I never set out to review Little Tokyo, as a rule (unless it's specifically requested) I don't blog about birthday meals... but with shoddy service and the camera in my bag almost screaming out at me I couldn't resist taking a few snaps so I could later rant on social media.
I was going to leave it at just a post across social media but it sparked a few conversations and I realised that my views of Little Tokyo really have changed since that first time I visited way back in 2012.
I'm not entirely sure what is going on with Little Tokyo at the moment, their website is down (I suspect they need to pay their domain bill), there have been planning applications submitted to turn the venue in to a strip club and the decor has been looking a bit drab, a bit tired and to be frank a bit dated.
Little Tokyo has always been a dark place inside, the tinted windows keeping it plunged in darkness I guess for ambiance? Things have moved on since 2004 when they were named in the Which? best food guide, something which they still proudly promote on a red banner outside their restaurant. Things have brightened up a little, the standards of Japanese food in Leeds and beyond has improved considerably and Little Tokyo just seem to be drowning in a deep dark hole.
These days rather than intimate diners and the city's foodies acquiring their seats they have become a place to host large groups of diners. Large groups for birthdays, cue the drumming of the pan and singing of Happy Birthday in Japanese and that weird thing they do with the torches... It's all very cute the first time around but after this happening repeatedly every 20 minutes during your meal it becomes a little tiring. I suspect the poor lady who has to do this every time is also growing bored of it.
If you book a table and arrive on time you will always be asked to sit in the 'waiting area'. A place where you're crammed beside the entrance to look at menus until your table is ready. If two groups show up (as happened to us) there isn't enough seating to go around and you end up awkwardly stood above your mates whilst getting in the way of people coming in and out of the door.
Another thing that gets my goat about Little Tokyo is their tables, their like slices of the width of a tree and then varnished. Thing is trees aren't naturally a great shape just to be sliced up, or at least the trees where they source these tables from aren't. There are precarious holes in the middle of tables where the candles threaten to plummet and set light to your shoes and bags. The narrow ends of the tables leave diners carrying out a carefully planned balancing act with their bento boxes hoping that they won't end the meal eating out of their lap. Do your diners a favour and buy some half decent tables please.
The service on the night was incredulous. It took 45 minutes before someone came to take our drinks order and a further 15 minutes for said drinks to find our tables. We regretfully said that we weren't ready to order food when we ordered drinks so we had a further wait to do so. I was halfway down my slowly sipped pint before our food arrived.
We'd all decided to order starters, and knowing I was to have a bento box for mains I had said to Daniel that I would be willing to share a starter to refrain from eating myself in to deep fried oblivion.... however when the waitress came and Daniel heard that others were having their own individual starters he ordered two portions of spring rolls for us both.
The spring rolls were served in a puddle of oil. They dripped grease on to my chin as I bit in to them and the lacklustre salad which accompanied them was a simple waste of time and effort.
I ordered the Chicken Katsu Bento Box, which comes with more lacklustre salad, tempura (deep fried) vegetables, two fillets of chicken breaded and deep fried (Katsu), and some slices of orange and lemon (dessert?).
I was disappointed to find no curry sauce with the chicken katsu, it's what really makes chicken katsu for me... but then I guess they'd name the box chicken katsu curry bento box if this was to come with it. I wasn't the only one who expected curry sauce, I asked D to grab a waitress to see if we could order a separate curry sauce (£1.65) and it baffled the waitress who told us we needed to order it... yes, that would be what we're trying to do. She then scuffled off and 10 minutes later another waitress appeared to 'take our order'. Curry sauce please. The curry sauce was then dished out to the three of us who had ordered the Katsu box. Perhaps something to recommend to individuals should they order this box?
Things tasted much better with the appearance of the sauce, it took away some of the dry and mundane fried taste. You'd be forgiven to think that I don't enjoy fried food but you'd be wrong, I bloody love it but there is a tact to it. Not too much batter and hold the grease aka put it out to dry on kitchen roll or paper.
The meal as to be expected was incredibly filling. D was held to a 'I told you so' in the case of the extra starter. We'd all decided against desserts, whether this was due to the selection (not presented to us) or whether due to us just wanting a change of scenery after being couped up in Little Toyko's basement for three hours and not particularly looking forward to another rendition of Happy Birthday.
There is a massive selection for vegetarians and vegans a like, you'll find fake duck, fake chicken legs and tofu steak amongst other things. Another factor which means it's still bringing in the customers, trying to find places in Leeds which cater to those who 'must have meat with their meals' and those who are vegetarian or even trickier vegan can often be a difficult feat in Leeds, especially if you don't want to keep looping round all the same places.
For a starter, bento box and a beer it was £20 which I didn't consider too badly priced but another in our group felt this was quite expensive considering what she had eaten (the same as me but minus a pint and plus a gin and tonic).
Have you been to Little Tokyo lately? What are your thoughts? Have they changed since you first went?