Like its distant cousins of the same name in Shibuya and Shimokitazawa, Shirube has mastered rustic-chic izakaya design. The cozy, all-wood interior has three areas—a dining bar, long share tables and some private rooms—most with casual legs-in-the-floor seating. The restaurant is a hive of activity, with staff scampering between the tables animatedly attending to the cheerful customers, on our visit mostly office workers enjoying an early start to the weekend.
We took with us two companions: one Japanese on a mission to convert us to the “misunderstood” cuisine that is oden and one lost Brit, two weeks to the day a Tokyoite. Novices peering into an oden pot will recognize the brown eggs and seaweed and perhaps the translucent slices of sodden daikon radish, but the other oddities may need some explaining, so local assistance is vital. The deathly gray triangles, for example, are konnyaku, or fermented Japanese root paste—perhaps an overly literal description. Best concentrate on the fact that konnyaku has zero calories and is purportedly an excellent stomach cleaner. Spongy white/brown items the shape of elongated mechanical cogs are chikuwabu, or molded flour and salt. Mmmm.
Cynicism aside, the chikuwabu at Shirube was undeniably superior to the rubbery convenience store variety (oden items are ¥130-¥900 each), and we cautiously described the shirohanpen triangles of white fish paste as “not unpleasant.” Tofu satsumaage, or fried fish cakes with tofu inside, were quite edible, as were the ingenious kinchaku sacks of mochi-filled tofu. The iwashi tsumire, on the other hand, were a struggle, especially for our fresh-off-the-boat friend; it seems it takes longer than two weeks to appreciate the finer points of these balls of minced fish. For him, sadly, even the eggs and daikon were too much.
He did, however, manage the basashi (¥780) with few complaints, which impressed everyone involved. Basashi is, of course, raw horse sashimi. Indeed, oden is only a small part of Shirube’s menu alongside plenty of top-notch izakaya fare such as succulent mackerel seared with a blow-torch at the table (¥1,000), tsukune minced-chicken omelet (¥630) and shrimp-mayo salad (¥760). There is also a broad selection of good-value shochu and sake, from which we tried Ichinokura from Miyagi (¥750) and Masumi from Nagano (¥750).