Whilst hunting for Niku Zushi in Sangenjaya [closed] we came across Ro to Matagi (炉とマタギ) next door and got talking to everywhere-man manager, Hitokoto-san. The funky looking restaurant that boasted deer meat as a specialty looked rather intriguing, so we decided to try. We are glad we did!
Ro to Matagi's rather homely looking two-storey, renovated Showa-era house sits in a little Sangenjaya back alley by some old school cinemas. Downstairs is the noisier, izakaya-type section, while the quieter second floor imbues a country hunting-lodge vibe. Decorated with deer skulls, heavy furniture and dimly lit, it reminds me of a venue that Dracula would have happily visited with his next prey...
Okay, so the place is cool. How about the food?
The menu reads like the dictionary of a foodie, from herb sake to Matagi Cauda (original bagna cauda recipe). We heard the full rundown of ingredients (all the meat is from Hokkaido) and interesting menu items from Hitokoto-san, as well as some insights into the specialty beverages on offer: snake liquor anyone?
We went with Hitokoto-san's recommendations of Ezo deer, Inobuta (hybrid of wild boar and “regular” pig), Bobo Yasai (veggies) with Matagi Cauda dip, and Sakura Tofu. My companions ordered some wine and raved about it. I just waited for my meat.
The deer and inobuta were served pan-seared on a heated stand. The dish came with fresh lettuce leaves, chopped cucumbers and three sauces: mayonnaise 7-spice, ginger miso and Hokkaido wasabi. Being a Korean samgyeopsal aficionado, I got stuck right in dipping a piece of deer meat into the ginger miso, placing it a lettuce leaf, adding some vegetables, wrapping it up and throwing it down the hatch. Deer meat is delicious; tender and flavoursome. Yum!
The inobuta was followed by my Meg Ryan impersonation (ecstacy!). This meat is a little oilier than deer, but seriously delicious.
The Bobo Yasai was a mix of organically farmed crudités with a Bagna Cauda sauce from the chef’s kitchen. The vegetable sticks were very......vegetabley. Honestly, I have no other way to describe them. They tasted like they had just been harvested 5 minutes prior to serving, and I told Hitokoto-san, "That is the best carrot I have ever tasted!" Behaving myself, I let my companions share in the veggie delights, but only because I was distracted by the Sakura Tofu roasting nearby.
Sakura Tofu is prepared by slathering tofu in miso, wrapping it in gauze, and then refrigerating. The process is repeated over the course of 3 days before the tofu is served over roasting akra chips which give off a delicate smokey aroma that blends with the miso scent.
I am not the biggest fan of bean curd, as something about the texture bothers me. Perhaps my meat-loving tastebuds just don't "get" the stuff? Sakura Tofu, on the other hand, I get and j'adore. It's a little like high-quality smoked cream cheese.
Throughout the meal Hitokoto-san entertained us with stories of his past (he was a chef in Italy for 3 years) and of the Ro to Matagi story. There are now 5 branches: Suidobashi, Hatchobori, Shinagawa Seaside, Sangenjaya and Osaka Dojima. Each branch has its own style and menu variations. The main items are the same, but each head chef gets to be a little creative in his own domain.
A further reason to visit Ro to Matagi is the eclectic décor of the 2nd floor. Stuffed boar, deer antlers, vintage guns, and crazy jars of snake-pickling-in-alcohol are all worth a photo or three.