London already has an abundance of southeast Asian and pan-Asian restaurants, and although the first spin-off venture from the Tampopo chain definitely carves out a niche with its design and ethos, it falls short of expectations when it comes to the food.
Money has been well spent on overhauling the original Tampopo concept, and the result is a light and vibrant space. Neon signs and black lights dangle between exposed pipes, and the wire furniture has been cleverly chosen in bright primary colours. As you walk in, the seating appears to be conventional shared benches, but East Street has also had the initiative to offer proper tables at the back. The open kitchen runs along one wall, Studio Ghibli animations are projected onto another and in places there are panels of mock corrugated iron, stuck with a collection of ticket stubs and flyers for well-known sights.
One thing’s for sure, East Street certainly knows its market. The fun, casual atmosphere will appeal to the full spectrum of drop-in diners, from pre-West End clubbers to weary shoppers. The football shirt-clad staff are friendly and overall the restaurant actually feels independent, although there’s certainly potential for the concept to be rolled out across London as is rumoured to be the plan.
With the entire menu lifted straight from the existing Tampopo restaurants up north, you’d expect the ‘street-market’ dishes to be refined and well-rehearsed, but unfortunately they don’t quite deliver. The food isn’t bad, just lacking in flavour, aroma and attention to detail – which in a city undergoing somewhat of a street food revolution, puts East Street behind the pack.
From the small plates (mostly £4–5) the vegetable tempura is reasonably light, while the Malaysian sesame prawn skewers are a little tough and reliant on a good squeeze of lime juice. Mains follow quickly and are freshly cooked. The pad Thai (around £8, depending on your choice of chicken, prawn or veg) has good, soft flat noodles, but it’s let down by a too-thick covering of fresh coriander and chunky, hard-to-eat pieces of spring onion. The pho (£8–10) is better, with more depth of flavour; herbs are served on the side along with thick wedges of raw red onion.
Unexpectedly, the desserts (mostly under £5) are worth sticking around for. The caramen chuoi ran (banana fried in a crispy breadcrumb and nut coating, served with creamy cinnamon ice cream and a pool of rich caramel) is a good bet and the refreshing mango sorbet is worth a try, too.
The very reasonable drinks menu has all the big-hitters. Regional beers (£3–4) including Beer Lao and Singha are accompanied by a small range of wines, topped by the ubiquitous South African Chenin Blanc, a snip at under £14. Soft drinks (£3 and under) include fresh mint tea and Vietnamese coffee. More of a surprise is the SangSom and Coke on the short cocktail list, served – in classy 'full moon' fashion – in a plastic bucket with an optional shot of Red Bull.
The Last Word
East Street manages to bring something different to a seemingly saturated market. It’s a shame that the food doesn’t stand out, and comparisons to Wagamamas and similar chains are unavoidable, but it is still a good option for an easy meal, affordable drinks and a friendly atmosphere.