I admit it, I’ve got an obsession with noodles. So, when I discovered that I could eat the world’s first Michelin star ramen in Tokyo I knew I had to go. Tsuta, owned by chef Onishi Yuki, was the first ramen restaurant to ever get a Michelin star back in 2015. Food is often the highlight of my trips and Japan is obviously the ultimate foodie destination. To say that the world’s first Michelin star ramen intrigued me would be an understatement. However, as they say in Lord of the Rings; one does not simply walk into Tsuta, Tokyo. A visit to this Michelin star restaurant requires some advance planning but you will find that the process is well worth it.
collect your Tsuta Ramen tickets
The first step towards indulging in Tsuta ramen in Tokyo is to acquire entry tickets. Tsuta have developed a queuing system where you collect your tickets in the morning. The restaurant is located in a quite residential area, so I imagine they had to develop a system that wouldn’t disturb their neighbours. I’d read online that they begin ticket distribution at 7am so we opted for an early Monday morning start. It was a good thing we started early as we took the wrong underground train. Twice. A journey of roughly 20 minutes took us 1,5 hr. Beware of the Toei Oedo metro line as it can travel in 3 different directions. I digress.
Tsuta is located in North Tokyo close to the Sugamo underground station. The restaurant is only a 3-5 minute walk from the station (look for a funnily shaped roundabout and you’re almost there). The outside is very unassuming so keep your eyes open. Don’t be like my sister and I though, who didn’t realise that we had to open the door and thought the restaurant was closed at first…
Thankfully, despite arriving at 9.30, there were plenty of tickets left and we could pick our return time. Note that you have to bring a 1,000 yen deposit per ticket and everyone in your group has to be present. We spent some time in Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City mall before returning at 12.00 to start queuing. The queue runs in front of an apartment block entrance to the right of the restaurant. You aren’t guaranteed to get in at your assigned time, it’s simply the time you can start lining up from.
chill in the queue to Tsuta, Tokyo
The queue was primarily made up of tourists mixed with single Japanese eaters. We queued for about 40 minutes but don’t worry, the 9 seats turn quite quickly. At the front of the queue you look at the menu and also collect your deposit. Decide what you want to eat and for the love of all common sense, memorise what your order looks like in Japanese.
You then place your order on a vending machine inside (this is when memorising the signs is helpful as the buttons have very limited English). Once you’ve placed your order you join a seated queue inside the restaurant. They then fill 3 seats at a time. So if one person is a slow eater they won’t fill the other 2 seats until that person has finished and left. No pressure on all you slow eaters out there. To be honest though, why wouldn’t you eat Michelin star ramen slowly? The bar seats face the kitchen so you can watch the preparation of your bowl.
the glorious Tsuta Ramen
Technically Tsuta specialises in soba noodles but they received their Michelin star for ramen. They have three types of noodles on offer; shoyu broth (soy based), shio broth (salt based) and tsukemen, which are separate noodles that you dip into the broth. I wanted to try the shoyu ramen and ordered the Ajitama Shoyu Soba for 1,200 yen. This lovely bowl of noodle heaven came with braised pork, roast pork, a seasoned egg, leek, bamboo shoots and black truffle.
The atmosphere inside Tsuta, Tokyo is completely silent bar the slurping sound of patrons enjoying their noodles. When you first bite into the noodles you will experience euphoria. As with any good bowl of noodles, the broth is key to success or failure. It was the first time I tried shoyu broth and I really enjoyed it. Tsuta’s soy broth has a really light taste and doesn’t give you that heavy feeling you get from e.g. tonkotsu broth. I’m a huge fan of black truffle too, so that was a nice touch.
The second most important ingredient is the noodles. The Tsuta soba noodles had a nice chewiness and really complemented the light broth. I love the pork element in ramen and both pieces of pork were tender with a good amount of fat. The egg was just creamy enough and had a lovely seasoned taste. The only thing I wasn’t overly keen on was the bamboo shoots, but that’s personal preference.
Of course I was the slow eater (although I swear the man next to us inhaled his noodles) so the queue had to wait for me to finish. My bowl was completely dry when we left though and I had a faint smile on my face for a good 10 minutes. The Tsuta ramen is worth all the effort of ticket collection, queuing etc and you really, really have to try them when in Tokyo. Take my word for it.