The atmosphere in Tokyo BBQ is pleasant enough, with dark wood furnishings accented by rich colours, and music that provides a soothing, but not overbearing, ambience. The cooking style is similar to bulgogi, which is a Korean form of cooking over hot coals right at the table. The Japanese adopted this and styled it to their tastes. The menu combines elements from both cultures. It feels authentic, but alas, you can’t eat the atmosphere. Aesthetics aside, my dining experience at Tokyo BBQ can be best described as ‘A Tale of Two Meals’.


My initial visit was, in a word, underwhelming. Whether it was the chef’s night off, or the kitchen simply had a bad day, I can’t say for sure. What I can attest to is that the meal was definitely not something I would rate highly and I made up my mind that it would be my last visit.

The kimchi was wilted and lacked the crispness expected from this traditional spicy starter. Additionally, the edamame was subpar. The pods were too hard and the beans themselves too soft. Other than having some pleasant hot sake, we got off on the wrong chopstick.

We ordered the US flank steak, thin sliced salt tongue with Welsh onions, pork belly and spicy chicken thighs, which were all fine cuts of meat. The grilled garlic was also on the money. However, the assorted vegetables didn’t excite anyone at the table and some proved difficult to grill. Adding to the disappointment was a lack of attentive service at the table. This kind of experience doesn’t lend itself to ordering more food, so rather than continue on we paid the bill and left feeling dissatisfied, if not a little hungry.

But, I did say this was a tale of two meals. When recounting my experience, a couple of people who heaped high praises upon Tokyo BBQ were flabbergasted. They found my description of the meal incredulous and insisted on accompanying me there for another dinner. Being open-minded, and not one to say no to a meal, I couldn’t refuse.

The following evening my companion and I sat at our table and pored over the menu and changed up a few items. We stood pat on the Ozeki hot sake and the assorted kimchi and edamame. The kimchi arrived crisp and lightly coloured; instantly I had the inkling I was in for a different experience. The edamame was also markedly improved. The pods were warm and soft to the touch and the beans inside had a gentle snap to them.

The thick sliced salt tongue was a better choice than the thinly sliced variety. It was easier to cook on the charcoal grill and the temperature of the meat can be suited for those who prefer it on the rare side. The flank steak was just as solid a choice as it was the first time around. The pork belly was spicy and the chicken was plain for this meal, and we ordered assorted mushrooms instead of vegetables. All of the food far exceeded the previous visit and, just as importantly, so did the service. Our sake cups and beer glasses never emptied and our server cooked quite a bit of meat for us while chatting us up in the process. It was a redeeming performance.



 

To say that sometimes you get the best of meals and others you get the worst of meals would not only be cliché, it would be disingenuous. When it comes to eating out it’s not enough to be good, a restaurant must also be consistent. What I’m happy to take away from this experience is the reminder that all of us, including those in restaurants, are entitled to have a bad day. Too many writers relish the opportunity to skewer the subjects of their reviews and take joy in tearing down the efforts of others. Focusing on the positive is more valuable today than ever and I prefer to do so wherever possible, within reason. Rather than submit a scathing review I was pleased to give Tokyo BBQ another shot and they more than made it count. As a result, I’m giving them a mulligan for the first visit and their review score will reflect only the second visit. I will gladly have another meal there to let them prove that their bad day was nothing more than a fluke.

The Prices
Ozeki hot sake - VND150,000
Edamame - VND38,000
Assorted kimchi - VND48,000
US flank steak - VND138,000
Salt tongue w/Welsh onion (thin) - VND98,000
Thick sliced salt tongue - VND148,000
Pork belly (plain or spicy) - VND68,000
Chicken thighs (plain or spicy) - VND68,000
Assorted vegetables - VND48,000
Assorted mushrooms - VND78,000
Grilled garlic - VND28,000

Food: 12         Atmosphere : 9             Service: 12

Rating System

Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15

13 – 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 – 12.5 very good to excellent
8 – 9.5 good to very good
5 – 7.5 fair to good
0 – 4.5 poor to fair

The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals

Mystery Diner

The Mystery Diner is a person hailing from a country that may or may not be Vietnam. S/he can be seen frequently in the restaurants and cafes of Hanoi and HCMC, searching for the most delicious meals each city has to offer. Look for the masked figure in a cape, lurking in the darkest corners of your neighbourhood com tam or pho joint.

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