Hype, I’m convinced, is very easy to create but very difficult to sustain. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of social media can drum up a feverish level of interest in a new restaurant. You simply lure a few food bloggers with a reputation for selling their souls for a quick buck (looking at you Hungry Hong Kong) along with the sons and daughters of a few property magnates and you’re guaranteed to get the cash registers ringing. TokyoLima has done so with great aplomb to create the most talked about opening of 2017.
Beyond that first month the life of a Hong Kong restaurateur gets much more challenging. The unpredictability and greed of local landlords, obscene costs of imported produce and the accelerating pace of which trends emerge and expire, push great restaurants into the red unfairly quickly.
The challenge of maintaining profitability over the long term necessitates operations being run with a financial iron fist. And a good fisting from an accountant is exactly what dinner at TokyoLima felt like.
Allow me to explain.
The initial success of TokyoLima has quickly led to the owner’s cashing-in and opening all week. We went on the first Monday of operation and my god did the staff not want to be there. Our sullenly waitress went about her business with all the zeal of Melania Trump entering the presidential bedchamber.
We were escorted to our seats in front of the open kitchen. Now, I’m a big fan of open kitchens – they are usually windows into a beautifully choreographed world of craft and flair. In this case however, the kitchen was raised two feet above the restaurant floor, so what should have been front seats to a great performance, was in fact a view of a black wall and loud, lifeless commands from an unseen head chef. I can only assume this decision was to maximise the diners per square foot ratio, rather than a desire to build a memorable experience.
In what feels like yet another error of judgment on the part of the bean counter, the menu is frustratingly large. Choice paralysis quickly gripped Mrs A and I, and we blindly pointed at a single dish from each section of the menu.
In no time at all the Peruvian beef taco and tuna tiradito arrived. The meeting of Peruvian and Japanese should be a beautiful thing. But in this case it feels like an uncomfortable blind date in which both parties anxiously search for common interests. The Yellowfin tiradito took perfectly good sashimi and drowned it in a puddle of mango sludge. While the awkwardly brittle taco contained a dollop of unrefined beef, onions and pepper, all resting on lettuce that had clearly been left out of the fridge for slightly too long. The next dish was a very strange – although not unpleasant – combination of prawn tempura, avocado, prawn tartar and purple mash potato (yes, purple mash potato!). All the constituent parts were perfectly nice but they didn’t need to be squashed into the same bowl.
And then we waited and waited.
I was recently learned that delivering the starters quickly and delaying the mains is a deliberate tactic cunningly designed to encourage patrons – out of great appreciation or sheer boredom – to hasten their drinking and order another bottle or two. As our sake being perfectly affable we slowed down in an attempt to make it last the duration.
We finally received our next course, chicken yakitori. It wasn’t really worth the wait being, as it was, chicken on a stick with some caramelised onion.
Our side dish arrived last. And again, it had the accountant’s hands all over it. Yuca – to my mind a cheaper alternative to any root vegetable you can think of – was deep fried, yet remained tough, woody and tasteless. It was only made remotely palatable by a massive bowl of chilli cheese mayonnaise.
And with that our meal came to an unceremonious end. We left unfed and unhappy.
Whether it’s the result of the hype, the night of the week or our poor choice of dishes, it was all very disappointing. Given the positive reviews it’s received, I do feel obliged to give TokyoLima a second chance once the hype has died down (and it inevitably will) but I don’t think it will be until the next financial year when the accountant’s eyes are elsewhere.
How much? $900 for two with a carafe of sake
Where? Car Po Commercial Building, G/F, 18-20 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central
Who goes? Anyone with an eye for the latest culinary trends