another dish I was super excited for was the Wagyu-Hasami-Age - tempura of wagyu beef sandwiched between two pieces of lotus root. I enjoyed this a lot - the wagyu was tender and sweet and the lotus provided a nice crunch. I haven't had a bad daikon in Japan and am happy to report that the Furofuki Daikon (stewed daikon with soba-miso sauce) was also delicious.
Finally, I had the catalana for dessert. This is similar to creme-brulee, with the same caramelized top, but this was frozen and had a rich butter-like texture. It was a bit too heavy for my personal liking but it was nevertheless a very satisfying ending to an amazing meal at Kawakami-an. As delicious as the soba was, the variety and consistent quality of other Japanese dishes was the most memorable part of the meal. I cannot wait to go back to eat the wagyu-lotus tempura again, try their soba with walnut dipping sauce and other dishes!
Update March 2019:
My 2nd visit to Kawakami-an was long overdue. I was in the Azabu area on Sunday, hungry for some noodles, and almost on autopilot, I found myself in this elegant dining room again.
Lunch course A (most basic out of the three available courses) began with four appetisers that definitely whetted my appetite: (1) fresh sashimi and salad; (2) tofu (with some earthy/nutty flavour from buckwheat); (3) daikon with the lovely soba-miso sauce (from the a la carte menu, this was good as I remembered!) and (4) a Japanese vinegary/seaweed mixture (refreshing palate cleanser).
The main was seasonal vegetable tempura with a choice of soba - I opted for their famous Kurumi-dare seiro: cold soba served with special walnut dipping sauce. The soba was perfectly cooked (slurp able, slightly chewy) but the walnut dipping sauce was the star and really took the dish to the next level. The sauce was creamy and nutty and brought out the earthiness of the noodles and gave it more richness. I had some sauce left over and added some sobayu (literally 'hot soba water' - the water used to cook the soba, restaurant typically provides this at the end) to drink the rest like soup! If I could only choose one soba to try at Kawakami-an, I would choose this walnut dipping sauce one over the duck soba I had last time (however they can do half portions so you can try both ;)). The vegetable tempura (sweet potato, extra juicy eggplant and mushroom, green capsicum) was lovely and a great accompaniment to the noodles.
I was very full at this point but made room for this simple dessert of Annin doufu (杏仁豆腐) with tea. This is a popular Japanese dessert also known as “almond tofu” which is a soft, jellied dessert made of apricot kernel milk and sugar (so despite the translation, it dos not contain almond milk nor soybeans). It is creamy (think silky tofu texture), sweet but not too heavy so a great way to end a very filling and satisfying lunch.
A la carte menu is also available at lunch but the lunch course is superb value at JPY1,800 (+ tax), considering the soba on its own costs JPY 1,260. I arrived at 12:30pm on a Sunday and got one of the few remaining seats. Despite a full house, service was efficient and attentive. When I left, there was a queue of 10-12 people outside so I recommend booking or coming 12-12:30pm on the weekends.
Nearest metro: Azabu-Juban
English menu available (Japanese menu online here)
Lunch sets for ~JPY2,000. Dinner ~JPY3,000-4,000 pp (excluding drinks).
Walk-in's possible but may need to wait at peak times and weekends.
Naomi's favourite dishes: Wagyu-Hasami-Age, Umaki and Soba with walnut dipping sauce.
Great for: date nights, group dinners, all-round Japanese cuisine
Last visited: March 2019, July 2018