Every time Wife and I return from Singapore to London we will haul along a number of Japanese TV serials DVD. One of our favourite ones is this quirky piece "Lunch Queen". Those who are familiar with the title will know that the entire story is built on a single dish - the humble omelette rice (オムライス).
For the uninitiated, omelette rice is essentially fried rice wrapped in a very thin film of beaten eggs. Flavoured with ketchup, the rice is normally fried with chicken cubes. For omelette rice, being able to wrap the fried rice within the thin film of egg is a skill that has to be acquired. Naturally, the opening of the egg film should be tucked below the dish and hidden from view.
Imagine our excitement when we saw a brochure being distributed at a store in Liverpool Street station featuring a new Japanese restaurant at Holborn and a picture of omelette rice in the article. We called up Crane & Tortoise (a very Zen name indeed) and got a table on the very same evening.
Crane & Tortoise was a 10 minute walk from Chancery Lane tube station. We nearly walked past it as its façade turned out to be very different from what we expected. Instead of a full fledged Japanese restaurant, it looked more like a bar with an open concept layout and a bar dominating the floor area. Maybe it was supposed to be a bar. Served us right for getting all worked up over a Japanese language brochure with a picture of an omelette rice.
We were greeted at the bar by an elderly Japanese gentleman, who looked more at home in front of a classroom than serving in a restaurant, and were led into the back room of the bar/restaurant. There were a couple of tables in the room, all empty save for one, which is occupied by six men in jackets discussing business over glasses of wine. Being teetotallers, we were obviously out of place. Never mind, I thought, the omelette rice would make it all worthwhile.
We became more depressed when presented with the menu - a B5 size paper with a grand total of seven items (one of which was pickles) written (not typed) on it. Omelette rice was nowhere to be found. Dismayed, some words written on the wall behind me caught my eye - "オムライス"! It appeared they did serve omelette rice though it wasn't on the regular menu. Looked like my sporadic Japanese language lessons paid off after all. We ordered an omelette rice each with agadashi tofu, bite size steak and takoyaki for starters after agonizing over the miniscule menu.
Unlike those served in Japan or Singapore, the agadashi tofu (£4) over at Crane & Tortoise was prepared using dried tofu, instead of the soft variety, which was a disappointment really. Otherwise, the dish was nicely done and presented in a small bowl doused in light soy sauce.
The bite size steaks (£4) tasted boiled instead of grilled. In fact, I could taste water as I popped it into my mouth. There was no trace of any meat juice in it and it should only be ordered if your tongue was already numbed with alcohol.
Surprisingly, the tokoyaki (£4) turned out to be the redeeming dish for the evening. Its tough exterior contrasted nicely with its soft and mushy interior dotted with octopus bits. They were every bit the same as those I had in Osaka.
We looked at eat other in dismay when the omelette rice (£7.50) arrived. For one, the egg, which layered the fried rice, was barely beaten with yolk and white still discernable. Also, instead of wrapping the rice entirely, it was clear that the rice was added on top of the egg before flipping half of the egg layer over it. In other words, the chef took the easy way out and the result looked nothing like the one depicted on their brochure.
Though the rice fried with chicken bits in tomato sauce base went well with the beef sauce that came with it, I couldn't help but feel that the dish was let down by its presentation and was definitely not worth the price.
Clearly, with a limited menu, Crane & Tortoise was not meant to be a restaurant in the first place and was more suitable for after work drinks. Meanwhile, the search for a good omelette rice in London continues.
Address: 39-41 Gray Inns Road, London WC1X 8PR
Tel: 0207 242 9094
Nearest Tube station: Chancery Lane
Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £15 pp
Service charge: N/A
Suitable for: after-work drinks and finger food with your colleagues
Thursday, 6 August 2009