As dining experiences go, a visit to Inamo is unique. Nowhere else can you choose your own virtual tablecloth – a rather psychedelic experience – or select food from a ‘drop down’ menu as opposed to a conventional laminated type. There is more, too. You can watch events in the kitchen through Chef Cam, play games, request the bill or order a taxi at the click of the touchpad. This is the world’s first interactive ordering system.
The owners are a couple of Oxford graduates, committed to on going self-improvement for diners. CEO Danny Potter and Noel Hunwick, his business partner, decided to invest in this technology. They built a prototype which has evolved into a trademarked ordering system which is beamed down onto each table from an overhead p.c. and projector housed in a hexagonal case fitted to the ceiling. It is a work of genius.
Although it is probably aimed more at the professional and technologically literate twenty or thirty something, the gizmos are accessible to all but the most ardent of technophobes. The background music also is not too loud, so that diners cannot easily talk and be heard.
The restaurant design is a mixture of new and traditional. The technology is offset by a calmness one might expect in an Asian botanical garden, a serenity enhanced by the backdrop, a delightful Japanese vertical water feature. Giant poles of bamboo and more elegant partitions separate different parts of the dining, private dining and bar areas.
Drinks, which can be taken at the long bar with high tables and stools, include an interesting range of sakes and shochus as well as indulgent cocktails. For instance, the white chocolate martini-Simply Cariel vanilla vodka and Mozart white chocolate – comes with a generous dose of sugar syrup that will delight those with a sweet tooth.
With all these diversions, and the large number of covers, the food might easily end up being an anti-climax of average mass catering. Not so at Inamo. The quality of the oriental fusion dishes, featuring Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean and south east Asian influences, is impressive, both in their timing and balance of flavours and textures.
Sean Marshall, ably supported by Sebastian Francis, has been the Executive Chef at Inamo for three years as this Pan Asian restaurant has developed. Both believe passionately in providing food which is both affordable but staying true to quality cuisine. The comfortable price point offers a winning formula in this quirkiest of establishments.
The menu encourages grazing with 19 small dishes, 12 larger dishes, eight sides and three desserts. Dim sum, sushi, sashimi, satay, and other Asian staples are well represented, including the ubiquitous duck with pancakes, albeit –as with other dishes – with the Inamo “twist”
All dishes serve two and, in true oriental style, appear in the order the kitchen prepares them. This can occasionally make for a crowded table unless ordering is staggered. On the night we visited the welcoming and efficient service was overseen by the delightfully engaging deputy manager Michele.
The restaurant frequently gets through 270-350 covers on Thursday to Saturdays and up to up to 400 covers on the busiest nights, turning over a table up to four times in a single evening.
Fine Dining Guide visited the St James branch but there is also a smaller one in Soho.
The first dish to arrive was also the most beautiful. A small plate of cherry tomatoes, marinaded in ginger, chilli and shallots, had a well-judged degree of sweetness, acidity and heat. Avocado, carved as a beautiful flower, gave a rich creaminess, adding to the exquisite, Japanese like presentation.
Two types of sushi Maki rolls were sampled. The first combined crisp pieces of soft shell crab with smooth avocado and fragrant chives. A fusion style dressing of creamy chilli mayonnaise worked well with the soft rice and tasty filling.
Tuna Maki featured tender and generously sliced fish with a filling of avocado and soft shell crab. Dressed with sesame seeds and herbs this delicate combination provided freshness of taste with textural contrast and, like the crab Maki, clean presentation.
A dish of soft, succulent tuna sashimi was enlivened by a crisp, refreshing shredded daikon salad.
Skewers of satay chicken were moist, tender and well flavoured – the result of skilful marinading and grilling. The accompanying peanut based dip had a richer flavour and crunchier texture – an improvement on those usually encountered elsewhere.
A trio of dainty Gyoza dumplings had light, thin wrappings with a well seasoned fillings of cod and prawn. Yuzu soya dressing gave a citrus lift that enhanced the seafood well.
A large bowl of seafood Ramen noodles was generous in its serving of prawns, shitake and enoki mushrooms, coriander and other vegetables. However, the broth itself, although scented with lime and lemon grass, proved rather bland, lacking depth of flavour. This was also a difficult dish to eat unless served with small bowls which were not offered.
On the other hand, a signature dish of Miso and Yuzu salmon was outstanding. A generous fillet, accurately timed to retain its succulence, was adorned with a gelatinous glaze of yuzu & wasabi spiced miso, which worked well with the fish without overwhelming its flavour. A lively pickled salad, with its sweet and sour notes, was a fitting accompaniment.
Beef on hot black stone allowed a little restaurant theatre, with diners cooking their own thin slices of rib eye. This was the choicest cut, with its marbling, giving a more succulent, flavoursome result. Served with nam jim, teriyaki & Korean BBQ sauces, this was a deservedly popular dish.
Finally, an accomplished fusion dessert of vanilla crème brulee with strawberry and lemon grass syrup with raspberry jelly, allowed the only element of diary in the whole meal.
Overall, a meal at Inamo is a memorable experience for the novelty and not least for the food itself. Located in Lower Regent Street in the heart of the West End, on a site once occupied by St Alban, a celebrity haunt, it has all the advantages of location, state of the art technology and expertise in cooking. Having already made its mark on the capital’s dining scene, attracting a well-heeled clientele, it is likely to go from strength to strength. Fine Dining Guide will follow its progress with interest.