Udon made fresh in front of you, myriad topping choices, trays of tempura to choose from…. all for change from a 1,000 yen note. Sound too good to be true? Well step right into Tokyo Mentsudan—you’ll never be so happy to have been proven wrong.
This cafeteria-style restaurant is run by soba aficionado Kazutoshi Tao and specializes in Sanuki Udon—noodles from the Shikoku region which are characterized by their square shape and flat edges. Whether or not that is important to you, basically, they are delicious, and hand prepared by expert noodle makers from the Kagawa region—so you know you’re getting the best. Looking pretty average on the outside, this place keeps it low key—without big viewing windows and signs it keeps its quality quiet.
Between you and your fresh bowl of delicious udon are a few stages—but you’ll enjoy every one of them. To start, you select your udon dish, size and temperature. There are lots of picture menus on the counter (see above) with prices for both small and large, and everything is simple to understand. There are lots of choices, including various meats, curry and scrambled egg, so you’ll not be lacking in options. Each option will have a red or blue mark next to it, to indicate—well done, Sherlock—hot or cold. Then you choose your size, but don’t be fooled by the price: small may be cheap, but that doesn’t mean little. The noodles are very filling, and there’s still tempura to come, but then again, they are delicious, so no judgement here.
Once you’ve selected your meal, it will be dished up in front of you from the trays of fresh udon and maybe a smile (but probably not).
You now shuffle along with your tray to the refrigerated drinks and sides counter, where you can choose small salads, omelettes or rice all very reasonably priced—starting at 50 yen and reaching the giddy heights of 200 yen, as well as a small selection of cold drinks.
But this is only the precursor… you might have already been distracted by it and bypassed the salads altogether—and who could blame you, for here is the tempura. Over 15 types are loaded into trays and range from squid legs to boiled eggs to bacon (and America thought they had their bacon game down). Part of me wants to advise you not to go crazy, because it’s surprisingly filling, but part of me says: mate, go for it. It’s really delicious stuff, the vegetables are still crunchy, the batter is crisp and the prices are low. So maybe go a little crazy, and maybe just decide you’ll come here again, soon. The signs include English (so no surprise chicken gullets here) and there small side plates for tempura (so it doesn’t have to get all soupy). There are also plenty of veggie options, including mushrooms, pumpkin and sweet potato and prices range from 100 to about 150 yen per piece, depending on the day’s choices.
So you’re almost there, I promise. Next is the payment counter, which also comes with some free toppings—spring onion, crispy bits and ginger, all of which make lovely additions (yes, even the crispy bits, in fact, especially the crispy bits). Here you can finally pay, and be pleasantly surprised by the choice! (Our 1,010 yen, for the eagle-eyed of you, was for change purposes only, our meals were well below 1,000 yen!).
You may have notice that something is missing from your meal. The soup. This is handily provided at the end of your udon-building marathon so that you can enjoy it fresh at the table, without it making your noodles or tempura soft! There are taps at the end of the counter where you can place as much or little as you like, top-ups are also allowed!
Now you have everything you can take a seat and tuck in! There are a mix of large group tables, smaller ones and a long wall-counter, so it suits pretty much all needs, and you might even meet new friends through mutual udon appreciation! Water is available from the counter in the center of the room, and the usual condiments are there (a dash of soy sauce never goes amiss with udon). When your conversation has been reduced to nothing but slurps and crunches, you’ll know why I love this place. We chose the large scrambled egg option, with sides of pumpkin, sweet potato, onions and eggs and basically anything we fancied, paying about 700-800 yen each (yes we fell for the large trap, I do it almost every time, but small really is plenty, I promise.)
So, with a walk-through guide to building your own delicious bowl of tempura-topped udon—there’s no excuse not to head down to Mentsudan. Prepare to be well-fed and pleasantly surprised!