Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

Ginzasa: Washoku refinement, noodle simplicity

by Robbie Swinnerton

Contributing Writer

Ramen with refinement? These days it’s no contradiction in terms. Yes, we all love the classic style of rāmenya, towel-around-the-brow artisan honesty and steaming vats of meaty, fat-flecked broth. But Ginzasa takes a very different direction.

Certainly, when it first opened more than eight years ago, Ginzasa (“Silver Bamboo Grass”) flew in the face of prevailing ramen orthodoxy. For a start, it sports chic bistro decor, all black walls with red accents, and has jazz playing on the sound system. Even more unusually, the kitchen is entirely out of sight, with no counter where you can sit and watch your bowl being prepared.

But it’s the noodles that really set Ginzasa apart. Or rather, the clear broth they bathe in. It’s made from classic dashi ingredients — konbu kelp, katsuobushi (cured skipjack tuna) and niboshi (dried baby sardines) — blended with the standard ramen soup base of chicken and pork bones. The result is full-bodied but delicate, as light as the suimono (clear soups) served in washoku (traditional Japanese) restaurants, yet robust enough to support the noodles.

The ramen and tsukemen (dipping noodles) are both available in two iterations, either shio (salt) or shiro shōyu (clear soy sauce). Besides the usual menma (bamboo shoots) and chāshū pork — here a fine slice seared an appetizing golden brown — you’ll also find your soup includes a couple of excellent tsumire (fish balls) made from tai (sea bream), the noblest of Japanese fish.

It’s the little touches that make Ginzasa so distinctive. The noodles are garnished with mizuna (Japanese mustard greens) and white negi (Welsh onion), and topped with strands of dark red ito-tōgarashi (shredded chili pepper). On the side, a small saucer holds toasted seaweed and tiny cubes of charred garlic, to add an extra umami counterpoint.

From the oshibori towel offered as you sit down, to the pots of chilled mugicha (barley tea) on the table in front of you, this is clearly an operation that’s sprung from the mind of a trained Japanese chef. And so it turns out: Ginzasa’s master, Takahiro Sasanuma, worked at high-end washoku restaurants for some 25 years before opening here in late 2010.

Nowhere is this influence more apparent than in the rice he offers. Instead of plain white rice, as served at so many ramen shops, Sasanuma’s house special is tai-meshi, rice cooked with flakes of fresh sea bream. It’s the kind of dish served at exclusive kaiseki (traditional multicourse) restaurants — including the one where he used to work, just around the corner from Ginzasa.

Now you’ll understand why his ramen bowls have a lip on one side. It’s so you can pour the last of your broth over your tai-meshi. This is his rāmenya take on chazuke, the traditional practice of drenching your rice with hot tea or dashi broth.

As with the noodles themselves, those who prefer their flavors big and bold and meaty may be underwhelmed by Sasanuma’s signature dish. But few would contest that Ginzasa is serving some of the most refined and sophisticated ramen in the city.

Ginza 8-15-2, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061; 03-3543-0280; open 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 5:30-10 p.m., closed Sun. & hols.; ramen ¥880, tsukemen ¥920, rice ¥170, tai-meshi from ¥200; nearest stations Shiodome, Shinbashi; cash only; nonsmoking; English menu; little English spoken