Tokyo neighbourhoods tend to change out of all recognition in just a few years. Buildings disappear to be quickly replaced by taller ones, shops and restaurants close and are superseded by new, trendier places. Especially in Omotesando, the most stylish area of them all.
We used to think we knew this area intimately, as we regularly dined out within the Omotesando-Harajuku-Shibuya triangle after work. Well, that was during the first time we lived in Tokyo. We did expect change while we were away, but it was still a bit of a shock to find almost every familiar place gone. That is probably one of the reasons why we love this soba restaurant that is comfortingly unchanged. The outside got a smart facelift, but that is all.
A colleague has recommended Semba many, many years ago as a reliable lunch spot serving an unusual kind of noodle — kurumisoba. To tell the truth, I had never even asked the real name of the restaurant until the other day, as the name of that dish was enough to identify it.
Kurumisoba means walnut soba. Buckwheet noodles with a cold dipping sauce made of creamed walnut meat and katsuodashi. The sauce is deep, strong and smooth, the nutty taste nicely balanced by the saltiness of the soysauce and the fish stock and I think some sake as well. The condiments are kept very simple: negi onion, wasabi and momijioroshi (grated daikon radish with red chili).
All the usual stuff is available, zarusoba, tenseiro, kitsune udon, even sets with half a portion of noodles and half of rice, but I have to confess I never had any of those. And I have never been here in the evening. I come here to eat lunch and to order one thing. It is that good.
Food: 8/10 (excellent)
Ambiance: 5/10 (OK)
Price-performance: 7/10 (good value)
Address: 4-4-7 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Tel: +81 (3) 5474-5977