Inamo is the brainchild, more accurately brain children, of owners Danny Potter and Noel Hunwick, who met when they were undergraduates at Oxford. Inamo is a pioneering Oriental fusion restaurant and bar concept. The Inamo Restaurant (Soho) had the interactive tabletops as its unique selling point. The overhead projectors provide a changeable cyber-tablecloth as well as direct food and drink ordering. Your dishes are delivered by a human and help is on hand should your digital ineptitude result in a request for 25 portions of Crispy Five Spiced Pork Belly and a pot of green tea.
Following the success of the Soho original there is now a second restaurant, on the former St Alban site on Regent Street – a prime location for a Japanese restaurant in a parade that has several shops and restaurants of the same ethnic persuasion. With a total capacity of 300 and spanning a colossal 8,000 ft², the venue could have had all the charm of an aircraft hangar. It has taken thoughtful design to make this restaurant feel intimate.
The Soho branch was unique and fun but St. James is Inamo all growed up. Yes there is still the techy element but it’s upstaged by the decor. It reminds one of walking through a glade of bamboo. OK, so not many of us can boast of having had such an experience, but we can imagine. Chunky stands of straw-coloured bamboo act as dividers, while movable screens offer flexibility – a corner for a romantic dinner, a space for an after-work gathering.
There are a further two private dining rooms which can seat up to 16 each, where one can have a more personally tailored dining experience and even bring along one’s own music. Perhaps those tunes should reflect the ethnic style of the restaurant. Snatches from the Japanese classics rather than J-pop or, heaven forbid, Abba.
The bar at Inamo St James is striking and accommodates not only cocktail preparation but that of sushi and sashimi and the like. Two deft chefs prepare your food to order. It’s an area in which to congregate before moving to your table.
The sophisticated fusion menu has influences from Japan, China, Thailand, and Korea. Small dishes can be ordered like oriental tapas. You can take your time and graze, the interactive menu lets the diner pick and order individual dishes at will. Allow your meal to evolve.
We settled at the sushi bar and watched as our food was prepared. We were taken by the new dishes on offer. Black Bean Tuna – seared tuna coated in black bean and wasabi, served on pickled mouli with cucumber miso dressing – was a flavourful delight. I must admit that I often find cold Japanese fish dishes to be bland, but this one hit all the right textural and taste notes.
Unagi Maki – grilled eel and avocado maki wrapped in chives – is another must-try from the Small Dish section. Eel is a popular oily fish and it’s a shame we don’t find it more often on Western menus. It seems to be a staple in Japanese restaurants so I usually take advantage.
Beef Buri Bop – a traditional Japanese rice dish served in a hot metal casserole with garlic soy, ginger sauce and rib-eye steak – was the star of the evening. There is an element of theatre surrounding this dish. A human arrives with your cast-iron vessel. He removes the lid with a flourish to reveal a mound of rice with an egg yolk returning one’s gaze like a jaundiced Cyclops. There is a garnish of almost raw meat and a small jug of sauce which is poured around the rice. The contents of the pot are then mixed with a few stirs and scrapes to reveal golden rice crust on the bottom. The egg and the meat cook on the hot metal and a delicious aroma rises from this substantial dish.
If you loved the Soho Inamo then you will be equally pleased with the St James sister restaurant. If you didn’t like Inamo Soho then do try St James. It has the same fascinating selection of dishes but the ambiance is a world away. It has a focus on style and it’s achieved that very well.
4-12 Regent Street, London SW1Y 4PE
For reservations phone: 020 7484 0500
For private event bookings phone: 020 7104 2040
Visit Inamo St James here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018