Nine out of 10 for The Ninth
In a previous life and previous career, I spent many a lunch break wandering along London’s Charlotte Street on a mission to consume something that didn’t involve a trip into one of the three Pret-A-Mangers (at last count) on the adjacent Tottenham Court Road.
Charlotte Street is good for restaurants, or rather, given that the restaurants on it change as frequently as the seasons, it’s good for people wanting to eat in restaurants, rather than the people who run them. For those planning the menus and balancing budgets, history suggests it’s not that great at all. The only hoarding that never changes in this particular corner of London is the Charlotte Street Hotel’s, which is why four of us met there for drinks ahead of dinner at relative newbie The Ninth. You know where you are with the Charlotte Street Hotel: even the type of nuts they bring out with your cocktails haven’t changed in the three years since I last ordered a drink there.
The Ninth – a self-described, modern-French restaurant from Jun Tanaka – is fairing comparatively well, given it opened last summer, and seemed to be ticking over a fairly steady stream of diners on the Wednesday evening we visited.
We played a quick game of ‘was this Barnyard before? Or that old French place, or maybe the Japanese one?’ before heading in, and tripping up to the first-floor dining room.
The interiors are appropriately summer 2016: exposed brick, arty bookshelves and large clear-glass lampshades with exposed filaments. (I’m not knocking any of the above. I have each and every feature in the flat I finished renovating in June last year. In the case of the lampshades, the exact same ones, presuming theirs are from Heal’s just around the corner.)
Things got off to a slightly duff start with mediocre cocktails. The namesake Ninths were sugary sweet, and left a somewhat sour taste given we’d ordered four of them (one each, for clarification, rather than four apiece).
It picked up with the mish-mash of dishes we ordered next, which avoided the ‘hot starters’ and ‘meat’ portions of the menu – us pescatarians on the table were in charge of choosing – and weighed heavy on the ‘fish’, ‘raw and cured’ and ‘salad’ sections.
Both fish dishes came whole and yet somehow we managed to carve them up without anyone getting a plateful of bones – no mean feat after the cocktails and first bottle of wine. The sea bass with tomatoes, cockles and herbs was particularly good, although its cured and carpaccio-ed cousin, served with with salsa verde and pickled kohlrabi, was even better, if not quite so dramatic to look at on the plate.
The liberal ordering from the vegetables section produced cavolo nero with hazelnut pesto and parmesan, chargrilled cauliflower with tomato and yoghurt, and pan-friend gnocchi with peas, broad beans and girolles – all of which we could quite happily have eaten twice over. I do like a place where they get the veggie options en pointe.
One of the advantages to going out within the evening’s particular foursome is that everyone likes desserts, and given there were four desserts on the menu, maths dictated we order them all (glossing over the fact one was designed to be shared between two). And then, because we hadn’t quite finished the discussion about what kind of podcast could make us all famous and rich, a plate of cheese as well.
It all tasted the way good French cheeses and desserts should: the Tarte Tartin appropriately sticky, the lemon tart appropriately zingy, and the aged comte and fourme d’Ambert appropriately strong. It didn't take long for all thoughts of podcasts to be abandoned in favour of fromage rating, and doing our level best to get more than our fair share each.
With the evidence digested, I'd say The Ninth stands a pretty good chance of bucking the Charlotte Street curse, especially if they can persuade the Charlotte Street Hotel’s bartenders to teach them a thing or two about cocktails.