Prior to opening this restaurant, Jun Tanaka had worked in eight different kitchens. No prizes then for guessing why this one, his own kitchen, is called The Ninth. Sitting opposite the Charlotte Street Hotel, everything about this venue is unassuming. There was no glitzy opening endorsed by celebrities who were there for the Instagram likes and neither was there a soft launch offering 50% off the bill. Le Gavroche trained Jun lets his food do the talking and it’s not muted like the interiors, oh no, his food shouts.
Come at lunch time and you’ll be presented with the set lunch menu that is extremely good value for lunch. Short of flying to Singapore and eating some Hong Kong soy sauce chicken and noodle, you’ll be hard pushed to find a Michelin starred dish for £9. Get 3 dishes and you can have a glass of wine for a fiver. The plates are proper portions, not sized down lunch options and 3 set plates and a side order of potatoes or a dessert from the a la carte menu will be more than enough for 2 people.
Things kick off with the freshly baked pitta topped with sea salt and oregano. It comes served inflated to perfection, looking almost like a rugby ball. Should a dry pitta work? Probably not. Does it work? Yes, very well. It’s an example of how to season at the most basic level.
I think it takes a huge amount of skill to take comfort food and turn it into something that is refined and looks sexy on a plate. Step in the pumpkin, fregola risotto, girolles and pecorino. In essence a bowl of semolina pasta, this is what I would want to be eating on a cold winter day which is exactly what happened. All the elements add something to the dish, nothing is there for show. The pumpkin is cooked al dente and brings a little sweetness to the dish. The girolles bring a deep earthiness to the dish and the pecorino brings a little kick of salt. When your dining partner who strongly dislikes all things vegetarian says this is one of the best risotto dishes they have ever eaten, you know it means something.
Next up is the orecchiette with egg yolk and truffle velouté. This dish makes me question why us millennials chose to poach our eggs and serve them on avocado toast for £10 rather than serve them on pasta. Similar to the above, this is a simple dish that doesn’t overcomplicate things and thankfully it doesn’t use this awful thing called truffle oil. Far too many places are drenching food with this artificially strong oil and killing off the specialness of this ingredient. Here it is grated into the sauce which when mixed in with the egg is an absolute joy to eat. I would happily come back and order two plates of this as part of the lunch deal and leave with the biggest grin on my face.
What you’re about to read next may surprise you and you will probably question my ability to review food but I stand by it. The hasselback potatoes were the best part of the whole meal. Small in size but oozing in butter, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. This is without doubt the best hasselback potato I’ve ever eaten and if it weren’t for fries it would be the best potato full stop. If you’re ever in the area, and you should be because Charlotte Street is a foodie haven, stop by for a plate of these and a glass of wine.
‘Would it be possible to have a word with Jun?’ was the question I asked after paying the bill and to my surprise the answer back was ‘yes sure, why not!’. This was a first for me, the head chef coming out to have a chat during a busy lunch time service. I showered the man with praise about how good his food was, and despite the fact that I must have seemed like a little fanboy, I couldn’t care less. You give credit where its due.