The universe must really want me to eat my words. After admitting my distain for pan-Asian restaurants, it has already forced me to make one exception to the rule. And now, it’s made me get off my high horse again for a tiny Islington restaurant with a kooky tale behind its name. Apparently, Tootoomoo is a little girl who cooked for a giant and now the restaurant serves dishes cooked to her recipes. All too fantastical and ridiculous for this no-nonsense eater; all I care about is whether this Tootoomoo was actually a decent cook.
Given the gimmicky backstory I was expecting another run of the mill reproduction of some popular Asian dishes, but Tootoomoo kicked these expectations to the curb. The menu is a collection of sharing dishes, split into categories such as plates, sushi, sashimi and salads, tempura and grill, and wok – an Asian style tapas type thing, if you will. The plates are small, and so are the prices which means you can try quite a range without worrying how far away pay day is.
The team recommend three dishes per person so if there’s a pair of you, go for the Explorer Menu – you get to choose three dishes from plates or sushi, and three from everything else, and it’ll only set you back £30! We sipped on a couple of cocktails, a cosmopolitan and mojito, while studying the menu to whittle down our final six choices. It’s harder than you think…
First to fly out of the kitchen was the soft shell crab tempura; it’s a dish which has become a firm favourite of ours, we seem to always order it whenever we spot it on a menu. Tootoomoo’s version had a much thinner than usual coating and a zingy jalapeno mayo dipping sauce – both tweaks I was very much in favour of. Quick to follow were the perfectly pleated chicken gyoza complete with a well seasoned and textured filling, and crisp bottom.
Then our tiny table filled up even more with the arrival of everything else… I appreciate that the dishes come as they’re ready but when table space is at a premium, the kitchen could slow down a notch and give us a diners a chance to catch up. We quickly divvied up the crispy duck rolls, probably the blandest and my least favourite of the dishes, to make room for the hamachi sashimi, Szechuan chilli chicken, beef rendang, and a small side of rice.
I can’t really fault the indulgently thick slices of hamachi served with a noble blob of kizami wasabi. It’s a rarely seen fresh wasabi with the same pungency and spice but much better texture, we thought. Can more restaurants start serving this, pretty please?! The Szechuan chilli chicken was a solid chicken stir fry; tender chicken, vegetables which still had plenty of bite left in them, and just enough sauce but it was missing the spiciness I associate with Szechuan chilli anything. We improvised by chomping on the smattering of dried chillies, it sort of worked.
The heat was lacking in the beef rendang too but that disappointment was mitigated by the fact the flavour was fantastic – reminded me of my favourite version, straight from my dad’s kitchen. Some might argue for a drier rendang but I liked the consistency; all the better to smother that rice with, I say. The purist in me was still a tad conflicted by the last two dishes. Turning down the heat, presumably to appease a wider clientele, felt unnecessary, but on the other hand, I couldn’t deny the fact that both dishes were still persuasively tasty.
I always say that desserts are a bit of a non-event at Asian restaurants, and again, there was nothing groundbreaking here. However I did think the Tootoomoo twist on bog-standard ice-cream, serving frozen yoghurt, was a smart move. We chose mixed berry and chocolate but there’s also pistachio or oreo – any would have been a light(ish) way to end the meal!
I didn’t care much for the cute backstory, but I do care for the food at Tootoomoo – I love how unpretentious and accessible it is. Big on flavour and quality, but small on price; it doesn’t get much better than that, does it? They’ve clearly got a customer base that agrees. They started life as a takeaway joint but have now got three dine-in restaurants in North London. The Islington branch we visited is cosy, but I’ve heard Whetstone and Crouch End are much roomier, so whether it’s for a casual date night or fun group outing, they’ve got you covered!
Are you a fan of pan-Asian restaurants? Which is your favourite?
Thanks to Tootoomoo for the Asian tapas style feast, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone.