Much like the Brunswick Centre itself, the Hare and Tortoise endured years in an inexplicably grotty setting, considering the wealth that surrounds it. But now both have emerged triumphant on the other side of regeneration.
The Brunswick Centre has finally realised its sparkling white potential and so has the Hare and Tortoise, occupying a brand spanking new unit opposite to its original home right beside the Renoir cinema. The restaurant is modern and utilitarian – with a glass frontage looking onto groups of cherry-wood tables inside and the occasional booth, surrounded by as many chairs as is feasible. Walls are white and unadorned. At the front, sushi chefs beaver away in the open view kitchen, though the real kitchen is below stairs. The space may be relatively big for a restaurant in Central London, but it’s still not big enough for all of the Hare and Tortoise’s clients. Queues form outside day and night.
Given its constant popularity, it’s no surprise that this restaurant is noisy, rushed and busy. Clientele are mixed, though the majority are students drawn in by the low prices and huge portions. It’s not romantic or somewhere to linger, but it is certainly somewhere to grab a quick bite with friends, to catch up on the week’s gossip and to refuel.
The food is predominantly Japanese, with the odd Asian fusion dish thrown in for good measure. Starters include the fresh and delectable steamed Chinese greens with oyster sauce and edamame beans to the more indulgent pan fried dumplings – or gyoza – that come in chicken or prawn and chive variants. In all, the freshness of the raw ingredients is palpable, from the green bite of the edamame to the ginger and chilli discernable in the chicken gyoza. The sushi menu is long and exceptionally good value and comes with a horseradish sauce strong enough to blow your head clean off.
Main courses are divided into ramen, noodle and rice dishes. A Malaysian chicken curry with rice is beautifully warming, the spice just enough to conquer the unbearable sweet richness that can sometimes result from the use of coconut in a curry, the lemongrass bringing a citrus freshness that’s welcome. The chicken comes on the bone, therefore retaining much of its flavour – a bold move in a market used to the blandness of rubbery chicken breast.
Salmon teriyaki is great for a summer choice, or for those watching their waistline – the portion is large, but the constituent ingredients largely untampered with. However, this dish could certainly benefit from extra teriyaki sauce to conquer the vast mound of rice – make sure you ask when ordering, as the serving philosophy here is brief and to the point – that’s not to say it’s unfriendly – more that, at a fiver a dish, you get what you pay for and smiles are extra.
Jasmine tea or some of the fresh juices on offer (carrot, apple and orange) are perfect accompaniments for those looking for a holistic experience. For the more alcohol-inclined, the wine list is brief and to the point. A couple of whites, a couple of reds, available by the bottle or the glass. The white isn’t firewater, but it isn’t a gourmet experience either. They also serve enormous 2-litre cans of Asahi that have a screw-top so you can take the drink away with you when you leave.
The Last Word
When it comes to Japanese food, the Hare and Tortoise is a strong contender in any race.