Wednesday, 1 December 2010
Ten Ten Tei, 56 Brewer Street, Soho, London, W1F 9TJ
(I always do this. Why do I always get excited about going to a restaurant, take all the pictures of the food, and then forget to take a picture of the exterior of the place …)
Anyhow, here is what it looks like once you get into the restaurant. It’s a small tiny little shop just by Piccadilly Circus, and when there’s a queue, the queue kinda starts from in front of the sushi bar (which is where I took the picture below from) all the way to the outside of the restaurant. The best time to come is around 5pm when it opens (absolutely no one, and you can even get snippets of arguments between the waitress and the chefs if you’re close enough to the kitchen) or sometime after peak dinner crowds.
Before I continue, I did a quick search on Google about this place just to see what everyone was saying about it. Most of the reviews said this was the best place in London to have authentic Japanese food, fresh sushi, bla bla bla. Thing is, not having been to Japan, I know not what authentic Japanese food should be, but I’ll agree with those who say their sashimi is very fresh because while we were waiting in the queue, I could see large slabs of fresh-looking pink salmon, tuna, and other kinds of fish all sitting in the chilled counter where the sushi chef was. We usually come here not for the sushi or sashimi, but more for a reasonably-priced one-dish meal when we fancy some Japanese food. Perhaps their sushi is the best in London, but before I try out Asakusa in Camden, I ain’t saying nothin’.
The usual condiments-on-table picture. OK, if anyone knows the answer to this question, feel free to leave a comment.
What is the fruit sauce that is to the left of the picture?
If I’m not mistaken, Ten Ten Tei is the only restaurant where I’ve seen this sauce left out as condiment on the table. I had a quick read of the ingredients, and also tried a little taste of it, and from what I can tell, it’s kinda like BBQ sauce – slightly tangy, slightly sweet. What it’s used for though, I don’t know. Are you meant to use it as dipping sauce for the dishes, or are you meant to pour it over the noodles or rice?
(On a side note, I’m watching the Channel 4 news while I’m writing this, and they’re reporting that there was lots and lots of snow in Wales yesterday. They’re saying that there will be as much as 25 cm of snow next week. This is November. Uh oh.)
Back to the food. As it’s clearly not too tropical in London at the moment, we’re very much concentrating on hot food. Nothing but hot, hot, food. Ten Ten Tei does lots of one-dish meals – ramen, udon, dishes on rice, you name it, they (most probably) have it.
This was the ‘nabeyaki udon’ £9.50 – udon in hot broth with tempura, chicken, cooked egg and vegetables. While the soup isn’t anything magnificent (I’m sure the soup they use for the ramen is better), the mixture of ingredients and just-right texture of the udon makes for an interesting dish. Just picking through the little bits of surprises in the hot bowl is enough to keep my interest in the dish going, and by the time I’m done with all the tempura, fish cake, egg and vegetables, the udon is almost too much to be finished.
Our friends had the ‘oyaku don’ £7.50 – chicken with egg sauce on top of rice. If I could make this at home for dinner easily, I would. Absolutely love the egg and onion mixture which is just kinda cooked, kinda not cooked, quivering on top of the warm rice. There must be something more than just egg and onion in the mixture, and I will be Googling to find out what it is.
We also ordered the ‘nasu dengaku’ £4 – grilled aubergine with soy bean paste, another favourite of ours when eating here. Few places do this dish as well as they do it here. The inside of the aubergine is absolutely steaming hot, with the aubergine melting in the middle, flavoured perfectly with the salty, beany (miso?) paste on top of it. The skin of the aubergine is almost crispy – not sure how they do this, but I couldn’t replicate it when I tried making this at home.
How do 4 people share one dish? Like this.
Then, deciding that ordering the usuals just wasn’t going to be enough for this adventurous dinner on a cold, windy night, we decided to go where no one (in our group) had gone before. To natto land. Having heard scary tales on other food blogs about how this was an acquired taste / disgusting / like snot / absolutely delicious / one of those things you either like or dislike (vague, and non-committal) I just had to try it out, and so, after some persuasion of the friends, we looked up at the waitress and announced, ‘One natto, please.’
We almost expected a chorus of clapping and a pat on the back, and though we didn’t quite get that, she did beam at us, and told us that it was a favourite of hers.
This was me trying to lift some natto up to show the stringy, sticky texture that stick the fermented beans together. This is after all, a dish of fermented soy beans so you gotta expect some sort of mould or something or another about it.
When the waitress saw us hesitatingly nudging the natto around with our chopsticks, and peering at it as though it was going to speak to us, she came by and helpfully told us that it was best eaten with some soy sauce and sprinklings of chilli powder.
‘Rubbish’, I said. ‘We should try it out in all its original flavour before polluting it with soy sauce’, I said with some scorn to the friends.
Waitress was correct. Best eaten with (lots) of soy sauce, chilli powder, and maybe any other favourite condiment of choice. It doesn’t taste of anything, and though I could be all pretentious and pretend as though I am so sophisticated, have a superior palate that likes acquired tastes, I did not like it. The fiancé seemed to like it though, wolfing down chopsticks-full of beans at a go. Either that, or he was practising his chopsticks skills.
Trying to give you the truthful low-down of the dish – it tastes of nothing, but yet, manages to taste of moth balls. Texture-wise, similar to chick peas. That’s it, that’s all I can say about this. The stringy thing didn’t bother me, though it was kinda like eating a spider web because every time we lifted a bean out, the string that came with it would get caught in another bowl, in your clothes, or in someone else’s hair. Slightly disconcerting, but nothing too weird.
There was a dish described on the menu as being available in winter only – the ‘oden’ £4.50. Being curious as to what this was, and always eager to try what’s seasonal on a menu, we decided to try it out. I’d seen it in other blogs before, and it’s a stew that’s eaten around winter time. Why only in winter, I’m not sure. The broth tasted like miso soup, and the stew consisted of various types of Japanese fish cakes, a hard boiled egg, some konnyaku, and some daikon. It wasn’t anything I’d never tasted before, but yet, still pleasing with the clean flavours, and contrasting textures (mostly chewy, but I like that).
So, since I mentioned the fact that I don’t really post about restaurants I don’t recommend, I’m beginning to feel like there is not much point in my asking the ‘Would I recommend this restaurant’ question …
Also, since I can’t seem to get Google Maps into the end of my posts anymore, I am not sure how I should end the post. Lemme have a think …
Gotta do some cooking now. If you’re in Piccadilly and want some Japanese food, this is the place to go to.