Exquisite Tofu Tasting Menu at 空ノ庭 豆腐料理 in Tokyo, Japan

Posted by on Jun 22, 2012

Tofu, the delicate and versatile product made from soy beans and water, is not highly regarded in North American cuisine.  I consider it tragically misunderstood.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people gag at tofu.  But for a person to say “I don’t like tofu” is as sweeping as saying “I don’t like cheese” or “I don’t like bread”.  In North America, tofu is marketed as a one dimensional health food that comes in various firmness.  It has a reputation of being a bland protein supplement for non-meat eaters.  Ick.

In contrast, many Asian cultures regard tofu as an integral part of the cuisine.  Artisanal tofu can be commonly found prepared in creative ways, from savory applications to desserts.  Frozen pressed tofu that’s defrosted into spongy slices is ideal for soaking up simmering stock.  The paper thin soy sheets skimmed from the top of fresh soy milk is best enjoyed with a light sprinkling of salt.  Dried soy sheets can be used as wrappers or deep fried until flaky and crisp.  Lightly set tofu with a drizzle of ginger syrup makes a satisfying, silky pudding.

Korean, Chinese, and Japanese cultures all take pride in their own version of tofu.  Generally speaking, I find that Chinese tofu (typically coagulated with gypsum) emphasizes on bold soy flavour.  The Chinese will press, deep fry, or dry tofu to alter its texture and flavour.   They even ferment tofu to achieve optimal pungency or umami for sauces and spreads.

From my limited experience, Korean tofu that’s set with salt or even sea water is milder in flavour.  It is regarded for its soft, slippery texture.  I have yet to visit Korea so I look forward to learning more about their varieties.

On our trip to Japan, my perspective on tofu was enlightened.  Even while I waded through grocery stores, the vast selection of soy products had me panting.  How do they achieve all these distinct textures and flavours?  Moreover, the freshness and quality of the beans and water used were unparallelled.  The most intriguing variety that I tried was a squishy and slightly bouncy goma (black sesame) tofu that reminded me of really soft mochi.  It does not travel well, regrettably.

Lantern at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

A lit lantern outside 空ノ庭, a tofu specialty restaurant.

In Tokyo, a good friend recommended that we try the tasting menu at 空ノ庭, a restaurant that specializes in tofu.  I’ll admit, I initially thought little of the idea but I knew my husband adores tofu so off we went.  Looking back, I would have been such an idiot to skip out on this meal because it turned out to be one of our top dining experiences in Japan.

Sake glasses at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

The serene restaurant interior

We were seated in a stylish, yet traditionally decorated room among bamboo and dimly lit partitions.  The soothing music, warm lighting, and natural decor created a relaxing ambiance.  Since we didn’t understand Japanese, we had no idea what or how many courses laid ahead.  We were, however, exceptionally thrilled at the foreign concept that this place was “all you can drink”.

Let’s get onto the meal, shall we?  (In a hurry, we left our DSLR in the hotel so please pardon the sub-par photo quality).

Avocado tofu at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

Chilled avocado tofu - Our first bite was also our favourite bite. This creamy tofu paired perfectly with the avocado's butteriness. The light soy sauce underneath enhanced the avocado's natural earthiness.

Tofu potato salad  at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

Tofu potato salad - Potato salad is a common condiment in bento boxes. Here, soft tofu was whipped into the anchovy spiked salad to create a fluffy, velvety texture.

Smoked duck breast at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

Smoked duck breast on dried yuba - This dainty slice of smoked duck breast is dressed with a tangy ponzu dressing. It rested on a bed of tender, thinly sliced yuba (tofu skin).

Tofu fish cake at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

Tofu fish cake - Tofu was first blended into the fish paste, along with finely diced vegetables. As imagined, the tofu provided additional lightness to the deep fried fish cakes.

Sashimi  at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

Sashimi - A stunningly fresh sashimi plate with hirame (flounder), hotate-gai (scallop), and maguro (red tuna) transitioned us onto the more substantial dishes.

Seared scallops at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

Seared scallops - The barely seared scallops and fresh vegetables rested on a rich bechamel-esque sauce made from tofu

Grilled mochi at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

Grilled mochi - Grilled mochi with miso paste (L) and goma (R) is always one of my favourite courses. The dense and sticky rice cakes are grilled to achieve a crisp exterior and a smoky charred flavour. I had this dish several times in Japan and looked forward to it each time.

Tableside tofu at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

Table side tofu - The server brought a ceramic stove to our table and poured soy milk into the box above it. We were told to leave it alone for 10 minutes.

Tempura at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

Tempura - While the tofu was setting, they served us crisp and airy tempura straight from the fryer. We mixed grated daikon and ginger into the dipping sauce. The bamboo tube behind contained three different finishing salts, including a yuzu salt that stole my heart.

Fresh tofu made tableside at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

10 minutes later, our server returned and gingerly ladled the freshly formed tofu into bowls for us. We were thoroughly impressed by the presentation but what wowed us was how silky and delicate the tofu was. The fresh soy flavour was pronounce and swirled around our palates. We slurped this simple yet elegant dish down with a sprinkle of salt first, then a dash of soy sauce for comparison.

Fresh yuba on rice at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

Fresh yuba on rice - When the rice dish arrived, we knew we were nearing the conclusion of this spectacular meal. This was another simple, yet intricately built dish. Steamed rice acted as the bed for a layer of fresh yuba. The yuba was slippery and smooth, yet retained some give. The dashi broth and salty pickles on top tied the components together. This dish reintroduced yuba to me as an unadulterated delicacy. Of everything that I enjoyed in Japan, I miss fresh yuba the most.

Grilled chicken at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

Grilled chicken - As a surprise to our full stomachs, grilled chicken appeared next. I can write an entire post about Japanese chicken's uncompromising quality (and I will). This succulent and richly meaty chicken was evidently raised for flavour over quantity.

Tofu tiramisu at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

Tofu tiramisu - To conclude our meal, two desserts were presented. First, a light-as-air tiramisu where tofu was whipped into the mascarpone. The thin layers of espresso soaked ladyfingers added just enough oomph to the beautifully executed dessert.

Almond tofu dessert at 豆腐料理 空ノ庭 tofu restaurant in Tokyo Japan by Melody Fury Photography. Food, Drink, Restaurant Photographer and Writer in Vancouver BC and Austin TX

Almond tofu dessert - And finally, a foreseeable, yet welcomed almond tofu pudding completed our experience. The subtly sweetened tofu was highlighted by the almond's distinct nuttiness. A citrus gelée glaze livened up this refreshing treat.

And there you have it, another sensational and unforgettable meal in Tokyo.  Whether you love, can’t stand, or are indifferent towards tofu, I urge you to dine here when you travel to Tokyo for an elevated perspective on this overlooked ingredient.  It will undoubtedly alter your outlook on tofu.

Read more about our honeymoon in Asia.

 

空ノ庭 豆腐料理

Shibuya: 東京都渋谷区桜丘町4-17 チェリーガーデン1F  150-0031, Japan
Ebisu: 4丁目-7-2 Ebisu, Tokyo 150-0013, Japan

We went to the Ebisu location but there’s one in Shibuya as well.

 

 

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  • Dai Furuta

    Hi, Melody.
    How is your trip Japan so far? Enjoying it? I wish I were there with you to enjoy eating delicious food but I will be in Japan from July 22 – Aug 17 with my family. So I might check out restaurants that you mentioned on your blog. I will post some of restaurants information on my Facebook. Hope you can check pictures.

  • http://www.gourmetfury.com/ Melody Fury

    Hello Dai! I’m actually back home now and am trying to catch up on documenting all of my experiences. I enjoyed Japan tremendously and can’t wait to go back. I still have a few more restaurants to blog about so do keep an eye out. :) Have a wonderful trip!

  • Tiana Dewar

    Beautiful tempura! I’m so going to make yuzu salt. Great idea.

  • Anita

    After a lot of googling, and translating, I think I found the name of this restaurant in Western letters. It is Soranoniwa, right? In Shibuya. I’m going this year to Tokyo and will try it. Thanks!