A spare hour or so in the mid-afternoon and I'm hungry. The lunch break is over and most restaurants have their doors shut. No worries — they stick to a more traditional rhythm at the city's classic soba houses. It's a great chance to get over to one of my all-time favourite places in Tokyo, the wonderful bucolic Kanda Yabu Soba.
The advantage to arriving outside of regular eating hours is that you have the pick of the seats. I like to install myself on the raised zashiki area, sitting cross-legged on the simple zabuton cushions.
The garden is beautiful at this time of year and, apart from a group of old boys having a leisurely boozy reunion lunch in the other part of the dining room (the section with tables and chairs), I have the place to myself.
To start, a small Yebisu: these small (334 ml) bottles are just perfect for the middle of the day. I love the soba-miso, a dark rich sticky savory mix containing nutty roasted buckwheat groats and specks of tangy ginger, which is served (gratis) with your drink.
And then a couple of ippin snacks: you can't beat the ai-yaki (slices of duck breast grilled with negi)...
... and then a serving of anago tempura, in classic Edomae style.
This is not "gourmet" soba. Yabu just serves its noodles the way it always has, hand-rolled and chopped, with no fuss or foodie pretensions. Ditto with the side dishes, they're not "fine", they're honest.
If I want genteel tradition I'll go down to Kyoto. What's so great about Yabu Soba is its no-nonsense Edokko character. That and the fact that it feels like it exists in a time warp, an oasis of low-rise old-time charm in a city that's already turned its back on the 20th century.
I try to get over to Yabu Soba as often as I can — especially around the New Year (when it boasts splendid decorations) — though recently I consider myself lucky if I make it more than once a blue moon.