Saturday, 23 January 2010

Tokyo Diner review - Japanese food in a cosy corner in Chinatown


Address: 2 Newport Place, London, WC2H 7JJ
Tel: 020 7287 8777
Nearest Tube station: Leicester Square

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £15 pp
Service charge: N/A
Taste: ***
Service: **
Ambience: *
Suitable for: those who are looking for
an alternative to the usual at Chinatown
Incidentally, the first time we had a meal at Tokyo Diner was also the first time we set foot in London's Chinatown in the summer of 2007. I recalled clutching on tightly to a London guidebook, absolutely rattled by the crowds in the Tube and almost glad to make it out of Leicester Square Tube station in one piece.

I needed a meal fast and I half dragged Wife into Tokyo Diner claiming that it was featured in the guidebook (I later found out that it was in fact highlighted as one of the 'good value eats'). The first thing that struck me was the cramped, or if you prefer, cosy layout. I was thoroughly disappointed not to find katsu curry in Tokyo Diner's menu and made do with a katsu don instead.

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Almost three years down the road, I could pretty much navigate round Chinatown with my eyes closed and felt at ease despite just emerging from the ever crowded Tube. We stepped into Tokyo Diner again.

In a way, it was like coming a full circle. Tokyo Diner was exactly as it was the summer day three years back, even the table that we sat on was still in the same corner. We were shown to a small table set against the wall under a huge Tokyo city mall and the Japanese waitress laid down two sets of menu. To my surprise, I realised that Tokyo Diner had added katsu curry to the menu, and ordered a pork katsu curry without hesitation. After flipping through the menu for a moment, Wife succumbed and ordered a chicken katsu curry. So much for creativity.

I didn't realised this before but Tokyo Diner now offered a plus size portion of rice for big eaters. The order for 'omori' portion of rice came free of charge and the only request was for the customer to finish it up and not waste it.

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We did order agedashi tofu (£5.20) for starters though. Unlike Crane & Tortoise, Tokyo Diner's tofu was the soft variety, which was just the type for the dish. The soy sauce with grated ginger that the two firm fresh tofu pieces were immersed in weren't too salty and the spring onion peels added some crunch. However, I thought that the fried skin was quite damp and slid off the tofu surface a bit too easily.

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The pork and chicken curry katsu (£10 each) were quite sizable even without the 'omori' portion of rice. After the fiasco at Miso Noodle Bar, I thought I would never touch katsu curry again but I was glad I ordered it at Tokyo Diner for the dish was definitely one of the better ones that I had come across.

Though I suspect the rice wasn't the Japanese short grain rice as it was grainy instead of sticky, the curry itself was a class of its own. Served with large cut pieces of boiled carrots and potato, it had none of the powdery texture that I tasted at Wagamama. Instead, the consistency was thick enough not to be mistaken for a soup but thin enough so that it would not coagulate over the rice. However, at £10 per portion, it was easily one of the more expensive curry katsu around.

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Having a meal at Tokyo Diner was like buying into a culture. I couldn't help but notice the brochures that were strategically placed on each table. While waiting for my food, I read about why Tokyo Diner didn't serve tuna, its electricity was obtained from a sustainable source, and that it wouldn't accept tips (apparently practiced by all traditional Japanese eateries).

As the restaurant's tagline goes, "Please come again and bring your friends". If you're tired of the Chinese buffets that have sprung all over Chinatown, head towards Tokyo Diner instead.

Tokyo Diner on Urbanspoon

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