Thursday, 11 February 2016
Fair play to chef Yoshihiro Murata, the decorated (at least in his native Japan) name behind Tokimeite. After the near-universal chorus of derision that greeted the opening of Chrysan back in 2012, which sat empty of customers for six months before quietly closing, you'd think he would have had enough of those fickle, ungrateful Londoners and slunk off back to Japan to enjoy his seven Michelin stars around people that properly appreciated his efforts. But no, here he is again, this time attached to a striking new space on Conduit Street which looks like it's had just as much money lavished on it as the ill-fated Chrysan. Will the mistakes of old be learned? Could Tokemeite be the "contemporary Japanese dining experience" that we've all been waiting for?
Well, in a word, no. Bafflingly, Tokimeite seems to fall into many of the same traps that befell Chrysan, from the overly large and unfocussed menu, to the mad pricing and poor execution of Japanese staple dishes. There were problems with more or less everything I ate on a recent lunch, such that pointing it all out runs the risk of turning this blog post into a relentless list of complaints. But hey ho, why break the habit of a lifetime, here goes anyway.
I have no intrinsic objection to the idea of 'Mussel Miso soup', which comes as standard with all of the lunchtime bento box deals. Done well it probably could be a very nice starter, it just seems a bit odd to make it the default starter for all the boxes, including the vegetable ones. Or maybe the mussels are just a way of distracting punters from the fact that the miso broth itself is incredibly dull; no better in fact than the one from Pret that costs about £1.50. This was £8 as a standalone dish.
Nigiri was poor. All the fish looked lifeless and waxy, sloppily cut and sloppily presented. A salmon roe piece had fallen apart and the nori wrapping welded to the bottom of the bowl before it had arrived at the table, but nobody from the kitchens or front of house thought it might have been an idea to re-do it. Raw squid can often be chewy, so that was no surprise, but I didn't expect a slice of what I assume was sea bream to be equally leathery. Most unforgiveably of all, though, all the rice was fridge-cold. This was sushi seemingly prepared by people with no aptitude or enthusiasm for the job, and made for a rather depressing eating experience.
Tempura was better, at least the batter was delicate and relatively greaseless, and all the vegetables had a nice bite. The dipping sauce it came with might as well have been tap water for all the flavour it had, and £16 is a fairly astonishing price to pay for some fried veg and a couple of prawns but at least we did eat it without much complaint.
"Wagyu walnut rice" also came with the bento boxes, although oddly we only received one bowl of it instead of two of everything else. But we didn't feel like chasing for a second portion after trying some of it; a sad, sweaty bowl of almost wholly tasteless rice and nuts, topped with a teaspoon of grey mince. If this was your introduction to "Wagyu" beef then you'd quite rightly wonder what all the fuss was about. Another example of how the word "Wagyu" has about as much meaning as "craft" or "artisan" these days.
Pork ribs came in two flavours, one bland but doused in enough Sichuan pepper to make your mouth taste of metal, and one slightly more acceptable but very sweet in some kind of honey sesame glaze. Both had quite chewy flesh - these had not been treated to anything approaching low'n'slow - and hadn't been sliced up, that job for some reason left for us. They were £16. There was also a bizarre tower of potato salad, which I didn't take a picture of, that was so icy cold it was almost frozen, about 2 tablespoons worth for £5.
It's tempting to blame at least some of the problems with Tokimeite on the fact that they're trying to cover too many different Japanese cooking styles at once. In Japan, there are sushi restaurants and there are tempura restaurants and there are yakitori restaurants, each allowing for ultra-specialisation in their chosen field with often dazzling results. Perhaps Tokimeite had already lost the battle when they tried to put tempura, sushi and Wagyu steaks on the same menu to try and please as many potential customers at once from the same kitchen, Jack of many trades, itamae of none. But then you realise that Roka do exactly that to great effect; their sushi, and their chargrilled meats, and their tempura, is all top-notch. Not Japanese top-notch perhaps, but certainly worth the money.
No, Tokimeite disappoints not just because the menu is large and unfocussed but also because even if it wasn't, that even if they did just focus on sushi or tempura or those ludicrously-priced Wagyu steaks (£100 for 200g? Jog on, mate) you get the distinct impression they'd somehow be just as careless, confusing and overpriced. And so for all the same reasons that did for Chrysan, I fear that Tokimeite, too, is not long for this world. Maybe it will be third time lucky for Yoshihiro Murata? I'm sure I'll never know.
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