To be fair, there are plenty of London restaurants I get excited about. Hoppers, Duck & Waffle, Gymkhana, to name a few.
But there’s one in particular I get excited about not only for the food, but also for the chef. It thrills me to see this chef launch new ventures and continue to succeed.
Several years ago, at the peak of my obsession with the Food Network show Chopped, I watched Chef Jun Tanaka compete in and win the Chopped Champions tournament. I know you can’t really judge food just from watching TV, but that doesn’t stop me.
Listening to Chef Tanaka describe his food, watching his process, was enough for me to want to eat his food. Not only is his technique impeccable, but he has a flair for creativity, originality, and true talent. He’s the kind of chef you want to watch cook, just to see what he’ll do next. When you see a guy drop all his frog legs on the floor, and he’s only able to serve each judge one bite, and they are still singing his praises, you know he must be good.
So I was really excited when Chef Tanaka opened The Ninth shortly after I moved to London. I was fortunate enough to go to The Ninth for a preview night before the restaurant formally opened and sampled a few of the dishes that later became hits.
The Ninth is Jun Tanaka’s first restaurant, and the ninth he has worked in. Copper pots and pans hang on the walls, creating a warm, inviting tone. The lighting and ambience at The Ninth inspire whispers in hushed tones as you enter, because it feels so intimate, like you’ve walked into an event that was going on without you, and will be going on long after you leave.
The food is billed as French-inspired Mediterranean cuisine. It’s a small plates sharing menu, which is my favorite. My dining style tends to be: I am terribly indecisive. Please let me try a little bit of everything.
The oxtail croquettes are my favorite savory bite. Crispy on the outside with piping hot, tender meat filling. Ossobucco tortellini is another popular choice made famous on Instagram.
Dishes are truly ingredient-led at The Ninth, and it makes sense that the vegetable dishes are equally as strong as the meat dishes here.
There are three fish mains at The Ninth, and for good reason. Inspired by a whole red snapper he ate in Tel Aviv, Chef Jun Tanaka insists fish should be cooked on the bone. The care for each ingredient and attention to detail are really palpable at The Ninth in a way that few other restaurants have achieved.
If you’re going to include at least one seafood dish in your meal, start with the whole sea bream.
“Each ingredient should dictate how the dish is presented. For me, there is only one way to cook fish, and that is on the bone.”Chef Jun Tanaka
The raw and cured section of the menu is outstanding, too. A vegetarian or pescatarian would be happy here.
If you watch Chopped, you’ll know that pain perdu (French toast) is one of the worst choices you can make if you’re competing in the dessert round. The judges have eaten many versions of French toast throughout the show’s history, so yours has to stand out, and runs the risk of being uncreative or underwhelming.
Which is partly why I was so happy to see pain perdu on the menu at The Ninth. It’s a dessert that can be interpreted as playing it safe, or conventional and predictable. Eggy bread, syrupy sweetness—it’s something I rarely, if ever, order when I’m out, because it runs the risk of being pedestrian and not worth the splurge.
Not so with the pain perdu at The Ninth. With a crispy caramelized sugar exterior, it’s more like crème brûlée than French toast. Underneath the cracked sugar shell, it’s still soft and spongy on the inside. No matter what else you eat at The Ninth, you must order the pain perdu.
I was so happy when I found out that The Ninth earned its first Michelin star in the 2017 Michelin Guide. It’s now touted as one of the best Michelin-starred set lunches in London.
With a Michelin star, restaurants tend to change in more than just price. And that’s okay. I don’t expect the same version of The Ninth today as I experienced several years ago. I want to see what’s evolved, what’s stayed the same, and how Chef Tanaka is innovating his menu with the times.
I can’t wait to go back.
Still hungry? Read the article I wrote for The Culinary Travel Guide: London for Foodies: An Eater’s Guide for First-Time Visitors
Worth a visit for the pain perdu alone, The Ninth is an elegant expression of Chef Jun Tanaka’s talent.
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