It’s hot, cramped and crowded with bad lighting, bare walls and laminated menus with pictures on them, but Eat Tokyo is all about authenticity, and when the food is this good (and this reasonably priced) the more authentic the better.
Eat Tokyo has been in London for a few years now and with branches in Golders Green, Holborn, Trafalgar Square and Notting Hill Gate it’s become something of a favourite amongst those lucky enough to live or work nearby.
I’d heard enthusiastic mutterings about the Notting Hill branch for a long while before I decided finally to try it for myself. Way behind the curve, I pitched up naively expecting a table with no reservation, and was swiftly sent packing. But since then I’ve been back twice, squeezing through the queues to take my reserved table in the tiny room out back. Hot sake is a must in a place like this, but if you’re not a sake-lover then a bottle or two of Japanese beer Asahi is just as good, and gratifyingly cooling in the rather hot and airless room, though don’t let that put you off.
Like most Japanese menus, the choice at Eat Tokyo is overwhelming and it’s easy to get bogged down when making your selection, not to mention remembering what you’ve picked out when the waiter comes to take your order. It’s for this reason that, when visiting Asian restaurants, I go armed with pen and paper (or a napkin will do). Then, with military organisation, I can whisk through the endless pages of special rolls and middle rolls, sashimi and sushi, jyu and donburi, making notes as I go, so the whole shebang can be wrapped up in no time at all.
The menu at Eat Tokyo features a host of things that you likely haven’t seen on menus at other Japanese restaurants and the pictures are actually very useful in helping you identify whether something like Nasu Dengaku is something you really want (it is). Actually, the Nasu Dengaku is the star of the show at Eat Tokyo. An aubergine, deep fried, then chopped in half and topped with miso paste, this dish might not sound or even look like much but the taste is quite astonishingly good with the hot flesh of the aubergine rendered unctuous and creamy against the savoury sweetness of the miso paste. I order it every time.
But there are lots of other treats in store too. Some highlights so far have included: the salmon tataki, a lightly seared salmon with wakame (seaweed) and a tasty soy and citrus based ponzu sauce; the deep fried soft shell crab, which is crispy without being too greasy and brilliantly complemented by a spicy miso sauce; and then any of the sushi or sashimi dishes, which feature fish so light and fresh that if you’ve ever eaten sushi or sashimi from a supermarket, or even a chain sandwich shop such as Prêt or Eat, you never will again – it’s just a whole new ball game here.
Remarkably, this is all rustled up by two (yes, only two!) Japanese chefs, who sweat away in an open kitchen the size of a shoe box. They must be juggling at least 30 different orders at any one time as they field take-away orders from one side and restaurant orders from the other, while punters peer in at them nosily as they pass. But they seem remarkably calm – as do the kimono-clad waiting staff, who are friendly, efficient, and proof (take note surly British adolescents) that you don’t even need good English to deliver excellent service with a smile.
18 Hillgate Street
Notting Hill Gate
T: 020 7792 9313
Eat Tokyos can also be found in Golders Green, Holborn and Trafalgar Square. See www.eattokyo.co.uk for details.