I confess, I've never been to Little Tokyo and had a mental image of my experience before I went. I imagined sitting on a chrome high stool, chopsticks poised, attempting an air of cosmopolitan cool as a bewildering parade of super-styled sushi nibbles whizzed past. It seemed a bit stressful.
We went for the proper stuff, and to start chose to share the half nigiri set (£6.35) – six pieces of raw fish sushi and vegetable rolls. Thick little slabs of raw salmon, sea bass and prawn were succulent and soft but firm enough to reveal its crucial freshness.
Entering Little Tokyo to be greeted by a smiley host in a bright floral kimono, it was instantly clear that is not how they roll. As we were led past the low tables, bamboo curtains and water features, I breathed a sigh of relief and had a strong word with myself for falling victim to the Yo Sushi! style branding of Japanese cuisine.
Little Tokyo couldn't be further from this. Located down an alley facing the grey backside of House of Fraser, Little Tokyo creates a world away from it's drab back street location. With indoor foliage, dark wooden bridge over a fish pond and fairy light canopy, it's more peaceful Japanese garden than megacity Tokyo. Arguably a little tacky, but I'd choose this over clinical minimalism any day.
Glad of a menu rather than a conveyor belt, we studied the options. There's a lot going on and not being a connoisser it inspired more than a couple of questions which the staff were happy to answer. They must get it a lot. Feeling more confident with the fairly good wine list, we went for a Sauvignon Blanc (£12.50), a crisp light white with delicate citrus flavours.
With no regard for Nemo and friends milling about in the pond to our left, we looked to the sushi. For the wary, Little Tokyo make it easy with their raw duo taster (£2.99) and half portions, although the Anglo set with rolls of cheese, ham and cooked tuna is perhaps a concession too far.
We went for the proper stuff, and to start chose to share the half nigiri set (£6.35) – six pieces of raw fish sushi and vegetable rolls. Thick little slabs of raw salmon, sea bass and prawn were succulent and soft but firm enough to reveal its crucial freshness. Dipped in the sharp soy sauce with a blob of killer wasabi swimming in, they became soaked in intense flavours of hot horseradish with underlying notes of liquorice in the soy. A clean, refreshing and, as Little Tokyo harp on about on the menu, healthy start to the meal.
We had just enough time for a palette cleansing pickled ginger before the mains arrived. We went for the bento boxes – traditional Japanese meal trays which neatly compartmentalise the main, rice, vegetable tempura and crispy glass noodle salad. As my friend made appreciative noises over a pairing of tender duck with mango (£15.95), I got involved with the charcoal grilled eel teryaki (£14.99). Slithers of charred eel had a deep smoky barbequed taste but was overpowered a little by the dark sticky sweet sauce.
The main dishes were let down a little by some of their neighbours. The tempura vegetables were a bit hit and miss varying from crisp, lightly battered florets of broccoli to heavy sweet potato fritters. There was no sign of crispy glass noodle salad, instead a side salad made limp by a tangy lemongrass dressing.
A twisted slice of lemon was obviously a decorative filler but it undermined the good looks and functional nature of the bento box. Thankfully, the main, rice and selected tempura were good enough to overlook what was going on to the left of the box.
It seemed only right to reward our saintly sushi eating selves with dessert. Besides we needed to know what Japanese profiteroles (£3.95) are all about. They're two skewers of crispy deep fried donut balls filled with ice cream dribbled with a konbu (seaweed) syrup akin to the toffee of toffee apple fame. Almost wincingly sweet, one between us was more than enough.
Service throughout was friendly, efficient and fast. It was Saturday night and very busy yet with their professional unflustered staff and intimate layout and characterful décor, Little Tokyo achieve a certain tranquillity about the place. It all makes for a surprisingly relaxed dining experience.
I do object to the choice of exterior decoration. The laminated A4 photos of dishes that adorn the entrance are entirely uncalled for. This is not a beachside caff in Magaluf where such ludicrous restaurant practice could be expected, but never condoned. Similarly the banners proudly announcing being named one of the Yorkshire Post's Top 10 Restaurants in 2000. Well done, but it's time to move on.
It's what's on the inside that counts though and inside Little Tokyo we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Past the unnecessary outdoor facade is a good value adventure into Japanese cuisine served with a lot of charm and complete lack of pretention. And not a colour coded travelling fish dish in sight.
|Breakdown:|| 7/10 Food |
|Address:|| Little Tokyo |
24 Central Rd
0113 243 9090
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