Flaming grills, ashing blades and a thrilling wine list – Ginza Onodera is London’s best new Japanese restaurant
Ginza Onodera is serving up dinner with drama in the heart of London St James'
Ginza Onodera has a lot to live up to – it’s set in the same site that, for 23 years, was home to celebrated Japanese restaurant Matsuri. We spotted a couple of its former staff on the night we visited but, following a six month, £2.5m refurb, the space itself has been transformed into a showpiece monochromatic temple of gastronomy, complete with floor to ceiling wine (and sake) cabinets.
The sense of theatre continues as the top of the room – the stage, if you will – which sees chefs at work behind a robata grill and marble topped sushi and teppanyaki bars. Refreshingly, the overall ambience of the 120-cover room is one of quiet, understated wealth, rather than shiny extravagance, which befits its more sober St James’s location – as opposed to its brasher Mayfair neighbour.
The beautiful setting provides a backdrop for exquisite food. Think delicate sushi, crisp prawn and vegetable tempura and – of course – miso black cod. The latter is not just a hackneyed version of the Nobu classic though. Rather it’s a chunky, pearly-white affair, cooked on the robata grill (with authentic Japanese ‘bincho’ wood, which gives puffs of smoke, rather than scorching fire) and plated so beautifully that it seems blasphemous to eat it. We do, of course.
Glasses of aged sake start to arrive with each course, a new take on a tasting menu. Call me a philistine but I found them fighting with the flavours of my food and soon asked to switch to wine. I was glad I did, as the next course – cactus-fed turbot "kobujime"– saw this king of fish cured between layers of kombu, resulting in a punchy umami hit.
In fact, it’s where this restaurant pushes the envelope that it really hits the mark. For proof, look no further than the delicious tapas-style crab croquettes, complete with parmesan and béchamel, that help redefine the sometimes too-traditional world of Japanese dining. As we left, I spotted a few cute private rooms where, if there’s six of you looking for an intimate dining experience, you can book your own chef to dazzle your taste buds all night – #dininggoals, as the kids might say.