In 2015, Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta shocked the culinary world when it received a Michelin star – the first ramen shop to do so. A couple of things have changed since that fateful day: the shop moved from its humble roots in traditional Sugamo, known for its old-school aesthetic and elderly population, to trendy Yoyogi-Uehara, an upscale neighbourhood where you’ll find boulangeries side-by-side with boutiques. Second, in 2020, Tsuta lost the Michelin star that turned its ramen into a household name.
Tsuta was, and still is, innovative in its ramen game. In a land of curly noodles swimming in heavy, pork-based broths, Tsuta’s bowls are surprisingly light and complex. Rather than using usual ramen ingredients, Chef Yuki Onishi incorporates ingredients from all over the world inspired by his favourite dishes, ramen or not.
Soy sauce ramen (¥1,300) is the signature bowl here and, even at its most basic, it packs a punch. You’ll immediately smell the truffle oil wafting off the umami-rich soup when the server brings the bowl to your table. Sure, you can splurge ¥3,550 for a bowl topped with shaved truffle, but, the simple truffle oil-topped soy sauce ramen is just enough without overpowering the other flavours. The pork, topped with a balsamic vinegar sauce, is melt-in-your-mouth tender; plus, the sauce gives the chicken, clam and seafood-based broth a slightly tart aftertaste – a delightful contrast to the truffle’s richness.
Another winner is the salt ramen (¥1,300). Unlike the soy sauce bowl, the base of the salt ramen broth is chicken and salmon. From the very first sip, you’ll note the truffle flavour and as it fades away, the rich saltiness of the salmon comes through, a layered complexity rare in ramen broth. The salt ramen is topped with mizuna greens and tender chashu pork covered in pepper, a lighter meal perfect for warm days.
Break out of your ramen comfort zone with the rosso (¥1,900), a hearty Italian twist on ramen. This roasted tomato ramen, which shares the same broth base as the soy sauce ramen, has a spicy kick that won’t burn off your taste buds. The bulk of the bowl is made up of A5 wagyu minced beef and tripe – a ramen version of the meat lover’s special.
At Yoyogi-Uehara, Tsuta is a decidedly upscale version of a regular neighbourhood ramen joint. The coat hangers are Saint Laurent, wine is on offer and a suited server comes around to take your order. The ticket vending machine and strange queueing system of Tsuta’s days of yore are both long gone. While it definitely detracts from the ambiance – any ramen fan knows the best bowls come from tiny, ramshackle venues – all that matters is the novel ramen that shot Tsuta into fame. Just get there in the late afternoon, or check the shop’s Twitter (Japanese only), to avoid the horrendously long queues.