What? 23 years of trading wasn’t enough to stop iconic Asian restaurant, Matsuri, from closing. A £2.5 million, 6 month refurbishment has seen it transformed as Ginza Onodera, with a totally new look and menu – we headed over to check it out.
New? Ginza Onodera opened in the middle of March so is still brand new.
Where? A short walk from Green Park station, just past The Ritz: 15 Bury Street, St James’s, SW1Y 6AL, www.onodera-group.com
On the Menu: The menu is traditionally Japanese, and chef Ryosuke Kishi has made a conscious effort to steer away from the fusion trends many restaurants are currently playing with. Sushi, sashimi and dishes from the Robata grill utilise modern equipment and ancient techniques, with ingredients like Kobe, Wagyu and lobster representative of the restaurant’s postcode and therefore clientele.
First Impressions: Walking past popular St James’s spot, Quaglino’s, Ginza Onodera would have been easy to mistake for an office from the street, only a small sign letting you know you’re in the right place. The main restaurant is situated below street level so once you’ve handed your coat over and passed a small, glitzy bar you descend the stairs to discover an intimately lit dining space. Every single member of staff greeted us in Japanese as we walked over to our table, a little booth tucked out of the way of the main restaurant, next to a group of businessmen – one of three or four large parties taking place that night. The restaurant would have been quiet had they not been here and, as they were enjoying a civilised meal, weren’t a nuisance at all.
The Look: The look is as you’d expect for an upmarket Japanese restaurant. Wooden partitions separate tables, whilst slate walls and low hanging-lamps give the space a moody atmosphere. If it was snowing in the middle of summer you’d be none the wiser. The open kitchen is where your eye is drawn and, as I sat facing it, I couldn’t help thinking I wasn’t giving my guest my full attention. There’s something about the theatre of preparing Japanese cuisine that is mesmerising.
What We Ate: The upside of dining in a group is that you can justify trying a little bit of everything. Saying that, being a pair didn’t stop us; we tried a satisfying selection of the menu, starting with mouth sized sweet shrimp wrapped in squid, creamy crab croquettes and cactus-fed turbot marinated with bottarga. The squid was our favourite of the three, with a zingy hint of citrus and a hum of heat from the chilli. The turbot was unbelievably salty – we were told this is how it would be but our tastebuds couldn’t adjust so, as pretty as it looked, it wasn’t for us. Breaded crab croquettes were a peculiar component – I’m not sure how parmesan cheese and béchamel sauce are Japanese so whilst they were tasty they seemed a little odd and far less delicate than the other dishes.
It’s worth noting that the menu is a little confusing. Structured into salads, soups, tempura, sushi and sashimi, specialities and robata a la carte it’s quite hard to decipher what’s what – even though the crab croquettes are grouped under ‘specialities’ they were brought over at the same time as our starters which threw us even more.
Dobin Mushi soup was delicious and after very nearly passing in favour of moving straight to sashimi, I’m relieved we didn’t. A teapot of broth infused with shrimp, mushroom and Asian vegetables was a highlight and I could’ve had it twice over.
Confusion over the menu meant that we missed out on sashimi and tempura. We didn’t go hungry so it wasn’t a problem but I’m sure they would have been worth trying. Instead, black cod saikyo-yaki and tuna made up our ‘mains’, as well as a taster of Kobe beef from the robata. One of the most expensive cuts of meat in the world, the Kobe was every bit as good as anticipated. Rich slivers of beef marbled with fat practically dissolved in the mouth and, whilst an accompanying sauce was delicious, it was barely needed. At £130 per 100g, Kobe doesn’t come cheap so save it for a special occasion or when you’re armed with the company card. Black cod was another great dish, simply prepared on the grill you could taste the char and whilst the tuna was good, the others trumped it – the fatty cut was a little too fatty for my taste.
Pudding came in the form of yuzu ice cream. Refreshing yet sweet, it was the perfect end to a rich, decadent meal.
What We Drank: Our lovely (and ridiculously knowledgable) sommelier, Angelo, guided us through a pairing menu with sakes and wines to accompany our chosen dishes. The world of sake is alien to me, but Angelo has outlined the basics on the menu so you can at least try and pretend you know what you’re talking about. Failing that, do as we did and trust his expertise to enjoy the likes of Margot 2012 and mineral-rich sakes to compliment earthy flavours in our food.
Go With: Ginza Onodera is one for the business dinner, if you feel as though you’ve exhausted the other suitable restaurants nearby and want to try something new.
Final Word: Planning a party or work dinner? Three small private rooms with space for 6 people sit off the main dining room, each offering something different depending on your choice of Japanese cuisine; sushi, tepppen-yaki or robata grill. Guests can also arrange one-to-one experiences with chefs at individual counters. Each counter offers something different so, again, choose your cuisine (sushi, teppen-yaki or robata grill) and watch the masters as they prepare your food.
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Fran can be found sipping espresso martinis by night and, by day, on the hunt for London's best brunch. Bonus points for a runny yolk and the perfect flat white.