I’m really not sure if the restaurant fits the “hipster” description or not, but I honestly can’t think of any other way to describe the atmosphere besides something like “fashionable” or “creative” or something along those lines–which are pretty boring and trite descriptors. Hibari definitely seems like a place that would be popular among young people, but there are a lot of middle-aged salarymen who frequent it as well. It’s kind of a fusion place in and of itself.
Right off the main street in Utsunomiya with a big board sign out front, it’s definitely easy to find. It’s the type of restaurant that just has a feel of being super easy to walk right into–this isn’t exactly an exaggeration either, since they keep their front door open all the time (with the exception of winter).
Having a few booths but mostly one middle bar setting and offering a nice array of suggested local sake, the place almost seems like a traditional ramen place–until you settle down at your seat and take another look. When I went there, they had Kiki’s Delivery Service playing on mute on the TV screen up front (which gets extra points from me, since that was the one Ghibli movie I actually grew up with–and no I have no nostalgic feelings for Totoro) with some almost euro-like takes on what I believe are other Ghibli songs in the background, and which then turned to J-pop songs, and then back to euro-Ghibli.
The workers were also seemed pretty young. Oftentimes at ramen/soba places, they tend to be middle-aged or older–not to say this is a bad thing, just different from the norm. The two noodle maidens working in the front were probably about my own age more or less and had great chemistry with the cooks in the back half of the room–their “Haiyo“s so intrinsic to the soup noodle industry were some of the genkiest I’ve heard. I kind of wanted to ask them all out to go shopping on the weekend or something. I didn’t, but maybe next time.
The menu is pretty simple–basically the same thing as the board out front, except with drawings instead of pictures. I ordered the standard tori soba (chicken soba/ramen bowl), and was shortly presented with a glass of chilled Rooibos tea by Noodle Maiden 1, which was a pleasant twist on the standard class of water (you can get free refills by Noodle Maiden 2, by the way).
I watched Osono and Fukuo take bread out of the oven, and it was right around the time when Kiki was given a task that my food came out. Now that I think of it, this was my first official bowl of tori soba, although it’s for sure not the most common menu item in Japan, as far as I’m aware. The noodles were not quite traditional soba, but also not quite ramen–somewhere in-between, with a slightly wheat-y taste. They were a bit harder than I prefer (I typically like quite soft ramen), but if you’re on Team Katame, they’ll definitely be to your liking. The broth was what really impressed me as far as basic flavor went–I thought it would have that strong poultry flavor, but really it was just like tonkotsu broth–which I am a huge fan of.
Now as far as the hipster-ness, apart from the creativity of serving Rooibos, the soup also had some qualities that only a tradition-deviant whippersnapper could come up with. It had one slice of chicken char siu, which was pretty good, as well as some interesting herbs on top (I can’t place what they are exactly). The menma was decent–definitely prepared in a sauce or simmered (?) in something for a while before serving, as it was much more palatable than usual, although the aftertaste still got me so that I didn’t eat all 3 pieces. The most interesting thing was the onions; the soup came served with half raw onion, and half caramelized onion, which was pretty delicious and matched really well with the soup in general.
The meal set me back 864 yen with tax included, which isn’t too bad. It wasn’t my favorite bowl of noodles, but it’s definitely very good, so I’m sure I’ll come back again sometime. I would definitely recommend this to basically anyone–if you’re a fan or soba but not ramen, if you’re a fan of ramen but not soba, if you need to eat kosher (although I assume it’s not necessarily halal), or if you just want to try something new. The atmosphere is fun but not overwhelming, and the food is good–definitely give it a try. I may go and try the duck tsukemen next.