Speciality soba shops are rare in Singapore. After all, it is a time-consuming process to turn out the freshly made buckwheat noodles, which are fragile and can break easily.
Luckily for soba lovers, Tokyo Soba on the ground level of Icon Village in Tanjong Pagar has been doling out bowls of these Japanese noodles to a steady stream of regulars since July last year.
Although its appearance on Singapore's shores is recent, the eatery’s first outlet in Tokyo’s bustling Nihonbashi central business district has been around for 12 years. Just like Singapore’s bak chor mee and nasi padang, soba to the Japanese is an everyday favourite.
Known as Yomoda Soba in Japan, the company has two other outlets — one in Ginza, Tokyo and another within Nagoya JR Station, Aichi Prefecture. Singapore is its first overseas outpost — and the recipes used here are the same as its original outlet in Tokyo.
For those seeking good food and an authentic experience, here’s how Tokyo Soba will transport you to Japan.
Tokyo Soba has a minimalist interior with wood finishes. The Singapore outpost has space for just 20, at tables along a brick-patterned wall and along a wooden counter facing the open kitchen.
In this intimate setting, one is never far from the action in the kitchen, where the Japanese chefs banter in their lingo and the sizzling, bubbling and mouthwatering aromas are very much a part of the lively ambience.
It is hardly a surprise, then, that about 60 per cent of Tokyo Soba’s regular clients are Japanese, perhaps appreciating its comforting familiarity. Other regulars comprise expatriates and Singaporeans.
#2 Culinary talent
Tokyo Soba’s Japanese head chef has over 35 years of culinary experience, and is especially skilled at making the various tempura offerings served with the soba noodles.
Frying impeccable tempura is an art: the oil has to be the correct temperature and the batter must be prepared with care, right down to the tempura oil and flour, which the head chef personally sources for and imports directly from Japan.
Thus, Tokyo Soba’s tempura is delicately crisp on the outside yet fluffy and soft within, with no oily aftertaste or mouthfeel.
#3 The soup base
Soup stock can make or break a dish, and that is why Tokyo Soba places so much emphasis on making it well.
Its soup base (dashi) is made fresh at the outlet every day with dried bonito flakes (katsuo bushi), dried fish and kelp (konbu) imported from Japan. The tasty and clear broth, which does not contain MSG, has a satisfyingly savoury taste, described by Japanese as "umami".
To this soup base, an aged mixture of soya sauce, sweet sake and sugar called kaeshi is added. Tokyo Soba’s kaeshi is specially made in Japan. The result is a deeply flavoured yet mild soup that is the perfect balance of salty and sweet.
#4 The noodles
Perfect soba noodles are al dente, firm yet flexible with a good bite, springy and smooth with a nutty fragrance. They can be served in a hot or cold broth.
Tokyo Soba’s noodles are made fresh daily from 80 per cent imported buckwheat flour and 20 per cent wheat flour. As buckwheat is a wholegrain, the noodles have a low Glycaemic Index (GI) score. Low GI carbohydrates cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose levels.
These healthy strands are nutritious, as buckwheat is high in dietary fibre and contains thiamine (vitamin B1), which is not present in white rice.
To maintain the same high standard as in Japan, Tokyo Soba uses a high-tech noodle-making machine that can churn out skeins of noodles in just 20 seconds. It can also make thin Sanuki-style udon — bouncy wheat noodles that are exclusive to the Singapore menu. By doing so, it ensures that all noodles served are at an optimum freshness.
#5 The toppings
Integral to a hearty bowl of soba is its toppings, which is why Tokyo Soba’s menu offers a good variety at affordable prices.
Meat lovers will enjoy the Tonkatsu Soba ($15), noodles served with a good-sized pork cutlet. Another recommendation is the Kaisen Kakiage Soba ($13) or soba paired with a mixed seafood tempura.
Upsize your noodle portion by paying $1 more, and add an egg for $1. Eat it the Japanese way by quickly mixing the raw egg in your hot soup or let the staff know that you would prefer a half-boiled egg instead.
Traditional Japanese toppings such as tororo (grated white yam), mochi (rice cake), chikuwa (fried fish cake) and kitsune (stewed beancurd sheet) are also on the menu. But if you want a Singapore-style kick, chopped chilli padi is also available.
The toppings in Tokyo Soba are usually served separately to suit Singaporean’s taste buds, but to enjoy them the way the Japanese would, put all of the toppings in your soba (yes, even the tempura) and taste the magic as the toppings transform the soup. The wagyu beef fat from the Wagyu Suki Soba ($18) adds a meaty fullness to the broth, while the tempura becomes saturated with the umami-laden stock and even more delicious.
#6 Seasonal menus
Tokyo Soba’s seasonal menus feature limited-edition dishes that showcase Japan’s special ingredients of spring, summer, autumn and winter at their best.
Earlier in March, to herald the sakura (cherry blossom) season in Japan, Tokyo Soba had a special sakura-ebi kakiage (shrimp and mixed vegetables tempura) soba on its menu. From April 15 to May 15, Katsuo Tataki (marinated seared bonito) Soba showcases this springtime fish.
Visit Tokyo Soba’s Facebook page to stay updated on its upcoming seasonal menu items.
#7 Quality sake at affordable prices
In Japan, going out for drinks with your colleagues is part and parcel of the country’s work culture. Whether you are building bonds with your co-workers or just want to unwind after a stressful day in the office, Tokyo Soba is the perfect spot as it carries attractively priced quality sake.
Crack open a bottle of crowd favourite Dassai 23 from Yamaguchi Prefecture, touted as the most famous sake in Singapore and Japan, with its fruity aroma. A 720ml bottle costs just $150, when the average price elsewhere reaches $200. Wine fans will recognise the rating on Kinteki sake from Hokkaido. With 91 points on the revered Robert Parker Wine Advocate scale, it has the mark of an outstanding bottle.
And if you are into unique brews, try the Hanzo Karakuchi from Iga city, the ninja hometown in Mie Prefecture. This is also touted as one of the best dry-tasting sakes of Japan.
Don’t miss these great promotions at Tokyo Soba
Free soba for mum
Mothers get a free bowl of soba on May 11 and 12, 2019 with a minimum order of one paid bowl of soba. They must be accompanied by husband, children or family; free soba priced $16 and below. Other terms and conditions apply.
Free soba for May babies
Born in May? Get a free bowl of soba when you dine on May 25 and 26, 2019 with friends or family. Free soba priced $16 and below. Please present your identity card before ordering. Other terms and conditions apply.
Tokyo Soba’s contact information
Address: #01-16 Icon Village, 12 Gopeng Street, Singapore 078877
Mondays to Fridays 11.30am to 3pm, 5pm to 11pm
Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays 11.30am to 11pm
Brought to you by Tokyo Soba