We have found Yagenbori a few years ago, walking down a side alley near Akasaka. It is one of the Tokyo branches of a well-known Kyoto restaurant chain. And altough we have had an excellent dinner here once, Yagenbori remains for us a lunch spot. Somehow, we never think of this place as a possible candidate for an evening out. Perhaps it was slightly too expensive compared to other favorites in the area that serve similar quality.
Lunch, however, is quite a different matter and offers excellent value. There are three options, each for the same price, 1050 yen. These do not change, or only slightly with seasonal adjustments.
- yudofu (silky boiled tofu),
- dashimaki tamago (egg omelette cooked with fish stock),
- tororo (mountain yam) mixed with small pieces of raw fish,
accompanied by rice, red miso soup and a large plate of mixed Kyoto pickles. Best to come as a group, order all three and share.
There is one large tatami room at the front, that can be reserved for a group. Last january, we filled it with visiting friends who are, incidentally, vegetarians. This is tricky in Japan, as dashi, a delicate, transparent fish stock, is present in almost every dish. Yudofu is a safe bet though, as the sauce (flavoured dashi) is never mixed with the tofu in advance and you can ask the chef to substitute plain soy sauce.
Apart from the food, another reason we like to lunch at Yagenbori is the atmosphere of old Japan. Tatami mats on the floor, hanging scrolls on the walls, traditionally dressed waitresses, nice pottery and wooden buckets for rice. The entrance, with the tiniest of gardens, is a rare sight nowadays in Akasaka and makes us feel sad for the way the area is changing. The ryotei type of fine, old restaurants that a friend told us he still remembers from a few decades back are all but gone and every year a new, multi-storey bar or large pachinko parlour goes up.
Arrive early at lunch time, as the place fills up by the stroke of twelve. Strangely enough, practically all the guests are female, just as of course are all the waitresses, while the chefs behind the counter are male. Groups of women from the nearby offices or girlfriends meeting for lunch seem to make up the clientele. Only rarely have we seen an other mixed couple. Perhaps tofu, eggs and pickles, with no large piece of meat or fish, are not considered filling enough for male appetite? With as much rice as you can eat, this is hardly the case. Their loss. Even if there is something feminine about this dainty lunch set, I would not hesitate to recommend it to everyone.
Food: 8/10 (excellent)
Ambiance: 9/10 (outstanding)
Price-performance: 9/10 (amazingly good value for lunch)
Address: 3-19-5 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo Tel: +81 (3) 3528-2270