51 Wellington Quay
Phone: 01 534 8576
Irish Daily Mail
15 October 2016
As regular readers will know, I don’t have much time for Michelin stars but I do have a great deal of sympathy for the chefs and the restaurant staff who, through no fault of their own, are in thrall to them.
But I’m amused to see a pattern starting to emerge with these coveted culinary gongs. Last year I predicted that Michelin would continue to ignore The Greenhouse on Dawson Street and, of course, it got a star.
This year, I stated confidently that Heron & Grey in the Blackrock Market would not even be considered for a star and, of course they got one.
Next year, I expect the bookies will be hanging on my every word.
Anyway, this week’s restaurant is not Michelin material and I mean that as a compliment. They simply aren’t interested in that kind of palaver and concentrate, instead, on doing a very good job without a gel or a foam or a speck of gold leaf in sight. Let us give thanks.
Now, Eatokyo isn’t much to look at from the outside. Mind you, the same can be said for all of Wellington Quay. It’s noisy, it’s the rough edge of Temple Bar and you just don’t expect good food in such places. Eatokyo has the appearance, externally, of a big, busy ethnic fast food joint but go inside – and I strongly urge you to do so – and the perspective changes completely.
This is a bright, calm space in which bright, clean-tasting, visually delightful and sensually stimulating food is served by utterly charming staff. It’s an unexpected find, to be honest.
I can’t claim any expertise in Japanese cuisine and I’ve never been to Japan. However, I’ve eaten in some serious Japanese restaurants in places like London, Sydney and San Francisco and I feel confident enough to say that some of the best Japanese cooking I’ve tasted is in Ireland: at Dylan McGrath’s obsessionally exact Taste at Rustic (where the temperature of the sushi rice is judged to the nano-degree) and, less formally, at the brilliant Miyazaki in Cork.
At the other end of the scale Michie Sushi, the chain, is fine in its own way and I’m often grateful for the branch in Dún Laoghaire. Musashi on Capel Street is fun but I’m haunted by the memory of soggy tempura vegetables.
Well, Eatokyo does sushi the way a Japanese mammy would. Our slices of courgette, pepper, sweet potato and what have you were encased in shatteringly crisp batter that looked almost like frost crystals, dry as a bone, lovely. There’s something exciting about good tempura, the contrast of textures, the salty tang of the dipping sauce... I think I’d be more likely to have a Proustian moment with this than with a madeleine.
In much the same way as Brendan Shine was, and possibly still is, a savage for bacon and cabbage, I have an animal-like reaction to good dumplings. And here, we ordered two sorts, vegetable and prawn-filled. Both were first rate gyoza, the skins just leathery enough, the fillings fine while retaining texture, the dipping sauce, once again, spot on.
Perhaps due to hunger we eschewed the sashimi (which the menu helpfully points out are “thin slices of fish”) and headed for the sushi department, from which we had remarkably tender octopus, perfectly ripe avocado (how do they do that?), cooked prawn and raw tuna. Each of these was a little work of art, beautifully presented atop rice of just the right, coherent texture with pickled ginger and eye-watering wasabi, the Japanese take on horseradish.
Nagima yakitori, skewers of chicken meat doused in teriyaki sauce and dusted with schichimi powder (a blend of spices, sesame seed, chilli, orange peel, seaweed and even more) were an exercise in pure umami, that Japanese concept of intense savouriness.
We even managed dessert, which I think was called daifuku. This comprised a dense little green pillow of sweet chewiness made from rice starch. Let’s just say it broadened our horizons but you could play handball with it.
Espresso was excellent and with mineral water and three beers, the bill for this surprisningly luxurious lunch came to €64.60.
Eatokyo is a gem. Not only is the food great and keenly priced, the place has a buzz, a view of the Ha’penny Bridge and it’s smack in the centre of town. Add to that charming, friendly, helpful service and the kind of menu from which you can just keep on ordering, and you have a recipe for a darn good meal out.