It would be easy to breeze past the understated exterior of soba restaurant Takama without ever realizing what’s inside, but that would be unfortunate — especially if you like soba. Michelin-starred Takama is located on the same street that leads into Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai, one of Japan’s — if not Asia’s — longest covered arcades, and home to all sorts of miscellany (and a fair share of junk). Takama, on the other hand, keeps its focus narrow, serving only two types of soba: The first is mori, regular-style soba made from marunuki flour, and the second is inaka, a more robust noodle made with hikigurumi (whole buckwheat flour). Both options are made with high-quality flour from Fukui Prefecture.
The dining area of Takama is about the size of a Japanese living room with just one main table — a beautiful chunk of yakusugi cedar that seats 10 diners — with a smaller table tucked in an alcove near the entrance. The simple furnishings and vases of flowers give Takama a homey feeling, complemented by unhurried staff who are all from the same family.
I didn’t make a reservation on a recent visit, and arrived to find a line of half a dozen people ahead of me, well before the restaurant had opened. This is normal for Takama, as is the line of people waiting outside to take your place when you’ve finished eating.
In my experience, this pressure normally leads to an atmosphere of anxiety and impatience but, oddly enough, on the day I visited everyone seemed cheerful, even those who were turned away.
Despite offering only two types of soba there is a lot on offer, both from the set menus and the a la carte menu, which features nonsoba treats such as ayu kanroni (sweetened boiled sweet fish), hotaru-ika okizuke (firefly squid pickled in vinegar, sake and soy sauce) as well as staples such as dashimaki-tamago (rolled omelet). I recommend Takama’s take on yaki-miso, which combines grated leeks and buckwheat seeds with miso paste on a wooden ladle. I also tried the tofu no misozuke (¥520), tofu that has been pickled in miso for six months imbuing it with a pungent kick — it most definitely gives tofu a new character, the result resembles crumbly and moist Wensleydale cheese. This tofu transformation can be an acquired taste, so it’s worth having a beer or a cup of tea on hand.
For the soba dishes, which are served hot or cold, you can choose between the mori and inaka types. For those in a hurry (Takama opens only at lunch time) try your chosen soba served cold zaru-style, in a basket with a delicately sweet dipping sauce on the side. Myōga oroshi soba, cold soba served with slices of Japanese ginger is another popular dish.
With more time to spare, I opted for the ebiten-oroshi soba set (¥2,000), a lunch of cold soba served in an ornate basket with an assortment of vegetables and prawns cooked in tempura batter — it was hearty and delicious. Soba at Takama is an affordable luxury.