134-136 Wardour Street,
(020) 7851 7051
The ViewLondon Review
Without a doubt the most technologically advanced restaurant in the capital, inamo’s computerised menus make eating dinner like playing a video game. But underneath all the cute little buttons and flashing lights, does it hold up to scrutiny?
First and foremost, there are no paper menus at inamo. Whilst that isn’t particularly unusual, the kicker is that you place your order – literally – on the table, in the form of a touch screen menu that’s displayed via a projector above your head. Using your finger as a mouse, you can order a drink, a dessert, a taxi – even play Battleship – with just a tap. Another feature is that you can change the image projected onto your tabletop, almost like a virtual tablecloth, from bright colours to pictures of lanterns, umbrellas and deep space, which is perhaps the prettiest. Despite the fact that the restaurant has pretty much no decor to speak of, it doesn’t need any – the tables around you are constantly changing, revolving through a rainbow of colours and patterns. No matter where you look, you’re practically assaulted by visual stimulation. That said, if you like your dinners to be candlelit and subdued, this is not really the place for you, but inamo’s Soho location ensures a young, trendy, mostly media crowd, who’ll no doubt be mesmerised.
If, however, the ground floor restaurant is filled up (the mysteriously tinted windows will probably draw many through the door) there’s a bar downstairs where you can wait with a drink. This is a small space, packed with low tables, black leather circular seats and banquettes against the wall. It’s all very dark, perhaps preparing you for the visual overload that awaits upstairs.
Despite the fact that you order from your table and don’t necessarily need a waiter, you are assigned one, who you can call with a click. There are also various staff who bring out food and drinks, and seat you and explain the menu, so there’s always someone you can flag down if you need to. Although inamo isn’t exactly a place where you’d come for dinner every week, it would be perfect for bringing groups of friends (you can see exactly how much you’ve ordered if you need to split the bill) or visitors to London that you’re looking to impress. It would actually be pretty ideal for a first date as well – is there any better way to bond than over a game of Battleship? Besides, if your date starts droning on and on, you can always amuse yourself by changing the scenery or watching the chefs through a webcam.
inamo bills itself as an Oriental fusion restaurant, and for a place that must cost an extraordinary amount of money to run, it’s surprisingly cheap for Central London. Small dishes are about £6 - £7, whereas the most expensive large dishes are about £15. Vegetarian dishes are clearly marked with a large V, and as you scroll across each option a large picture appears, illuminated right where your plate would be, with a detailed description.
You’re meant to order three plates each and share, tapas style, which seems to be mainly to give the kitchen a bit of a break with timing. If you order all your food at once, it’ll arrive, one plate right after the other, within about 15 minutes and completely cover your table, whereas if you stagger it a bit you wind up having an approximately three course meal. If you order a dish at the exact same time as your companion, they’ll come out within a minute or two of each other, which isn’t too bad as that kind of thing happens fairly usually in restaurants anyway.
Luckily, the food holds up pretty well, although some dishes are better than others. From the small plates menu, edamame (£3) is a plentiful portion, with the beans nice and plump and sprinkled with a good amount of rock salt. The sashimi salad (£7) is good as well, with two fat slices each of tuna, salmon and yellowtail, arranged around a salad dressed with tangy yuzu sauce on a bed of sliced, pickled fennel, which adds a surprising amount of sweetness. Other small plates include lobster salad, pork ribs and the interesting sounding wild boar rolls.
Large plates include common Japanese dishes (black cod and miso, wagyu beef) but some more unusual choices as well, including quail marinated in garlic soy sauce accompanied by a nashi pear poached in plum wine. The black cod (£11.95) is presented simply, on a banana leaf with wedges of lemon and lime. The fish is cooked well and is soft and flaky, whilst the miso sauce is sweet without being too overpowering. On the side is a pickled ginger stalk, which doesn’t really add much in terms of flavour but the bright pink top is eye-catching. Wagyu beef onglet (£14.95) is also on offer, seared on the outside and rare in the middle. Whilst the soy sauce it’s braised in tastes strongly of brown sugar, which works really well with the meat, the outside of each piece is tough and hard to chew. Accompanying it is a hijiki seaweed salad, with tiny, chewy pieces of black seaweed, however there’s so much soy sauce in the bottom of the dish that the seaweed winds up swimming in it.
There are five types of dessert, including a selection of homemade ice creams and sorbets at £3.75. Vanilla creme brulee (£5) comes with a jellied layer of strawberry and lemongrass coulis on top of the pudding, which intensifies the richness of the vanilla. Instead of the usual burnt topping, there’s a paper-thin sheet of raspberry-flavoured wafer lightly resting on top. Mango and sticky rice (£5.50), a traditional Thai dessert, comes with a scoop of lime sorbet, which is just sharp enough without being too bitter. The sticky rice is appropriately sugary and gloopy, and the grains of rice are black which makes for a nice contrast to the bright, warm slices of mango.
The drinks list is divided up into wines, beers, cocktails, soft drinks and hot drinks, and you choose these the same way as your food. It’s best to order them as quickly as possible, so you can sip them whilst playing around with the rest of the menu. The only beer available is Asahi (£3.30) but there are seven bottles of red (from £13.50 - £30) and five bottles of white (from £14 to £30), as well as quite a few choices by the glass from £3.95. Five types of sake are also available as well as several cocktails at £6.50. The house cocktail is an inamo, which warns that it’s quite spicy, and made with mandarin puree, spring onion, Smirnoff Black and chilli syrup. The Thai Sapphire, made with a quarter of an apple, lime juice, Smirnoff Black and pomegranate juice, is a light and delicate, girly pink drink with a pomegranate wedge floating on top. Although almost shockingly neon yellow in colour, the Sake Martini proves to be well made, blended with pineapple juice and midor lime juice, so sweet that you almost can’t taste the sake.
The Last Word
It’s not fine dining, but it’s fun. Considering how quickly technology changes, however, hopefully inamo can keep up with the times or else, in a few years, it’ll risk being very dated. In the meantime, though, it’s doing something that’s never been done before, which is a huge accomplishment. Who knows what the future holds?
inamo has been reviewed by 40 users