After all the holiday overindulgence, what better way to start a new year than with noodles? They’re simple, wholesome, filling and, best of all, cheap. And none more so than the long, white, chunky, chewy wheat noodles known as Sanuki udon.
But wait, aren’t noodles, especially udon, too prosaic to be really auspicious, too old-school or (whisper it) boring to set the tone for the next 12 months? Not necessarily. And certainly not at Men Chirashi.
This stylish new udonya lies on a narrow alley among the boutiques and hip streetwear emporiums of Harajuku, away from the bustle of Meiji-dori yet out of sight of the meandering tourists on Cat Street. Men Chirashi is bright and welcoming, but it’s also — for the moment at least — a noodle joint by and for the locals and insiders.
You can’t miss it. Just look for the big yellow food truck parked outside. And, once you’re inside, take time to scan the interior. Tatami mats hanging vertically on the wall; skateboards and neon kanji characters; a little raised area with a kitsch retro window; smashed udon bowls glazed into the wall in front of the open kitchen: This is not your country cousin’s noodle counter.
But the udon at Men Chirashi is the real deal. You can watch it being made in front of your eyes: “Freshly rolled; freshly cut; freshly cooked” is the manifesto here. The rest of the menu hews to the same excellent template.
Tempura is the classic accompaniment for Sanuki udon, whether served as kake (in hot soup) or zaru (chilled with a dipping sauce on the side). Chikuwa (long fish cakes), geso (squid tentacles) and shrimp are traditional; there’s also a daily list of more unusual ingredients, from fruit tomato and Shimonita negi (leek) to shirako (cod milt).
But leave it to the crew at Men Chirashi to get inventive. Kamatama (hot noodles with a raw egg yolk) is now a standard. But kamatama-yama, the same with grated maru-imo yam on the side, is a slithery, slimy step into the unknown.
Adding bacon and Parmesan in place of the yam, they stray into Italian territory: Carbonara udon anyone? But where they really go to town is their deluxe (¥1,500) version made with Beurre Bordier, a wickedly rich, high-end French butter.
This creativity comes from Men Chirashi’s main instigator, chef and restaurant producer Shigeru Okada. He was the brains behind Delifucious, the designer fishburger joint in Nakameguro that was one of the hits of 2017. And he has more projects coming up soon, starting with that food truck out front.
The idea is to offer dashimaki tamago, omelet wrapped in hot dog buns. To get an idea of how good it’s going to be, you can already order the omelet — but only at dinner. That’s when Men Chirashi morphs from noodle shop to mellow izakaya (tavern) mode offering a good menu of small plates, both hot and cold, and enough drinks to encourage you to linger all evening.
Noodles from ¥450; tempura from ¥200; side dishes from ¥350; smoking permitted, except at lunch; Japanese menu; some English spoken
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5