Toko Dubai


That’s the no man’s land between breakfast and lunch, right?

It’s what Angela Lansbury from the 80s American TV series “Murder, She Wrote” would’ve called ‘elevensies’.

So imagine my horror when my dear friend and owner of this blog, invited me to ‘brunch’, on a Tuesday at 9pm. Yes, you read that correctly … 21:00

Frankly, the opportunity to have brunch a good ten hours later than traditionally scheduled, was not wasted on me. The only catch? To write a review of restaurant. (Note to self: no such thing as a free night brunch).

So herewith, like Angela Lansbury at her famed typewriter, I write and offer you, my review of Toko Dubai.

Set within the swish and swanky Vida Downtown Hotel, the restaurant Toko (not TokYo) is as chi-chi as one would expect.

With that certain Japanese style, the reception area is stark but beautifully lit. I’m immediately drawn to the oversized art on the wall. Could that possibly be a portrait of Zira from ‘Planet of the Apes’ dressed as a geisha-chimp? I think of ways to take it with me, underarm, unnoticed, post-meal.

I digress.

The friendly maitre d’ guided us to our table which was just as well because the dining area is dark and foreboding. With my failing eyesight, I could’ve ended up sitting anywhere. Fortunately, we sat perfectly close to the long bar where a splash of sunshine yellow lighting helped to illuminate the menu and a larger lady in Comme des Garçons helped to occasionally block it.

I’m excited by the intensity of the experience which they call “contemporary Japanese izakaya”. Well, that’s what it says on the menu and roughly translated by Wikipedia means “a type of informal Japanese drinking establishment that serves food to accompany the drinks”. It’s my type of place.

Even the chain-smoking DJ in the far corner who is spinning discs (or pressing play for CDs / MP3s) does not offend me to the point of having to walk out. Nevertheless, I have to question if it’s truly necessary to have a live DJ performing in an izakaya on a Tuesday night, playing to a very small crowd. Would six sets of diners be classed as a ‘crowd’? I’m not sure.

Back to the table.

To be honest, I felt a little bit sorry for the effortlessly accommodating waiter, serving the two most food-sensitive foodies in the house. I don’t eat fish or anything that lives in water and he’s vegetarian with an allergy to mushrooms.

I’d already prayed to the God of restaurant reviewers for no raw-fish sushi and was fantastically relieved to see the menu listing Chicken Char Siew Pau, Braised Beef & Pickles and … (watch out for the culinary curve ball) a Japanese Angus Burger. With fresh memories of avoiding London’s Angus Steak Houses, this Englishman was sticking to the more traditional dishes, such as Chicken Yakitori … that’s Japanese chicken gizzards and offal by another name.

Toko rules state: “choose two dishes per person” from the starter list and dim sum basket menu and “one dish per person” from the Nikuman Slider section. It all seemed very strict and forbidden to deviate from this rule. And just because one diner is vegetarian and enjoying the tasty home-style vegetable spring rolls, doesn’t mean he should expect an extra portion.

Edamame (delicious boiled and salted soy beans in their pods), papaya salad with lime and coriander, a chicken dish and ONE single portion of those famous veggie spring rolls all featured in our round one. Some wonderful dim sum followed as part two. I’m not going to patronise you, dear reader, with unnecessary adjectives to describe these dishes, other than to say that each was a lovely, mouth-watering piece of heaven.

And then came the ‘Nikuman sliders’ – you know, those yummy steamed, floury buns that are usually jam-packed with scrumptiousness. On this occasion, they were beautifully served on slate, lined up like a trio of pale Kermit the Frog’s lips. My personal favourite? Barbeque Duck and Cucumber. Another genuine delight both visually and on the palette. For his greedy diner, the sliders could have been packed with more between-the-frog-lip filling.

By this stage of the night, I think that I am full. Full, that is, until I see more elegance served on a bed of ice – a selection of Mochi ice cream. They say that we eat with our eyes. That is true but I also manage to eat with my belly. Mochi ice cream is – put simply – some beaten up sticky rice wrapped around the loveliest chunks of the creamiest ice cream. You won’t see it on my plate for too long. Can’t say the same for my hips and bum.

There’s an obvious danger that Toko could be too cool for school and potentially pompous. However, given the location and the price point of AED195 per person, I think we enjoyed excellent service and great quality food without that awful pretentiousness. Oh, and any place that allows the DJ to play a dance version of Elton John’s 1990 hit ‘Sacrifice’ can’t be *that* cool, right?

Like the song; loved the restaurant; still want the monkey magic chimp-art.

Nick Stephenson