I like Jun Tanaka. I like his food, I like his approach and style of cooking, and on the occasions I’ve met him at a food event or cookery demonstration, I’ve liked his gentle and warm demeanour.
His latest restaurant has been on my To Eat list for several months.
Located on Charlotte Street in the heart of Fitzrovia – a neighbourhood full of restaurants, bars and food stores – this is The Ninth restaurant kitchen in which Tanaka has worked, giving rise to the minimalist name. The menu is all small plates, ideal for sharing but one or two dishes work equally well for a solo visit. The food is broadly French Mediterranean in style.
My visit coincided with one of the sunniest days of summer so the folding glass doors were pulled fully open to the breeze. Our table just inside the terrace afforded the perfect balance of blessed shade, fresh air and sunlight.
Crisp red mullet, pickled carrots, fennel and shallots: a beautifully cooked piece of fish in a light, crisp batter, balanced nicely by the light pickled vegetables.
Crisp lamb shoulder, tomato, watermelon and feta salad: I’ve come across watermelon and feta but wasn’t sure how well it would work with lamb shoulder and tomatoes, but of course it was excellent. Lovely crunch from little gem and cucumber and lots of flavour from softened red onions and a thick herby dressing.
Pan-fried herb gnocchi, girolles and peas: Wish this dish had been a little more generous as it was superbly good. Soft, light, gnocchi packed with herb flavour, perfect coated in the thick garlicky sauce. The addition of girolle mushrooms and fresh peas was just the right choice.
Salted beef cheeks, oxtail consomme, peas, broad beans and girolles: Another delicious dish, far more generous than the gnocchi so if you’re only ordering one or two, it may be worth asking staff about portion sizes. The salted ox cheek was soft, mildly salty, beefy and delicious with the vegetables of summer, shiny from the rich broth.
Sorbet: the flavours of the day were strawberry and coconut, both packing a punch and both silky smooth with not an ice crystal in sight. We loved the extra touch of serving these in a freezer-chilled cast-iron serving dish, which kept them cool while we ate. The strawberry had that wonderful flavour of fully ripened fresh berries. Likewise the coconut was impressively intense, the sweeter of the two flavours.
The set lunch menu here is an absolute steal with two plates priced at £17 and three at £21. My friend and I ordered four savoury dishes and shared a dessert, making our food bill just £38 plus service. For cooking of this calibre, that must surely be one of the best deals in London right now?