A Bit Smarter Eating Out

Ginza Onodera, St James’s – A High-End Japanese Evening

April 4, 2017

Aside from having the good fortune (or misfortune, depending on your perspective of family pecking orders) of being the first-born in my family, I’m rarely the first at anything else. I don’t even consider myself to be part of the competition in any sporting endeavours, let alone there being the possibility of coming first. Even in things that I could potentially have a chance at winning (random quizzes, debates, Connect 4 challenges) I think I lack that cut-throat competitive edge to really excel. So can you imagine my surprise when I came first at something, without even trying.

There we were, sitting at the bar in Ginza Onodera, studiously reviewing the cocktail list when I casually commented to the bartender that it sounded like they were still putting the furniture together downstairs. The sound of drilling and plastic sheets rustling around will do that. Turns out that yes, the finishing touches to the dining room were being made and we were in fact, the first people through their newly refurbished doors. Fancy that, me, first in a restaurant… I think I can officially call myself one of the obsessive London food set! I did suspect it as being a bit of friendly bartender banter until I stepped into the vast, very much on the swish side, and absolutely pristine dining room. Yep, I’ll take first place this time.

We tried not to let that ‘oh so new’ fragrance and the army of staff, all lined up and waiting to strike, I mean, serve, put us off getting comfortable. For us, the menu was filled with plenty of appealing dishes, both familiar and intriguing. Predictably, we couldn’t resist the sushi assortment; twelve nigiri, perfectly formed with the most luxurious of ingredients. The fatty tuna belly is always a favourite of ours, but we were also very impressed by the beautifully butterflied raw prawn and the lightly seared wagyu beef. Had we not been running to a tight schedule, we might have been tempted with their sashimi selection too given the quality of the fish on offer.

I always feel a bit boring ordering chicken yakitori, but the nostalgia surrounding this dish almost always gets it to our table. It brought back many memories of a manic little yakitori bar where a certain someone and I had many an impromptu dinner back in our early dating days, but beyond that, this rendition from Ginza Onodera didn’t offer up much more. The rather exotic sounding Norfolk black chicken provided some allure, but aside from being tender and acceptably flavoursome, there was nothing special about these skewers.

When skimming through the menu, the turbot kobujime usuzukuri and the sweet shrimp wrapped in squid and topped with chirizu caught our attention; they definitely didn’t sound like anything we had before so of course we had to order them. The turbot was apparently cactus-fed (who knew that was even a thing?), marinaded in kelp, and had the most incredible translucent quality in looks and taste. The intricate stack of squid, shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, and seaweed sat on a radish disc in a whimsical fashion that while pretty to look at, was far less elegant to eat. I manoeuvred my chopsticks under the disc, held it like a mini taco and devoured it in one fell swoop; the splendid flavours intermingled most happily in my mouth!

We ended with the inaniwa udon and tempura, a cold noodle dish which I must admit was a bit of a wild card. Udon is a favourite of ours, but usually the fat, slippery variety served hot and this could not have been further from that. If this dish had a certain etiquette to its eating, we didn’t know about it so we improvised. It seemed logical to flavour the soy-based dipping sauce with the garnishes, then alternate between dunking in the springy strands of udon and the crisp tempura prawns and vegetables, before slurping up a bit of the sauce itself. However, if I’m being frank, I don’t think it mattered one bit; this dish was strangely refreshing and comforting at the same time, and we liked it, a lot.

We actually liked our whole experience at Ginza Onodera a lot. There were some teething issues with service and speed, but I think that can be forgiven since we were the first through the door and one of the first tables to be served on their opening night. The dishes were all sound, some were even spectacular but then there’s the small, or rather large matter of the price. I know, I know, Japanese restaurants in London are pricey and it’s down the road from The Ritz for goodness sake. This is the norm in this neck of the woods, I get that. Based solely on what we ate, the quality and execution of the dishes could justify the price, but be warned… don’t let your eyes get bigger than your stomach because it will end up burning a hole in your wallet!

Do you have a favourite Japanese restaurant in London?

As we were the first through the door at Ginza Onodera, we took advantage of their soft launch offer which took 50% off the food alone but it still wasn’t the usual cheap pre-show dinner!

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