Tokimeite (“anticipation”) is a second attempt at a London venture from Yoshihiro Murata, who runs three-star Michelin kaiseki restaurant Kikunoi in Kyoto (and two other starred restaurants in Japan). He previously was the figurehead behind the ill-fated and short-lived Chrysan. Tokimeite opened in November 2015 and takes the place of Sakura, which lasted four decades on this spot. However although Mr Murata’s name is all over the press release and website he is fact just on a consulting contract here rather than actually cooking or indeed having any stake in the place. The owners are Zennoh, the business arm of a Japanese Agricultural Co-Operative called JA. Indeed finding who is actually cooking here took me considerable persistence. It is in fact a gentleman called Hayashi Daisuke, who apparently once worked at Kikunoi in some capacity and “has just moved over from Japan”. Perhaps the reason why the company appears so coy regarding the identify of its chef is that Mr Daisuke was actually head chef of the self same Chrysan, which folded ignominiously within a few months.
The building is spread over three floors and can seat up to 70 guests at one time. It has been smartly refurbished. The menu was very wide ranging, offering sushi, sashimi, tempura, donburi, beef, soup and tonkatsu as well as bento boxes. Most high-end restaurants in Japan specialise, sometimes to an extreme degree, so that they can perfect what they serve.
The beef apparently comes from Japan (presumably frozen) but when I asked more about it I was unable to find out from which prefecture it came. I was told it was from “all over Japan” which does not help much in choosing since there are major differences in style, quality and price between the brand and prefectures, such as Yonezeawagyu from Yamagata, Kasuza from Chiba, Kobe from Hyogo etc. When I tried instead to inquire about the beef grade I was given a number on the US meat grading system rather than the Japanese wagyu scoring system, which did not inspire me with confidence. At £90 for a 200g sirloin it would nice to be confident about what was actually going to appear on the plate.
As well as a list of sake there is a wine selection. The latter ranged from £30 to £170, but bizarrely there were no vintages listed, and mark-up levels seem eccentric. Example bottles were Castellare Castellina Chianti at £50 for a label that can be found in the high street for about £18, Schloss Reichartshausen Ress Spatlese at £60 compared to a shop price of £18, and Domaine Roux L Chateniere St Aubin at £120 for a wine that retails at about £28. The priciest listed was described ambiguously as “Chassagne Montrachet Premier Cru Les Macherelles” so not only had no vintage but no grower (Domaines in the Les Macherelles climat include Guy Amiot-Bonfils, Jean and Jean-Marc Pillot etc, some almost twice the market price of others in Les Macherelles, even in the same vintage). If a customer is pondering dropping £170 on a bottle of wine surely the list should identify what the bottle actually contains?
A selection of sushi included yellowtail, chutoro (semi fatty) tuna, salmon and sea bass. The fish was of tolerable though unexceptional quality, but the sushi rice was fridge-cold when it should be body temperature, a cardinal sushi sin. Since even the most inexperienced Japanese sushi chef would know this I inquired about who was preparing it, and apparently it was a gentleman from Hungary. Perhaps there is a long tradition of sushi in that part of the world, but the basics seem to have eluded this particular chef; the pickled ginger on the side (from a jar) was at least pleasant (11/20). This kind of lack of attention to detail reminded me of the otherwise estimable Danny Meyer’s only (relative) restaurant failure, Tabla in New York, which notionally served “Indian” food. On my one visit there I was presented with a dismal popadom that could literally be folded, like origami paper. I am not sure who made this popadom but I seriously doubt that any Indian chef would have done so – it is as if the kitchen were working from a cookbook of Indian food but had never actually tasted the real thing. Similarly, here it is as if the sushi chef had heard of the idea of sushi but never really tried it himself.
Better was a tonkatsu bento box (£22). The pork from apparently from Berkshire, which was appropriate since the Black Berkshire breed is one of those used in Japan for tonkatsu. The tonkatsu itself had decent flavour though was a touch dry, with a reasonably crisp coating, though the salad with it was nothing special (12/20). Mushroom miso soup on the side was rather watery rather than possessing the deep stock flavour that the best examples in Japan have (11/20).
By this time I had no inclination to try dessert, so I cut my losses. Service was friendly if at times a little bewildered, led today by a patient assistant manager who used to work at Zuma in Dubai. My waitress (from near Krakow) was very pleasant and efficient. The bill came to £45 for two dishes with just water to drink. If you ordered wine and had three courses then a typical cost per head might be £75, more if you decided to indulge in the wagyu mystery meat.
The opening of Tokimeite may have been much anticipated but the reality disappointed me. From the lack of product knowledge to the mediocre sushi to the surreal wine list this had all the feel of a foreign celebrity chef “phoning it in” and collecting a consultancy fee rather than really focusing on producing a top quality restaurant product. Perhaps it will last longer than Chrysan, but I will be amazed if it lasts a tenth as long as its predecessor on this site, Sakura.
A local for me and I am personally impressed. Presentation is faultless. If anyone wants to know what a hi end Bento box should look like, come here. It is an experience. And of course it tastes great.
You know from our conversations of old that I’ve dined well over the years, so I would ask you to give this another shot, Andy - I really feel it is one of the, if not the best, Japanese restaurants now in London.