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I arrived at TOMO. After noticing the gentle twang of traditional music, the zen-like shrine at the entrance to the restaurant and the welcome of ‘irasshaimase!’, I was immediately struck by a feeling of being in Japan. We were guided through the restaurant, a large, long space laid out in separate dining spaces, arranged in an arch around the kitchen in the centre. It felt vast and modern, yet elegant, with plenty of understated Japanese character – like the sort of Japanese restaurant in New York that’s worthy of a cinematic setting.
I was already impressed – then I opened the menu. In the taxi on the way to the restaurant, my date – who has never been convinced by sushi-mania – asked me repeatedly whether TOMO would serve only sushi. Luckily, the menu was comprehensive. Within it lay every note I could wish a Japanese venue to strike: single meal ‘don’ bowls, sushi and sashimi, yakitori, cold and hot noodles, tempura and so much more. The list included classics and popular favourites, as well as dishes that Japanese people love (and foreigners tend to hate) such as nato.
Incidentally, the restaurant was fairly busy that evening, and amid the westerners and locals were several tables of Japanese diners – a promising sign of authenticity. Our food soon arrived: the miso soup was good, the wakame salad was decent, the tempura texture was slightly greasy and not quite crispy enough, and the shiokura (raw cuttlefish marinated in salty cuttlefish liver) was, as our waitress had predicted, a mistake. In my excitement I’d overestimated my love of fish, liver and oddities: once combined, I wouldn’t recommend it to the western palate.
Those were the so-so elements of the evening: now it’s time to get down to the business of pure delight. The shimesaba kikka (cured mackerel with vinegar and chrysanthemum flower) was an elegant little dish, with tender flesh and a pleasantly subtle sourness. The flowers added a wonderful extra dimension to its flavour and texture. The hiyashi nasu agedashi (deep-fried eggplant with dashi) was exceptional. The bluish-purple colour had seeped through the entire flesh of the aubergine, giving it a delightful appearance, and served cold the sweetness of the aubergine and mouth-filling dashi seemed intensified.
The agedashi tofu was equally incredible. The inside of the tofu was creamy and sloppy, while the outer fried layer was broth-soaked, drippy and amazingly gooey. The fatty tuna nigiri and scallop sashimi were also both excellent. At this stage my date told me he was beginning to rethink his take on sushi, and Japanese cooking in general. After I’d tasted the scallop sashimi, and exclaimed in excitement over the particular attention to detail in the presentation, my outbursts of ecstasy over the dishes provoked a few comments from my companion.
‘It seems as though you’re on the best date of your life – only not with me, with this restaurant,’ he pointed out. ‘But do you think TOMO will call you tomorrow?’ With TOMO’s help, I’d successfully converted someone to the cause of Japanese cooking. And there’s no shame in calling TOMO tomorrow – this restaurant and I will be seeing each other again, and regularly.