It takes more than just patience, persistence and a willingness to wait in line if you want to eat at Ginza Hachigo. Precision planning is needed. An alarm clock would come in handy too. Your goal: one of the most unusual — and outrageously excellent — bowls of ramen anywhere in Tokyo.
In the two years since this discreet, refined, six-seater noodle counter opened on the fringes of Higashi-Ginza, it has soared from an insiders’ word-of-mouth favorite to media prominence, hence the inevitable lines around the block. All for a simple bowl? Not quite: In fact, it comes with a long and fascinating backstory that adds extra spice to the slurping.
Ginza Hachigo did not spring out of nowhere, nor did owner-chef Yasushi Matsumura. He already had two popular ramen shops under his belt. First, in 2015, came Chukasoba Katsumoto, near Suidobashi Station, serving an updated version of classic Tokyo-style shoyu ramen. Less than a year later, he opened Kanda Katsumoto in Jinbocho, specializing in tsukemen (dipping noodles).
What makes this success story unusual is that Matsumura was already well into his 50s when he embarked on his ramen career. He’d never before worked in Tokyo, and had spent 36 years working in French cuisine, rising to become head chef of the signature restaurant in the now ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel Kyoto.
This change of culinary course is remarkable enough. But at Hachigo he has taken a further radical step by ignoring — some might say breaking — one of the unwritten rules of ramen. Conventionally, there are two components to the soup: the basic broth, usually cooked down from one or more of pork, chicken or seafood; and tare, the concentrated sauce that supplies the sodium savor. Matsumura does it differently.
Drawing from his background in classic French cuisine, he prepares his broth from Nagoya Cochin chicken, duck and shellfish, along with dried tomatoes, dried shiitake mushrooms, konbu and kujo negi, an heirloom Kyoto long, green onion the size of a small leek. And in place of tare, he adds umami-rich prosciutto and Guerande sea salt from France to impart the requisite saline depth.
The result is superb. The amber-gold, clear broth that bathes the long, straight noodles is simultaneously light, rich and deeply complex, with only the barest glister of oil across the surface of the bowl. If you find yourself scooping it up with your renge (ramen spoon) to the very last drop, be assured you will not be the first to do so.
On top of this, he carefully positions chāshū pork — a couple of slices, just as meltingly juicy and flavorful as you’d expect — lightly accented with pepper. To one side he places strands of menma (bamboo shoot). And in the center, as garnish, a small mound of finely slivered kujo negi greens. For a further ¥100, he will add a perfect, golden-yolked ramen egg.
This is the Hachigo ramen, and it’s a thing of beauty to the eye as much as the palate. No extra condiments or sauces are provided or needed. And it will only set you back ¥850. If you’re ravenous, you’d do well to order a large serving (¥100 extra) or a side order of rice. Beer is available — Yebisu in the bottle — but it seems superfluous, an unnecessary diversion of focus and flavor.
Everything about Hachigo is refined, from the old-school chefs’ whites that Matsumura and his sidekicks wear to the greeting, service and ambiance. You don’t talk loudly here. In fact, all you hear is the sound of discreet slurping and sighs of satisfaction.
So how do you access this excellence? Since October, Hachigo has started handing out tickets (for a deposit of ¥1,000; a maximum six per person) for allotted dining times. This happens from 9 a.m. for lunch, and 4 p.m. for dinner. Be warned, the line for tickets forms well ahead of time.
While you wait, you can ponder on the name: Hachigo is written with the kanji characters for “eight” and “five,” and chef Matsumura is on record as saying that it comes from the diminutive size of his dining room, just 8.5 tsubo (a size equivalent to 18 tatami mats or about 28 square meters). It may be no coincidence, therefore, that he set the basic price of his ramen at ¥850.
This time last year, Ginza Hachigo was awarded a Bib Gourmand in the Michelin Guide Tokyo 2020. If it goes one better in the next edition — announcement expected tomorrow (Dec. 7) — few people will be surprised. But the extra publicity that follows is likely to mean you will have to set your alarm clock even earlier.
Open 11 a.m. until sold out, 5 p.m. until sold out (check Twitter for exact timings); ramen from ¥850; takeout not available; English menu; some English spoken
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