Sunday 2 May 2010

Tokyo Diner, Chinatown

When I decided to start writing this blog and had to come up with a title, I wanted to choose something that was original but not too esoteric and self-explanatory without being trite. Although over time I've found myself wishing that I could have come up with something as brilliant as Thring For Your Supper (now alas soberly renamed 'Oliver Thring') or, my absolute favourite, And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Our Bread, I was and remain very satisfied with TwelvePointFivePercent. 

Occasionally when I tell people the name, it takes a few seconds for the penny to drop before they chuckle and say, "Oooh, twelve point five percent service!" but just about everyone gets that I took the title from the pretty-much-ubiquitous 'discretionary' service charge which, with the noble exception of the D&D group, just about everywhere whacks onto your bill these days.

Just about everywhere, that is, except for Tokyo Diner, a groovy little Japanese cafe just off Leicester Square, which not only doesn't add service to your bill, or stamp on your bill in red that service is not included, but actively states on it's menu that it won't take tips. Yes, you read that right,
won't take tips.

According to the
menu, 'Paying extra for service is a foreign concept. Since Tokyo Diner first opened in 1992, tips have never been expected or accepted. Any money which is mistakenly left on tables goes to St. Martin-in-the-Fields’ unit for the Homeless.' How brilliant is that? 'Mistakenly left on tables' has to be one of the subtlest pieces of cultural snobbery I've ever encountered, as if to say 'Ha! You English people and your crazy insistence on tipping! You get fleeced for twelve point five percent in most places and in the ones that don't, you feel obliged to leave it anyway! FOOLS!' Next time you're in a Japanese restaurant and service is added or the bill's left open, you might want to bear this in mind when deciding what, if anything, to leave.

The no tipping policy isn't the only endearing thing about Tokyo Diner (to which I was taken by my pal Greg when we were in need of sustenance and a stiff drink after seeing
Debbie Reynolds' slightly surreal one-woman show on Thursday night). It's light, bright and spotlessly clean, with functional wooden bench seating configured in sociable twos, fours and sixes and set with everything one could possibly need including pots of disposable chopsticks, bottles of good soy and ton katsu sauces and a sprinkler of shichimi seasoning. As soon as you're seated, you're brought complimentary green tea and a little dish of rice crackers to graze on while choosing your food. Staff - almost all Japanese, for reasons explained on the quirky website - are enthusiastic, polite and humorous, evidently taking both pleasure and pride in what they're doing.

The menu offers a familiar selection of curries, noodle soups, bento boxes and sushi, all at super-reasonable prices. Should you be feeling particularly hungry (and we were - sitting through two hours of Carrie Fisher anecdotes works up one hell of an appetite), extra rice is offered with any dish completely free of charge - but 'please don't waste it' the menu exhorts. Another example of the restaurant's iron-clad social conscience is that there's no tuna on the menu, and there won't be until Tokyo Diner finds 'a trustworthy sustainable source'. Fortunately neither of us had our heart set on tuna that night and both went for a bento box, Greg's vegetarian, mine ton katsu.

Each was very good, and abundant, Greg's vegetarian option substituting a generous helping of stir-fried mixed vegetables for the crispy-coated pork fillet in mine. Other components were interesting and delicious; as well as a mound of rice we enjoyed pickles, a refreshing, sharp wakame salad, braised aubergine, some butter-soft salmon sashimi in mine and veggie California rolls in Greg's. The resulting whole was, as a good bento box should be, a substantial, balanced meal of complementary flavours and textures, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. Our enjoyment was further enhanced by a bottle of the house white wine, a very drinkable Vin de Pays du Comte Tolosan, strong in Sauvignon Blanc flavour and an incredible bargain at just £6.90. The mark-up on that can't be more than about a token 25% which just makes me like the people behind Tokyo Diner even more.

The bill, for food, that great value wine and absolutely not one single percent service, came to just sixteen quid each and could have been even less if we'd not been so badly in need of liquor. Tokyo Diner shoots right to the top of my list of favourite casual/cheap-eats options; instead of leaving a tip they ask that you 'Please come back and bring your friends' and it's a certainty that I will. I just hope that the no tipping policy doesn't catch on
too widely, else I may find myself once again racking my meagre brains for a new blog title.

Tokyo Diner, 2 Newport Place, London WC2H 7JJ Tel:020 7287 8777 

Tokyo Diner on Urbanspoon 


  1. I'm rather fond of Tokyo Diner but haven't been for a while - you've reminded me to return.

    You know it's a proper Japanese restaurant when they won't accept a tip. Tajima Tei on Leather Lane is the same.

  2. I love the 'mistakenly left on tables' line! Rather refreshing to see that mindset in a London restaurant, and £6.90 for a decent house wine is a revelation!

  3. I love this place too! One of my top go-to places in town for solo lunches especially, when my office was on Trafalgar Sq I'd often go here for the soba noodle lunch deal called the 'Soba Lunch', I was usually the only person in that company to have a sober lunch *badum-tish*

  4. What Meems said, wonder why I haven't been for ages, must rectify and go back soon!

  5. I used to go there a lot as a student when I was broke and craving for Japanese food. Japanese food used to be so expensive in the early 90's with exception of Tokyo Diner. I am still broke but haven't been back for about 15 years. I am glad to hear it is still doing well and still as good as I remember.

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  6. I haven't been to this place for ages but I remember really liking it - I didn't know about the service charge refusal however. Love it. Great write up as always! So, when are we going out to Chinatown together - we are practically crossing paths each week...


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