eat TOKYO: the traditional taste which the non-japanese chef makes
A bold disclaimer sits atop the photographic menu choices plastered across eat TOKYO’s shopfront window in London’s trendy Soho: “This is real traditional JAPANESE style. This is the traditional taste which the JAPANESE chef makes.” Good to know. When you’re this far from Japan, both physically and psychically, a little bit of explication is perhaps necessary. After all, sophisticated Londonites might be forgiven for not knowing the difference between teriyaki and tempura, udon and umeboshi. No, I don’t have a problem with that at all.
What I do take issue with, however, is the three-page instructional manual posted up on the wall, inside the restaurant, behind the sushi counter, entitled “Preparing Sushi” and with step-by-step guidelines on how to do just that. You see, no self-respecting sushi chef worth his weight in wasabi, Japanese or not, should need an instruction manual on how to do his job. And yet, there they are, embarrassingly obvious to any diner seated at the restaurant’s counter.
The simple fact that we are even considering the merits of a restaurant’s sushi on this page should be sufficient cause for alarm. eat Tokyo is one of those all-purpose Japanese restaurants, serving up teriyaki, tempura, sushi, and finally ramen, pimped via a sidewalk display board and advertised with a yellow starburst “Big” denoting its ginormousicity. Alarm bells have long gone off on all sides by now, and yet, in the interest of journalism, I sat down for a bowl of “Tokyo Ramen” one grey English afternoon.
Which, truth be told, is not particularly worse than most of the other ramen shops to be found in the south of England. The “Tokyo ramen” soup is a passable incarnation of shoyu, lacking in dimension, but perfectly ordinary and inoffensive; it gets out of the way. Sadly, the chashu is a travesty, less akin to proper chashu than to Chinese siu yuk, none-too-tender and replete with the aroma of star anise and an oily, crackly pork rind. It just doesn’t belong, nestled among fresh bamboo shoots and the likewise incongruous scoop of corn. For what it’s worth, any restaurant that advertises “Sapporo miso ramen” as one of two ramen options should leave the corn out of the Tokyo shoyu.
Surprisingly, the noodles at eat TOKYO hew closer to the generic strands found in ramen shops across the United States, which, though mediocre, do have a little more firmness to them than the disappointingly spongy men found at the various shops on Brewer Street. But eat fails when it comes to proportions. Though generous, the massive boule of noodles in the “Big” ramen (there’s only one size) soaks up the soup far too quickly. Slurp them up fast, or you’ll be left with little more than a soggy bowl of unfinished carbs towards the end of your meal.
One more thing. After spending more than my fair share of recent months in Europe, I’ve come to accept the reality of non-Japanese ramen shops and sushi joints. A lot of these establishments do all they can to hide the fact that the chef or staff are of another cultural background. But if you’re going to put a rather misleading though technically truthful disclaimer in your window proclaiming “traditional JAPANESE style” and the “taste which the JAPANESE chef makes,” at least back up the advertising with some compete cooking, and lose or hide the “how to make sushi” instruction guide. Your kitchen should have that down by now.
|an altogether inoffensive shoyu that is perhaps the best thing about eat TOKYO's "Big" titular ramen. though it lacks depth, it does its job and gets out of the way, i suppose.||5.5|
|generic noodles puff up to epic proportions when the soup to noodle ratio is decidedly off. too much of a good thing? too much of an ok thing is more like it.||5.5|
|chashu closer in spirit to chinese barbecued pork, complete with a star anise flavor and a crackly pork rind that quickly turns soggy in the soup. leave the corn out of the Tokyo ramen, please. the bamboo shoots are fresh and sweet.||4|
|no sides today. i supposed i could have ordered some sushi.||NA|
|eat TOKYO has a decent vibe of typically Japanese exotica; paper lanterns, hapi coats pinned to walls, and nice, dim lighting. would that the food were up to par, a pleasant evening of pretending to be in japan can be had in central london.||4.5|
|a korean-run japanese restaurant that fakes its japanese-ness with proclamations of authentic japanese cooking? just lose the disclaimer and put a little more attention into the recipes and preparations, please.||2.5|
27 Romilly Street