Sanda in Tokyo is an odd restaurant that could only exist in Japan. Entirely focused on serving offal of Japanese beef, the restaurant has developed its very own style of cooking, and very much merits a visit.
Sanda’s idea is simple: serve the cuts of beef you will hardly ever see anywhere else. To do this, the small team here sources all sorts of offal from some of the finest cattle in Japan, with a focus on the prestigious Sanda-gyu when it is available. Whilst going to a normal beef restaurant in Japan is usually a cripplingly expensive affair, a meal at Sanda is a real bargain.
This might explain why the atmosphere here is so relaxed, and warm. Mostly populated with locals, who come to enjoy the truly idiosyncratic cooking of Sanda, this is not the place where you will find swarms of gastro-tourists ticking off restaurant after restaurant on their bucket list. The enjoyable atmosphere is further helped by the warm service, which does what it can to explain each piece of beef, and the preparation for non-Japanese speakers.
When it comes to the food, you will be treated to a number of truly unique preparations. Take for instance uterus served with miso/egg sauce. The uterus itself might require some getting used to (the texture is a bit tough, and it is remarkably bland), but the combination with the thick, slightly sweet sauce works marvellously. Similarly interesting, albeit somewhat more pleasurable is the lung. Cooked and served au naturel, it has a striking texture that is soft, without having lost its bite. Dipping it into a bit of mustard, or ponzu does wonders, and makes it a truly delicious little course.
In a meal encompassing anything that you can possibly think of, but have most likely never eaten before, a couple of plates stand out for being more conventional and immediately appealing. One of the most compelling is braised cheek. Served in the thick braising juices, the cube of cheek is so lusciously tender, and marbled that you will have a tough time forgetting the experience. A little spice in the sauce cuts through the richness, and makes this extremely palatable.
A small, cosy restaurant, Sanda is the sort of place that shows how far the Japanese can take an obsession: serving only cuts that you will have trouble finding elsewhere, it is a true lesson in beef, and an immensely enjoyable one at that.