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National Cafe – Friday Night Social with Tonkotsu

October 2, 2012

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Restaurants are always looking to entice new people, especially to overlooked venues. At the National Cafe’s Peyton & Byrne, within the National Gallery, TV foodie Oliver Peyton (a judge on the Great British Menu) has just started a new initiative, inviting a guest chef each week to cater at the Friday Night Socials. The inaugural event was:

“Bloomberg food critic Richard Vines, will team up with Emma Reynolds from Soho-based Japanese restaurant Tonkotsu for an evening of Japanese street food and katsu curry.”

Assured there would be vegetarian options, we went to check it out. The ‘social’ part of the night was shared tables, which proved slightly awkward as one lone diner was added to our group of four, leaving the nearest person obliged to make conversation as the others were too far away to comfortably join in. It’s a nice idea, but led to split conversations.

Overall the food was ok, and great value for money when you include the included cocktail and sake shot, but it was nothing to write home about.

It started with a complimentary cocktail, with a customised non-alcoholic one for me. I wasn’t thrilled with my overly sweet lemony concoction, but the normal cocktail, with a hint of chilli, seemed to go down well enough with the others.

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The vegetarian starters were edamame (just the normal stuff) and Japanese pickle Urumaki sushi. As I was the only vegetarian at the table, they just gave the sushi plate straight to me, but I wonder if they’d give one to each vegetarian diner. The best thing about the sushi was the strong, fresh wasabi. I didn’t even taste the pickle in the roll, and it could easily have been a carrot & cucumber roll. The non-veg rolls seemed similarly average, but the fried octopus balls got some enthusiasm.

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The main was a tofu katsu curry. The tofu was really well done – a big soft block coated with a wonderfully crispy breaded skin that didn’t feel oily or limp. The curry sauce was nice once we asked for some chilli sauce to add some pizzazz.

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The highlight was the mochi ice cream, with a selection of chocolate, lemon and coconut balls wrapped in dough. Unfortunately we couldn’t try them all, just one each, but they were lovely little parcels of cool sweet goodness.

Actually, the real highlight was chatting to Mr Peyton himself. I suspect he’d drunk a modest amount of red wine by the time he got to our table. He was quite open about the show, other chefs, cuisines and restaurants. His most candid statement – in answer to the Russian girl at our table asking if he’d tried Russian restaurants in London, he replied, “Why would I want to do that?” He also let us taste his favourite olive oil and even the glass of wine he was carrying around with him (Domagne Vilet from southern Rhone).

Mr Peyton seemed quite excited about next week’s event featuring wild & foraged ingredients and wild game, though he kind of has to be positive, doesn’t he? I’d call ahead and check for veg/vegan options but it does sound interesting.

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