Walking into Ginza Onodera made me realise there’s been a whole sub-genre of restaurants that I have: a) only just realised is a sub-genre of restaurants; and b) studiously avoided for years – Japanese restaurants with oddly forbidding, darkened glass frontages.
Seriously, walk around the more chi chi parts of the capital and you’ll spot them, all smoked glass and minimal lighting, with the name elegantly etched somewhere subtle. As I have probably mentioned before, I am built for comfort not speed and thus assume that, should I venture into somewhere so clearly aimed at the thin and beautiful, I would be asked to leave, so that they can fit another four thin and beautiful people inside.
However, if Ginza Onodera is any indication, I’ve been missing out on some rather joyous dining. The group may have restaurants in some of the chicest postcodes – LA, NY, and now Mayfair – and no doubt cater to the thinnest and most beautiful in those locations but they also cater to those of us who actually like to eat, and not nurse a couple of grains of rice for an hour explaining “I had a satsuma last Friday, I’m still quite full.”
They are also friendlier than anticipated, putting me at something approaching ease from the moment my coat was whisked away, and rapidly going past ease by the time we were in the main room – spacious, bright, relaxed and unassuming, the complete antithesis in fact of what the façade suggests – reading the menu and primed with a glass of something sparkly. Even the booths – which in many cases appear to have been designed for people the approximate girth of a HB pencil – are roomy and comfortable.
The menu reads well, a mix of modern and traditional Japanese, with a healthy dash of Mayfair. The tuna tartare is sublime, gently spiced but not overpowering, and dotted with roasted pine nuts – no, really – which provide a fine contrast to the rich fish. I am winging this, incidentally, as my notes on the dish total a mere seven words: “not the last time I have that.”
The quality drops a little in the next course, a selection of tempura. When it was good – the prawns in particular – which were very, very good. When it wasn’t – the very out-of-season courgette – it was watery and bitter. You can not fault the batter and frying though. The dish is served on paper, stained with the merest hint of fat, a move that speaks of the kitchen’s confidence.
That is about the only fault we note, however. Sashimi – paired with a simple, fresh and perfectly judged Japanese wine – is superb and surprisingly keenly priced for the postcode and quality. Lamb chops are charred, fatty, finger-sucking, bone-nibbling things of beauty, while the black cod – which has become something of a Japanese restaurant cliché – is sublime, and I reminder why we all waxed so lyrical over the dish when Nobu first introduced us to it. This version, with a light kick of ginger, is a pearlescent delight.
Service – mostly by Amelie – is charming, friendly and efficient, wine pairings are exquisite and a couple of hours slips by all too easily in surroundings far more relaxed than I ever suspected. While I suspect some of those dark-fronted, ultra-cool looking spots are not for me, it’s good to know there is one that is just a damned fine restaurant.
15 Bury Street