Bean curd has never been so appealing as it is in the fine-dining creations of Mihara Tofuten
THERE’S ARE rows of high-rise office buildings on Bangkok’s busy Sathorn Road out front, but Mihara Tofuten – the city’s first fine-dining restaurant dedicated in tofu – occupies a three-storey townhouse. Its name is on the bare concrete facade in Japanese and English.
Inside is an appetising helping of Zen-like serenity – a small rock garden and stone pathway leading to the dining area. The extraordinariness that’s possible in simplicity extends to the way such a basic ingredient as tofu can be elevated for luxurious omakase-style dining, in which the chefs decide what to serve rather than filling guests’ orders.
The minimalist interior features a 15-seat dining counter encircling the open kitchen. Upstairs are 12 regular seats at tables and a private room that can accommodate up to eight people.
Bangkok’s branch of Mihara Tofuten is the result of pooled efforts by celebrated chef Gaggan Anand – whose “progressive Indian” food restaurant Gaggan has No 1 on the Asia’s Best Restaurants list for four consecutive years – and his long-time friend Takeshi Fukushima. He’s also a chef, at La Maison de la Nature Goh in Fukuoka, Japan.
Fukushima took Gaggan to the Mihara Tofuten in Fukuoka three years ago and they came away so impressed that they decided to make tofu the star of their new restaurant in Bangkok, albeit among fancier fare on the menu.
There’s an enjoyably subtle diversity in the tofu-based dishes on offer. You get the natural taste of soymilk, espuma cream, chilled noodles in dashi broth and the remarkably soft chunks of tofu complemented by posh wagyu beef, abalone and zuwai crabmeat.
The original Mihara Tofuten began as a tofu factory in the small rural town of Kashima in Saga Prefecture in 1961. Kuzumi Mihara would churn out 10 large blocks of tofu each day.
In 2005 a restaurant specialising in tofu dishes, called Iccho Isshin – which means “one tofu, one spirit” – was opened near the factory. The Mihara Tofuten in Fukuoka opened in 2015.
The man who owns the Japanese operation, Hiroki Mihara, actually closed the branch in Saga so he could focus on getting the show rolling in Bangkok and brought along his executive chefs.
One of them, Masataka Nakashima, says they use the soybean variety called Fukuyutaka at the Saga plant to make tofu, as well as water flowing down Mount Tara in Kashima.
“That’s what you need to produce really delicate tofu – good soybeans and water and skill,” he says.
The soybeans soaked overnight, then steamed, run through a blender and squeezed by hand through fine cotton to separate the milk and from the pulp (okara). Magnesium chloride extracted from seawater (nigari) is added to coagulate the mix once its poured into a mould.
“It takes great expertise to adjust the nigari so that the tofu emerges delicate, because it changes according to the temperature and the season,” Nakashima says.
This is the same tofu that’s imported for use in Bangkok, and the factory supplies all the other ingredients and kitchen equipment and dinnerware as well.
Food critic Kittidech Vimolratana, who is known as @itan in Instagram, verifies that 100 per cent of the items found at the restaurant come from Japan, right down to the frying oil and broth.
“The ingredients are shipped here three times a week. The dishes are the collaborative creations of Gaggan, Takeshi and Mihara, while I and Bic [co-owner of the Southern-cuisine restaurant Khua Kling Pak Sod] help run the restaurant.”
Fresh Tofu Milk
There’s a 12-course degustation dinner menu with 16 items in total for Bt4,900 and a six-course sampler for lunch at Bt1,750. The dishes change with the seasons, but the attention to detail in preparation and presentation is always clearly meticulous.
To begin, you get to “taste” the origin of Mihara Tofuten as a shot of chilled soymilk that’s served with a dab of yuzu jam in a spoon.
Yuba Mille Feuille, Yuki Tofu, and Goma Tofu
Then comes a three-tier bento box wrapped in your napkin. Start by trying the mild and creamy Yuki tofu, maybe with a slash of Okinawa snow salt and Sardinian lemon oil.
On the middle tier is Yuba Mille Feuille – six thin layers of tofu skin dressed with ponzu jelly, ume (plum) and wasabi. Finally there’s Goma tofu, a brownish sesame-based mochi curd with a distinctive glutinous texture.
Kino Tofu and Fish Ball in Zuwai Crab Soup
Hot soup with zuwai crabmeat is rendered more flavourful with a cube of smooth, soft Kinu tofu and an edamame (young soybean) fish ball.
Cold gazpacho is reinterpreted with a tofu-centric presentation that’s pleasing to both eyes and palate. The Tofu Miso is topped with jelly made with shrimp broth, diced tomato and zucchini and a morsel of Kuruma shrimp.
Gazpacho with Tofu Miso
Tofu in espuma cream goes nicely with black cod marinated in koji, dabs of ume miso (plum-infused soybean paste), all capped with deep-fried rice noodles.
Donburi has steamed rice in a small cup with dashi – a clear soup made from kombu (dried kelp) and dried, smoked bonito so you get that natural savoury umami flavour. Also mixed in are tofu skin and thin slices of slow-cooked black abalone.
Donburi in Dashi Soup with Yuba Tofu and Abalone
Deep-fried Zara tofu, aged in a bamboo basket, is served in large pieces at the Japanese branch, but here it’s bite-sized and presented with salmon roe, finely sliced ginger and okra and soy sauce.
Deep-fried Zaru Tofu
Chawanmushi, the Japanese egg custard, comes with tofu mochi, Hamaguri clam and shiitake mushroom puree. You can even make your own maki sushi by wrapping seaweed with uni (sea-urchin roe), creamy yuki tofu, wasabi and soy sauce.
Chawanmushi of Tofu Mochi, Hamaguri Clam and Shiitake Mushroom Puree
An individual hot pot of sukiyaki features Hokkaido A5-grade wagyu with hard Momen tofu in French onion soup. If beef isn’t your thing, the chefs will use crabmeat sukiyaki in soymilk and combu soup.
Sukiyaki in French Onion Soup, Wagyu and Momen Tofu
Chilled somen noodles is the dish that convinced Kittidech and his partners to open a Mihara Tofuten in Bangkok when they samples it in Fukuoka.
“We were fascinated by the well-balanced combination of somen noodles in tofu milk and dashi soup, which we’ve never found anywhere else,” he says.
Chilled Somen Noodles in Tofu Milk Dashi
They’ve made no changes to the dish but have additional side dishes – Sakura shrimp tempura, inari sushi and thinly chopped green pepper mixed with sesame for a slightly spicier flavouring.
Tofu Ice Cream, Tofu Blancmange and Tofu Chocolates
The two-hour culinary journey ends with tofu ice cream, tofu blancmange with a shot of espresso and four chilled tofu chocolates in four flavours – pistachio, rum raison, cacao and matcha.
THE SOI FOR THE BEST SOY
Mihara Tofuten is on Narathiwas Ratchanakharin Soi 5 off Sathorn Road in Bangkok and open daily except Tuesday.
Prices of beverage pairing range from Bt1,200 to Bt4,900.
Book a table at (083) 655 4245 or “Mihara Tofuten Bangkok” on Facebook.