Opening Hours 12:00 noon till 3:00 p.m. lunch (Sat-Thurs); 7:00 p.m. till 11:00 p.mCall Now
Bold flavours from the Land of the Rising Sun shine at this Ruwi institution that’s as authentic as they come.
Weeding out the mall franchises and chain eateries, finding a traditional Japanese restaurant in Muscat is a task for the stalwart foodie. You can imagine our surprise then when we were finally let in on a 34-year-old secret nestled on the eighth floor of the Al Falaj Hotel in Ruwi.
Full disclosure: Tokyo Taro has been around almost as long as this Team Y food writer has been born – existing for over three decades in a Muscat market that, in 1985, it would have had the monopoly on for Japanese cuisine. We’d still say it does today.
Stepping out of the elevator on the eight floor of the hotel you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s stopped by accident on a service-floor meant for staff only. A tiny vestibule greets us with a humble sign letting us know we are indeed in the right place. Through an unassuming door we step into the warm glow of an authentic ‘izakaya’ – the homely, after-work watering holes endemic across Japan.
A cozy dining area is divided by lattice-framed, family-style tables with a hot-pot stove in the middle. While to the right of the entrance two sliding wood doors lead to a low-slung private dining room where you can dine, Japanese-style on the floor.
We’re walk-ins and it’s the weekend, so we were lucky to snag a small table near the window with an evening view of the Al Hajjar Mountains. One of the first customers to arrive for the start of their 7:00 p.m. dinner service, there’s just one other table occupied – a family going for an early dinner. An hour-and-a-half later when we leave, the entire restaurant is full, loud, and bustling as a proper Japanese izakaya should.
Our waitress is dressed in a traditional Japanese ‘yukata’ and is quick to bring us some hot hand-towels and the menus. Expecting a taste of tradition, we were extremely (pleasantly!) surprised to see how far and wide their offerings ran on the authenticity scale.
Their menu is expansive – and no fusion fare or off-the-wall maki roll combos here. Tokyo Taro is as traditional as they come – even serving up ‘natto’ on the menu, the extremely stinky fermented soybeans that are more than an acquired taste for the uninitiated.
Not so brave as to venture that far off-palate, we opt for a sharing portion of their Taro Special Teppanyaki which comes with freshly-grilled prawns, chicken, beef, and fish. For the budget-conscious, the portion is more than generous to share – and clocking in at RO13 they’ve made it a meal deal as it also comes with two starters, a portion of miso soup, and fresh fruit for dessert.
As we wait for the teppanyaki to be prepared we order up two additional starters of vegetable tempura and some delicate spicy tuna and prawn tempura maki rolls. Both additional starters arrived along with the two included in the teppanyaki set menu – a Japanese salad and a bowl of shoyu broth with delicate braised tuna and Japanese radish.
Service is fast and friendly throughout our meal and all preparations fresh, keeping the focus on minimalism in appreciation of a dish’s key ingredient – as is the Japanese culinary style.
The tempura was piping-hot and the panko batter fresh and not gloopy or stodgy, standing up to the sweetly-delicate dipping sauce in spades. The maki rolls were equally delicious, the soft sweet morsels of prawn pairing perfectly with the tangy spice of the mayo and amplified with a dose of wasabi; while the tuna rolls were a textural marvel of fresh tuna, light in flavour and not too ‘fishy’ against the toothsome-ness of the nori seaweed.
The Japanese salad was also freshly-prepared – not a wilted vegetable in sight, though we would have preferred a few additional lashings of the wonderfully acidic ‘wafu’ dressing. The shoyu broth with tuna and radish was also delicious – though, due to the addition of bonito, may strike some culinary newbies as a bit too deep-sea-flavoured.
The teppanyaki arrived on piping hot a platter, heaped with tender morsels of meat and lush stir-fried veggies. Accompanying the spread were delicate Japanese-style barbecue and cashew dipping sauces and a separate side order of short-grain vegetable fried rice.
The tender slices of beef tenderloin were absolutely moreish and went down a treat with the barbecue sauce, while the pieces of fish – we weren’t sure if they were kingfish or hammour, flaked away at the slightest touch of our chopsticks. The only downside is that there was only a single lonesome prawn on the entire platter which we ended up having to cut in half to share – search as we might through the mound of stir-fried vegetables to see if any were lurking under a wayward piece of broccoli.
While most Muscat foodies may have long been in the loop about Tokyo Taro, the capital’s Japanese culinary secret, not-so-best-kept – for us Team Y newbies it was a welcome discovery and one that’s now on permanent rotation on our foodie roster.
8th floor, Al Falaj Hotel, Ruwi
Opening hours: 12:00 noon till 3:00 p.m. lunch (Sat-Thurs); 7:00 p.m. till 11:00 p.m.
Contact: (+968) 2470-2311, Ext. 714
Dinner for two: RO45.6
Authentic Japanese eatery in both menu and ambience that’s stood the test of time to carve out a culinary niche on Muscat’s foodie scene.
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