Few visitors to Asakusa venture beyond the shops and temple precincts around Sensoji. But for aficionados of artisan noodles, the grid of backstreets tucked away behind the mighty temple holds an extra attraction: Kyotei Daikokuya, a quaint little soba restaurant that many consider among the best in the city.
It looks like a time capsule from decades past. It has an old-style wooden sign at the door, shrubs and akebi vines covering much of its facade and a narrow dining room with wooden pillars, tatami mats (with leg-wells) and ikebana in a tokonoma alcove.
Daikokuya’s owner/noodle-master, Shigeo Sugano, prepares everything himself. He grinds the buckwheat (some of it grown in his own fields) in a traditional hand-powered stone mill, then forms the flour into dough, rolls it out and chops it into delicate strands with a wonderful flavor that captures the nutty, wholesome aroma of the grain.
At lunch, he makes just 14 servings of these noodles; at dinner only enough for those who have reservations. He also offers a small range of simple side dishes, from tempura to tamago-yaki omelet and even seafood nabe hot-pots — plus a good selection of premium sake (reasonably priced from ¥700).
Don’t arrive at Daikokuya expecting to quickly slurp and run: This is slow-food soba. It’s a place to sit back and savor not just Sugano’s noodles but the sense of craftsmanship and quality that underpins all the finest Japanese cuisine.
Kyotei Daikokuya, 4-39-2 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3874-2986. Open noon- 2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.; closed Sun., also Mon. lunch. Nearest station: Asakusa (various lines). Japanese menu only. Credit cards not accepted.