Glowing from the natural light that streams through its front windows, Ogawa’s specialty is soba. Michelin-starred soba; a type of noodle that has been eaten in Japan for centuries. These tasty morsels are usually something that is knocked up at low-key eateries on almost every street corner across Japan, so it’s surprising to find a place with a coveted Michelin star. Often thought of as cheap, convenient and tasty fast food, the customers ranging from slurping salarymen to broke students. That being said, the awarding of a Michelin star to Ogawa has brought these simple noodles into the spotlight, confirming what Japanese people have long been aware of, that soba has the potential to be a complex culinary delight. It’s also great value, even here lunch will only set you back around ¥2000 for some of the tastiest soba in Japan. Yes, I’m really going there. The hot Katsuobōshi stock at Ogawa is rich but not overpowering and the soba swimming happily inside are full-bodied and fragrant with a clean texture.
Ogawa is definitely not the uber luxe fine dining restaurant I imagine when I hear the words ‘Michelin-starred’, but it’s quaint and clean and the staff are as attentive as they are caring. The kind of service that is far from formal and akin to taking tea with granny, but instead with mind-blowing noodles. The restaurant itself is tiny, only four tables and a big reputation so often there is a queue, I waited in line for 45 minutes on a Saturday in the snow before being shown inside, but it was worth it. Even then, the three people behind me were the last customers of the day as it appears their stocks had run dry.
Located on a quiet lane in north Kyoto, look for the white curtain above the door and rope made from hanging bamboo that look like soba. It’s only open for lunch from Friday to Wednesday at 11.30am until 3pm (or whenever the soba sells out, which happened around 1.30pm the day that we ventured out), I recommend getting there early to avoid disappointment. The kamo seiro, thickly cut duck atop a bowl of steamy soba is tender and beautifully balanced, a great winter warmer. The yakimiso side dish was a treat; walnuts, soba flour, miso, negi and yuzu, grilled on a wooden spoon was rich and tasty and ever so slightly decadent – exactly what I like in a dish. I’m also not sure where they get their daikon but my dish, cold soba topped with the stuff, was delicious. The radish was spicy, fragrant and fresh. A real showstopper of a noodle joint.