22 Charlotte Street
London, W1T 2NB
Tel. 020 3019 0880
Food type: French/ Mediterranean
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road
Website: the Ninth
Note: the Ninth was awarded a coveted Michelin star in the 2017 guide.
A quick break from our gastronomic tour overseas to bring you one of the openings in London that I am most excited about. I generally do not like to visit restaurants within the first 6 months of their opening. Many new restaurants undergo significant teething problems whether it be the execution of food from the kitchen or the service lacking polish. In some cases, a restaurant may not even last that long! (e.g. the ill-fated and universally panned Le Chabanais) For me, it is a bit of an acid test to see if a restaurant is good enough. When I go out to dine, I am not fussed about being the first blogger to review a restaurant. I simply want to have a good meal and given that I do not live in London anymore, every time I am in London, I want to make sure that this is the case. After all, there are plenty of places to dine well in London.
However, I have decided to break my own set of rules to dine at the Ninth – a restaurant which has only been open for just over a week and one where you can still smell the fresh coat of paint. In fact, if you google the restaurant’s website, you can still see the old name of ‘Andrea’s Greek Restaurant’ associated with it! There is however nothing Greek about chef Jun Tanaka’s cooking. Jun is a chef whom I have been a huge fan of when I was living in London and he was cooking at Pearl. I have also bumped into him a couple of times when he was doing some filming at Borough Market for the programme ‘Market Kitchen’. Jun certainly has the cooking pedigree having cooked in some of London’s biggest kitchens (the Square and Gavroche to name but a few)
The minute you step into the restaurant, you are greeted with a trendy, hip, vibrant atmosphere. The restaurant is divided onto two floors and I had requested to be seated on the top floor near the window where we could watch the world go by. This would also be a test of the kitchen since they are located on the ground floor to see whether it would have any effect on the food. The design of the restaurant is certainly minimalistic and rustic with uncovered bricks and wine bottles hanging from the wall. I would of course go and choose one of the bottles right at the top! There are no table cloths – you are presented with a faux marble table in keeping with the casual dining concept. If you are dining alone, it would be best to dine downstairs by the bar which gives a great view of the dining room.
The dining concept is casual focusing on sharing plates. Those two words ‘sharing plates’ generally sets off alarm bells with me because this generally results in large bills with very little food. However, the portion sizes here are fairly generous – you can easily get away with ordering 3 course a la carte and leave satisfied – and the pricing is very fair. But we were ravenous and here to eat!
To start with, there are a few snacks which you can enjoy with your aperitif. Oh well, we will just have one of each! Everyone loves a scotched egg and they do an excellent duck scotched egg here. The scotched egg is presented sliced in half to show off its runny centre while the duck meat was kept pink. As good as the scotched egg was, it was trumped by the oxtail croquette filled with meaty amounts of oxtail, spiked with a little mustard.
We opted for a couple of starters to share. A razor clam ceviche is a Jun classic having been featured on his menu at Pearl often as an accompaniment to a fish course. Here, allows to stand on its own, the vibrant flavours of the marinade is allowed to sing. The razor clams themselves were tender. Our favourite starter would be a plate of prawn macaroni with 5 plump king prawns on a bed of macaroni dressed with a little sauce made from the prawn shells. What looked like a deceivingly simple plate of food packed an unexpected huge flavour punch.
Although we were advised against it, we just could not help but order an intermediate fish dish when we saw the red mullet risotto on the menu. A generous whole mullet, beautifully butterflied and carefully cooked sat on top of a bed of warm saffron risotto and finished with some aioli. I was very impressed with the cooking of the risotto which (for London) had a good amount of bite to it. Even in some of the top restaurants in London, risotto is often served very soft to reflect the general preference of diners here. If there was one small nitpick, it would be that there was a bone found in the mullet – not a big problem in a casual setting.
For mains, it was a no brainer to go for the salted beef cheeks with oxtail consommé. Beef cheeks are traditionally cooked in a slow braise with red wine and other garnishes resulting in a very heavy dish. As such I was interested to see Jun’s take of this dish where the beef had been salted and slow cooked and served with a very clean and ethereal oxtail consommé. This is no doubt a very classy interpretation of a pot-au-feu and one we both enjoyed very much. The other main we opted for was the lamb en croute (aka lamb Wellington) where the traditional duxelle of mushroom was replaced by a layer of slow cooked lamb shoulder.
Despite bursting at the seams, we still soldiered on with puddings (because why would you not want to eat any pudding?) On the menu was Jun’s signature tarte tatin with rosemary ice cream to be shared by two people but we were so full by this point that the thought of a massive tart would just cause us to keel over. Instead we wisely opted for two other lighter options. A caramelised lemon tart was beautifully made, with excellent pastry and a good sharp lemon kick. And who does not like eggy bread? We just had to try the pain perdu – a huge slab of brioche cooked with lots of love served with vanilla ice cream.
Even in its infancy, there is a lot going right for the Ninth. First off, it is not trying to be a smart, fine dining restaurant in an area where Pied-a-Terre is just down the road. The menu is filled with plenty of items I enjoy eating at a price point which is very sensible. Whether they will hike the prices after the initial opening period remains to be seen but as it stands, the current pricing represents excellent value for money for the level of cooking delivered. This leads me on to my second point – the food here is unpretentious. It is delicious without being over embellished with unnecessary garnishes, tweezed flowers or stupid foraged herbs. It is simple food free from all frivolity which in itself is a much more beautiful thing.
There are of course things that can be improved on. Two people working the entire top floor is really stretching the amount of work of the staff meaning that at times we were left to top up our own drinks. Not a problem in a casual setting, but if the staff are topping the drinks up half the time but leaving the glasses empty on other occasions it does send mixed messages to the customer. I’m sure that over time as the staff get a better grip of their jobs the service will be a lot slicker. Also, at the point when we visited, the decanters had not been delivered. The current wine list features a healthy list of cheap and cheerful bottles with only a couple of higher end wines (which need decanting) so the lack of decanters is not a huge problem at the moment. Also as it turns out, our bottle of ’09 Tignanello was drinking impressively well even without the need for decanting. However, given its location, there is definitely a market for the restaurant to sell some higher end wines which I am sure it is what they are aiming for once they have settled in.
I‘ll be honest and hold my hand up – at the beginning of the day, I was actually in two minds about whether to cancel our booking at the Ninth and revisit nearby Pied-a-Terre instead (for which I am well known to the restaurant). I am glad my fiancee convinced me not to. The Ninth is a restaurant we really enjoyed visiting and one which we are already thinking about returning soon.