Little Tokyo, Leeds: nice to vegans, not so nice to fish
The Japanese restaurant Little Tokyo, between Briggate and Leeds Corn Exchange, often appears on lists of recommended places for vegans. I’ve been a few times and always enjoyed it – it’s not the cheapest option around, but the food has always been good and the atmosphere very pleasant.
Little Tokyo really looks like a restaurant from the Land of the Rising Sun, with wooden walkways, bench seats and tables and Japanese fittings and furnishings providing an authentic dining experience.
After waiting for a few minutes in the bar, we were ushered to our table by the window in the upstairs seating area. There’s another seating area downstairs where, should you really feel like ‘turning Japanese’, you can even sit cross-legged at low tables on the floor.
Little Tokyo has a pleasant ambience with fairy lights and subdued lamps creating a cosy and relaxed atmosphere.
The restaurant whilst authentic has one Japanese feature that I’d much rather it didn’t – an indoor pond of Koi carp. I’m not an expert in fish, but I’m quite sure that large fish like Koi need much more space than the cramped tank in which they listlessy swim at Little Tokyo – especially when so many are being kept together in one pool. I’ve also been informed that in the past many of the restaurant’s Koi have died due to human contamination of their environment.
An equally sad sight is the lone fish they keep on a counter in a tiny barren bowl. Some will no doubt think it’s absurd that I should feel sorry for a fish. I believe though that fish suffer like every other sentient creature, and if they have to be kept as pets then they should at least be provided with a stimulating and adequately spacious environment.
Watching the fish endlessly circling in its bare glass prison actually depressed me and I raised my concerns with the friendly and helpful waitress after the meal. She said she’d pass on my comments to the restaurant owner.
Anyway – back to the food. Little Tokyo certainly has a wide variety of options for vegans, and there’s even a dish called ‘vegan’s paradise’ on the menu. It’s a cooked salad with tofu, mushrooms, locus root, mountain yam and daikon – which is apparently a radish-like vegetable. Whilst the vegan’s paradise sounded intriguing, I decided to order the ‘tofu steak bento box’.
A bento box is a set meal divided into four sections and including rice, a salad, pieces of tofu and vegetable tempura (vegetables dipped in a light batter and deep fried).
The meal is presented really nicely, and despite being useless with chopsticks I couldn’t wait to tuck in (or rather, feebly try and pincer bits of food into my mouth). The dish was undeniably tasty, the large tofu chunks drizzled in a flavoursome sauce whilst the salad was crunchy and the dressing nicely sharp. The vegetable tempura was crispy and fresh though as all of the pieces are encased in deep fried batter, didn’t seem particularly healthy.
I’m not a health freak, but I’ve been to many restaurants where the vegan options have been both delicious and healthy – food definitely does not have to be fatty to be tasty.
I enjoyed the meal, but to answer the rhetorical question in the tofu steak meal description on the menu – “Has vegan food ever tasted this good?” – I would reply, “Yes it has, and less stodgy.”
My partner also enjoyed her bento box with ‘vegan chicken chunks’ in teriyaki sauce. Whilst I find it unnecessary to describe plant-based foods like tofu as ‘chicken’, it’s understandable that Little Tokyo does so as it’s not a dedicated vegan or veggie restaurant. She said that her food was good but having now been to Little Tokyo several times, and having discovered other great restaurants in Leeds, she wasn’t as impressed as the first time she’d visited.
Our dishes cost £13.55 and £14.55 each, a sum that admittedly won’t break the bank, but which isn’t cheap either for a meal that’s essentially deep fried vegetables and a few pieces of tofu.
If you’ve never been to Little Tokyo then it’s definitely worth a try; they have a wide array of well-labelled vegan options, and the food is undeniably good – if not incredible. I just hope they find a bigger space for their fish…
Disagree? Let me know why in the comments below!
24 Central Road
Leeds LS1 6DE