Some people have great ideas, but only a tiny budget. This place appears to have been opened on a shoestring, but they’ve ploughed their quirky dreams into an area that’s barely roomier than a walk-in wardrobe.
Bar-style seating lines the length of the space and there are colourful Post-It notes stuck to the walls, with Biro-scribbled pictures and messages from past diners that include “Hot hot hot hell ramen” and “The maki was magnifico”.
As well as bright displays of Tokyo neon street signs, this BYOB restaurant’s other USP is the sushi at the front of the space. In greengrocer-style trays, these are individually sealed in plastic wrap, I suppose to take away, though sit-in diners are also encouraged to pick up these packets.
Why? I don’t know. Surely sushi should be made freshly and visibly. There is no cold counter display of fish, which doesn’t really endear me to eating the raw stuff. Still, I suppose millions of people buy supermarket sushi every day without demanding a factory inspection. We took a few of these plastic packs.
While quaffing a free cup of green tea, we tried the four-piece set of dragon rolls (£4.20), with avocado scales on its outer, a centre of tempura prawn and a portion of edamame on the side. Contrary to my prejudices, it tasted sea clean and good, as did our set of two prawn maki and gunkan versions (£2.40 each), the latter of which featured a sparkling topping of carrot-coloured tobiko.
From the side dish menu, we also went for three pork gyoza (£2.80), which were rather bland and watery.
Yakitori was next. A set of two skewered takoyaki octopus balls (£2.80) were hot and creamily centered, aubergine (£2.30) was miso sweet, but the strips of fruit had withered to almost nothing, while the sirloin and mushroom (£4.20) and lamb cumin (£2.80) versions were equally negligible in size, though well seasoned and soft.
All these shrivelled brown things on sticks made me think of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road, or zombie television series The Walking Dead, when protagonists have to barbecue a vole they’ve found under a rock in order to survive. Anyway, that’s just a portion-size issue.
We didn’t have that problem when it came to the ramen, but we’d both gone for the double when you can also order this in a half-price single size. My miso version (£7.60) had a dense content of 93 per cent noodles in a smooth soya broth, though there was also sweetcorn, milk tooth-sized cubes of silky tofu, daikon, toasted sesame seeds, spring greens and a flag of dried nori, all pushed to the surface like a rowing boat on top of a surfacing whale. The tonkotsu ramen (£7.90) kind of lacked the meaty depth you’d expect from a “chicken and pig bone broth”, but did feature chopped spring onions, slices of fatty pork and bamboo shoots.
Both options were hearty, rustic, but more workaday than exciting.
For pudding, we chose a few mochi (glutinous rice dumplings) in sesame, peanut and taro flavours (£1.80 each), all three of which were pressed into individual plastic boxes, like bonsaied kittens. Nice enough, with liquid centres that corresponded to their flavour (apart from sesame, which had a chocolate middle). Interestingly, nine people died in Japan this New Year while choking on mochi, so remember to chew like it’s Hubba Bubba.
After we’d eaten, the waiter took a Polaroid of us and stuck it underneath their counter, along with other pictures of previous customers.
Good idea, but sometimes you can have too many of those. This place has a minuscule kitchen, yet their menu has around 50 options.
It must be like trying to stage Band Aid in a beach hut.
Maybe they’d be better served focusing on one thing – the ramen, say – and doing it slightly better.
I’ll write that on a pink Post-It note and stick it to their wall next time I’m in.