January 17, 2008
Head to Akasaka for classic Japanese noodles—with a dash of Italy
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on January 2008
Little did we know when we made our first visit to Soba Giro that the restaurant’s name comes from that guy: Girolamo Panzetta, the omnipresent magazine cover boy and Japan’s favorite Italian. Following on the success of Panzetta’s Gaienmae restaurant Giromondo, Soba Giro caters to a more domestic crowd with down-home noodle and kushiyaki dishes.
Besides the celebrity owner, there are definite clues that this is not your ojisan’s soba restaurant. First is the appealing décor, which features lots of wood, bamboo and washi in a gorgeously underlit interior. Then there’s the full page of dishes featuring bite-size bocconcini mozzarella, which Panzetta imports twice a week from his native Naples.
Beyond these innovations, Soba Giro is, at heart, a straightforward noodle shop. The basic kake soba costs a standard ¥850, and kushiyaki rings in at ¥250-¥300 a skewer. À la carte items include sashimi (¥650), oden (¥680), chilled tofu (¥480), yudofu (¥650) and shrimp and vegetable tempura (¥980). The reasonable “Otameshi Course” costs just ¥2,300 and comes with three appetizers, three kushiyaki skewers and sarashina soba, with two dipping sauces.
Soba Giro’s grilled items are fantastic—we tried the tsukune chicken meatballs with a mild tare (¥280) and negima (¥300), gently seasoned with salt. But the stars of the show are the soba and udon noodles, available hot or cold. We chose two from the atakai column to alleviate our midwinter chill: tempura soba and “Giro’s Original” goma kake soba. The latter came in a tasty white broth made from sesame, with grilled pork and half a hard-boiled egg. This was a hearty and satisfying dish, as was the tempura soba, which was served with eggplant, shimeji mushroom, shiso leaf and two large shrimp. All the deep-fried items arrived piping hot and were remarkably non-greasy—just like the best tempura should be.
Unsurprisingly for a celebrity-run restaurant, Soba Giro’s crowd consisted mostly of young and middle-aged Japanese women enjoying a lunch during the New Year’s week holiday. Though surrounding restaurants and shops had cleared out, Panzetta’s hotspot was well full, and the conversation buzzed above the club tunes piped in over hidden speakers. We look forward to returning during warmer weather, when we can take advantage of the outdoor seating, which opens out onto the Prudential Plaza’s spacious street-side patio.
Still feeling peckish after our lunch, we couldn’t resist a taste of Panzetta’s mozzarella. The bocconcini is featured as part of tomato salad (¥980) and egg custard (¥580), and is even served “sashimi-style” (¥800), but we chose the kushi Giro (¥960), where it’s wrapped in nama ham and then grilled. This dish proved to be just as good as it sounds—smoky, melting cheese leaking around a ribbon of salty meat. A perfect end to a satisfying lunch courtesy of Japan’s favorite Italian.