The Handbook
The Handbook

Head over to Fitzrovia for dinner and you’ll be spoilt for choice. It really is the place of the moment, and Jun Tanaka has lucked in with a piece of the action with his debut restaurant, The Ninth. The number of karma, spiritual enlightenment and strength of character? All valid, but they don’t give it it’s name. Nine represents the number of kitchens he has worked in (this being his ninth); Pearl, Le Gavroche and The Restaurant Marco Pierre White from starting out as an apprentice, right up to executive chef.

First floor

The sharing style of dining is where the Mediterranean influence comes in, with French popping its head up in terms of the flavours and overall sophistication. The menu is concise but varied – grilled, smoked, flamed, you can find it all. Golf ball-sized oxtail croquettes were delicious, crispy, mouth-sized and on a slightly surprising and highly refreshing wasabi puree. Eastern flavours appear throughout the menu in the guise of a tang here, zest there and though the dishes appeared quite small, they were deceptively filling. Caramelised scallops went down well, again sitting on a green puree – this time cavolo nero – and served with a cavolo nero crisp. The leafy green appeared liberally on the menu and whilst I usually have a ‘neither here nor there’ attitude towards it, when it came tossed in hazelnut pesto I couldn’t stop eating it. Rabbit lasagne with mustard bechamel was also noteworthy and the waiter remarked it was a popular choice. It seems to be their trademark style of simple yet imaginative – like most things here.

Quail's mains

Steel rods you’d usually find on building sites were constructed into huge cage-like wine racks which covered most of wall where we were sitting. It was nice to see the waiter actually take a bottle from the rack proving they’re functional as well as aesthetic. Exposed brick walls were offset with duck egg blue and gold leaf wallpaper, adding elegance. For a Thursday evening it wasn’t particularly busy but thinking back, a lot of the tables were full, just with intimately hushed conversations taking place.

Quail landscape

The ‘as and when’ approach of serving seems to bother some people but I’ve never found it an issue. It reminds me that the chef is making our food especially so I’d actually rather have things separately so they don’t have to sit under the hot plate if timings are a bit off. First to come out was the roast lemon sole. When fish is good, it’s great, as it was here. Again, not as big as you’d expect, it came in a cast iron pan, skinless and ready to slice off the bone with crisp chicken wings, shallots and beurre noisette. Satisfied by this point, the whole stuffed quail came out and I couldn’t say no. Rich and gamey, smoked bacon, foie gras, pistachios and grapes gave depth of flavour.

Looking down Charlotte Street we were smug in the knowledge we were in the best of the bunch, and people outside were probably totally oblivious. That sums up The Ninth; everything, from the menu to the decor is concise, understated and elegant.