Tucked away on Baldwin Street, Toyo Kitchen is a modest, cosy Japanese restaurant with an easily missable black store front. Formerly Khao & Bao, it’s in good company – sitting just a few doors down from Chilli Daddy and across the road from its big sister Sticks & Broth.
In its opening week, there’s no sign above the door – instead, its name is scrawled on the window in white pen. If you aren’t looking particularly hard, it could easily pass you by.
Inside, though, Toyo Kitchen shows its worth. The dining room has a minimalistic, black and white interior, with pieces of ornate Japanese decoration dotted around.
Food is eaten under the gaze of three laughing Buddhas sat on top of a glass cabinet at the side of the room. Large windows and an open door provide a good deal of natural light, giving the room a bright feel at lunchtime.
A playlist of lo-fi instrumental hip-hop is not what you’d probably expect from a traditional Japanese restaurant, but it contributed to the relaxed atmosphere which the restaurant cultivated on Tuesday lunchtime.
I was greeted by a friendly waitress who seated me at a table by the window. The selection on the menu was small, but appetising and reasonably priced – no lunch dish was more than £7. They cater well for vegetarians, and have plenty of choice for those on the fence about ordering a spicy Japanese dish.
I ordered the tofu katsu (£6.50), which can also be made with pork (£7) or chicken (£6.50/£7). They also offer the same dish with udon noodles for 50p more. To drink, I had a cup of matcha green tea (£2.20) in an attempt to fully commit to the Japanese aesthetic. The matcha came in a traditional ceramic bowl and tasted beautiful, sweet and earthy.
The food was similarly pleasing. The four tofu cakes had been given a panko treatment – a Japanese take on deep frying, with a breadcrumb topping. The cakes were placed on a bed of spicy katsu curry and rice, sprinkled with finely diced spring onion. On the side was a rocket salad with radish, cucumber and cherry tomatoes, lightly glazed with a balsamic dressing.
The tofu was cooked wonderfully. It was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, while avoiding being overly chewy, as tofu oftentimes can be. It added a nice crunch to the fairly heavy curry. The rice was cooked to perfection – fluffy, light and with a slight chewiness.
The raw spring onion and the pepper from the salad added a sharpness which cut through the heat of the curry. The cucumber and tomato in the salad worked well as palette cleansers in what could otherwise have been quite a stodgy meal.
After finishing my meal, I sat happily with a second cup of matcha in the warm sun streaming in through the window. It felt like being in the comfortable atmosphere of a café, with a belly full of food from a new restaurant that’s well worth seeking out.
Toyo Kitchen, 53 Baldwin Street, Bristol, BS1 1RA
0117 329 0581
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