Today, we had lunch at Shimbashi in Gold Coast.
Shimbashi is a shop I respect a lot. They use organic? buckwheat from Tasmania. They produce it ‘teuchi’ style, no use of machinery except for the stone mill. Then they knead the buckwheat flour by hand, and cut the soba noodles by knife. They go ‘juwari’ or use 100% buckwheat flour which is considered a difficult style. Most average shops blend flour to bind the dough. By Japanese Agriculture standards (JAS) set by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery, anything that contains over 30% buckwheat can be called soba. Anyway, the more flour used, easier to make soba. Of course aroma reduces as well. Regarding the texture, the use of flour actually increases a sticky texture (koshi) so some people prefer that a certain ratio of flour be blended into the soba for texture. Anyway, ‘nippachi’ (80 buckwheat : 20 wheat) and up is the general benchmark for authentic serious soba where the aroma can fully be appreciated. Teuchi is very strenuous work, especially the kneading part so it is always understood that soba shops have a limit on the amount they can serve. Many beginner chefs get tenosynovitis. Same with Shimbashi I think on the amount they can serve, but Mr. Shibazaki does the noodle making so skillfully with so much ease.
I think Shimbashi’s soba is in my top 5 soba ranking together with other favourites back home in Japan. The type of soba they do is dead center of my strike zone. In soba, there are various types but theirs, ‘sarashina’ type uses the core of the soba kernel which creates texture focus rather than aroma and the cut is very thin.
The ‘tsuke tsuyu’ (dipping broth) could do with a little more bonito flavour. I also felt today their tsuyu became much sweeter than before. But anyway very high standards. They know how to make good broth so all their food is good. Their tamagoyaki is awesome and their agedashi tofu is excellent for the same reason. Their tempura is not to my liking. Theirs are a bit too soft for me. I have a belief that tempura in a soba shop must be fried very crisply, should almost be like a cracker. The batter should retain the crunchy texture even when dipped in the broth. When eaten together with soba, it should create an exaggerated contrasting texture. The place I regard as best tempura soba shop is ‘Nunotsune Sarashina’ in Omori, Tokyo.
Only obvious fault is they dont fill a hungry man without letting your wallet loose. Their portions are very, very small. I know in my head that soba is not about filling up and enjoying the delicate flavours but,,, anyway one good thing is you can order a lot and try a lot of flavours before you get full! Anyway, as an avid noodle lover, this is one spot that I know I will always return. They will not be beaten by anybody for anytime soon.
Tip/Manners of enjoying soba. To eat a soba like an expert, order cold soba, preferably ‘seiro’ or ‘zaru’ soba. Colder means better texture. Seiro or zaru means the soba comes separately to the tsuyu (dipping broth) Once soba arrives, take a few strands, eat them without dipping in the broth to appreciate the aroma of the buckwheat. Next, dip your chopsticks in the tsuyu and taste. Confirming that they do an ‘edomae’ style which is very salty sweet and undiluted, take several strands of soba, dip the noodles 1/3 to 1/2 into the broth whilst still holding with chopsticks, then slurp in 2 to 3 sucks. Repeat with several strands at a time. Don’t immerse the noodles entirely in the tsuyu as this is not ‘iki’ or stylish or appreciating the culture. If you like wasabi, don’t dissolve the wasabi in the dipping broth. take a tiny portion and put the wasabi on the soba noodles directly. Then put the soba with wasabi into the broth but only soaking the bottom 1/3 so the wasabi enters your mouth dry of the broth. The aroma and the kick of wasabi both directly hit your nose and palate. Concentrate on eating and don’t take too much time. The noodles will get softer if you chit chat whilst you eat. Once finished, ask for ‘sobayu’ and dilute the tsuyu with sobayu, or the hot water they used to cook the noodles. Soba contains a lot of good nutrients such as rutin, some of which have dissolved into the water during cooking. The sobayu also contains a very good soba aroma. I pour aside the tsuyu to a different bowl and dilute with plenty of sobayu so I can enjoy the aroma of the soba fully and not have it taste too salty.
I wouldn’t bring out my soba manners in any old soba shop. I think Shimbashi would be the only place I know in Australia which is truly worthy of respect and full concentration from the customer in appreciating the soba.