It’s only when you walk around Soho that you realise just how many restaurants there are in London’s West End. On Wardour Street alone, which runs from Shaftesbury Avenue north up to Oxford Street there are dozens, as there are on the streets running parallel – Dean Street and Greek Street, and the side streets, and then on the interconnecting streets and those running South from Shaftesbury Avenue. And that's without counting the whole of Covent Garden, all with a five-minute walk.
In such circumstances, if you are going to open a new restaurant simply having good food isn’t going to be enough. There are no cuisines you can’t eat in London, and if you know your restaurants, there aren’t any good cuisines you can’t eat well, particularly Asian cuisines. Wardour Street after all runs right down into Chinatown. Instead you need good food and something which sets you apart from the crowd, and Inamo, which opened in 2009 and was packed the Tuesday night I visited, certainly has a concept.
What Inamo has, other than some tasty Oriental dishes (it doesn’t get more geogrphically or nationally specific than that, I’m afraid, although the menu claims “influences from Japan, China, Thailand, Korea and beyond”. What it does have is what it calls an interactive ordering system. It’s a strange way to term it, because all ordering is interactive – the waiter tells you the specials of the day, you might ask for recommendations, you possibly ask advice as to whether the combination of dishes is a good one, and whether you’ve ordered too much or too little, and then you get some drinks to accompany the food. At Inamo, you can do all of that, or you can simply move your finger on a circular indent on your side of the table and the image on the table top changes via an overhead projector, allowing you to scroll through the menu items, order, cancel, or simply change the “theme” of the table top just as you would the desktop pattern on your computer (the restaurant now licenses the system - for more information click here).
At first it takes some working out, but it’s not terribly difficult, and the staff are superb and talking you through the process. By the time we arrived at the table on the ground floor we had had a drink downstairs in the bar and already felt full of confidence in the waiting staff, particularly as the bar man had recommended a delicious cocktail – the Dragon: fresh lime muddled with homemade chilli and ginger syrup, topped with the Pampero Especial rum and ginger, served tall on crushed ice (£6.95) in preference to the Inamo: zesty mandarin puree muddled with spring onion and shaken with SmirnofBlack vodka and chilli syrup) (£7.95).
The menu doesn’t contain any surprises, but is very well executed. The hamachi with soy mirin truffle (£6.95) was fresh and went well with our other shared starter of sea bass salad with mixed cress and lemon ponzu (£6.75), while the main courses of duck with pancakes (£14.95) and grilled black faced lamb with moromi miso and kim chi lamb (£14.45) were good sized portions of fresh ingredients and nothing too fussy. What makes the experience memorable is the service, which is friendly, informal but knowledgeable, and the atmosphere in the bar. For a meal with work colleagues, this place is perfect, allowing for an interesting distraction and something to talk about. For couples perhaps a little tired of dining alone, it works similarly rejuvenative properties and you’ll be surrounded by a relatively young crowd, but obviously one with money to spend
Contact: inamo-restaurant.com, 134-136 Wardour Street, Soho, London W1F 8ZR, 020 7851 7051