Tucked away on Baldwin Street, Toyo Kitchen is a modest, cosy Japanese restaurant with an easily missable black store front. There’s no sign above the door, but the words ‘Toyo Kitchen’ are scrawled on the window in white pen. If you aren’t looking particularly hard, it could easily pass you by.
Inside, though, Toyo Kitchen shows its worth. The dining room has a minimalistic, black and white interior, with odd pieces of ornate Japanese decoration dotted around. I ate my lunch under the gaze of three laughing buddhas sat on top of a glass cabinet at the side of the room. Large windows and an open door provide a good deal of light giving the room a bright, summery atmosphere.
A playlist of lofi instrumental hip hop played consistently during my meal. While not what I expected from a traditional Japanese restaurant, it seemed to contribute to the relaxed atmosphere which the restaurant cultivated.
I was greeted by a friendly waitress who seated me on a table by the window. The selection on the menu was small, but appetising and reasonably priced – no lunch dish ran for more than £7.00. They accounted well for vegetarians and offered burgers and fries for those on the fence about ordering a spicy Japanese dish.
I ordered the Tofu Katsu (£6.50), which could also be had with pork (£7.00) or chicken (£6.50, or £7.00 if fried or grilled). They also offered the same dish with udon noodles for 50p more. To drink, I had a cup of matcha green tea (£2.20) in an attempt to fully commit to the Japanese aesthetic. The matcha came in a traditional ceramic bowl and tasted beautiful. It was a fair bit sweeter than most matchas I’ve had in the past, but still retained its earthiness.
The main course was similarly pleasing. It consisted primarily of four panko fried tofu cakes. Panko, for those like me who didn’t know, is a Japanese take on deep frying with a breadcrumb topping. The cakes were placed on a bed of spicy Japanese curry and rice, sprinkled with finely diced spring onion. On the side was a rocket salad with radish, cucumber and cherry tomatoes, lightly glazed with a creamy balsamic dressing.
The tofu was cooked wonderfully. It was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, while avoiding being overly chewy as tofu oftentimes can be. It added a nice texture to the thickness of the curry. The rice was cooked to perfection – it was fluffy, light and had that slight chewiness which only Japanese rice has.
The raw spring onion and the pepper from the salad added a sharpness which cut through the heat from the curry. The cucumber and tomato in the salad worked well as palette cleansers in what could otherwise have been quite a stodgy meal.
After finishing my meal, I sat happily with a second cup of matcha in the warm sun coming in through the window. It has the relaxed and comfortable atmosphere of a café with the food of a top restaurant.
Toyo Kitchen, 53 Baldwin Street, Bristol, BS1 1RA
0117 329 0581