As you stroll down the lower part of Regents Street from Piccadilly Circus there is a subtle yet quick shift in focus from the bustling tourist centre of London to a relaxed and salubrious Asian-influenced area of restaurants, shops and bars. With the Japan Centre, Mitsukoshi and Toku in attendance you might be forgiven for thinking the Far East side of Mayfair has become the new Little Japan; no one tell the fine people across the road at the Visit Britain centre about this. Nestled amongst this selection is another: the fine name of Inamo. The brainchild of Danny Potter and Noel Hunwick, where technology, style and pan-Asian fusion cooking meet – would that make it a techno-Asian-fusion-fusion sub genre? I’m sure one of our more informed and learned readers will be able to confirm. But enough noodle frying.
Walking through the bamboo-adorned entrance I am greeted by a smart, almost formal, front of house although decidedly lacking in staff. A waitress saunters past. “Hello Sir!”. “Hello,” I reply with a smile, and before I know it we’ve had a quick chat without really saying anything and she’s gone. “Someone will be with you in a moment”. I hope so; I’m getting hungry. Something sizzling, meaty and emitting a delightful aroma has just been teased past me. Ah, here we are, a brace of ladies to attend to my every need, more pleasantries and I’m off to my table. The enthusiasm of the lady showing me to my table continues until I’m seated and ready for a demonstration of the technology I’ve walked all the way from Soho to enjoy – and no snide remarks, please, that I could have visited the Wardour Street restaurant if I consider the half mile stroll too far from Arbuturian HQ. On second thoughts, go ahead.
Another waiter sashays past, this time with a selection of delights I can but look at longingly. I’m seated, ready for action – imagine Vettel on the starting grid in pole position waiting for the lights to turn off – that’s me, my warm up lap of looking at other people’s food is done – unfortunately in this case the lights didn’t come on, let alone turn off. It seems there is a technical issue with this particular table. I’ve stalled on the start line – oh dear. Thankfully the front of house team are as adept at reseating me as the Red Bull team are at changing a tyre and seconds later we are back in action at another table.
A short demo of how this technological contraption works and I’m off. It’s simple; you have a mouse pad on the bottom right of the table that lets you interact with a virtual menu beamed onto the table from a projector hidden in the ceiling above. You can scroll through options for drinks, side dishes, main dishes, games (luckily my guest was far too entertaining for me to try these out) and the chef cam (that lets you see your food being prepared). I tap the pad and move the virtual mouse, order a beer and sit back to see what happens next. The beer arrives. I order a couple of starters: scallops and ribs, these arrive too – this thing actually works, and seemingly quite well. I start to get into the mood. The food is very good.
You also have a virtual dining experience next to the actual. As you peruse the menu the unseen gizmo above projects images of the food onto an empty plate in front of you, giving a glimpse of what is to be expected from each dish. You can also play with the mood of your feast by projecting a variety of background images onto your table. There were no pictures from the last Arb staff meeting at the local pub, more’s the pity. More food arrives, this time the black cod, cinnamon chicken and the hot stone rib-eye beef. All magnificent in their own way but somehow I wasn’t convinced by the cinnamon chicken; it was tender and bursting with flavour but the cinnamon was completely dominant, but this didn’t stop us from finishing it. The hot stone rib eye on the other hand was particularly good and if we’d been lesser gentlemen we would have perhaps ordered a second round.
This is contemporary dining in many different ways, and I loved it. Relaxed and informal enough to have a quick bite before a movie, yet smart with a robust menu for a full dining experience to impress your out-of-town friends. Eat a little then order some more, order a gluttonous amount in one go and dine like a Georgian king, all tastes are catered for here. No waiting to catch the eye of the maitre d’ or a waiter, no sitting there for an age wondering if your food is ever going to arrive (thank you chef-cam). The technology works, the food is excellent and the cocktails I shall tell you about another time – suffice to say they fly the Inamo flag hard and fast.
A very enjoyable evening, great pan-Asian cuisine, delightful décor, good service and the added bonus of interactive, touchpad dining for the iPhone generation.