There’s no denying that Chef Jun Tanaka comes with pedigree. In 1991, he worked at Le Gavroche and trained with some of the best. He then had a gig at the now defunct Two Michelin Chez Nico of Mayfair under Nico Ladenis. A decade on, he was Head Chef at Pearl in Holborn which he joined in 2004 and left in 2012. Shortly after the restaurant closed for good. The Ninth is so called as it’s Tanaka’s 9th engagement with a restaurant. His shtick is simple; the food is “made for family-style sharing”, Mediterranean style injected with seasonality. Just like the name, it doesn’t wreak originality, but I’ve been fed here a few times now and chef’s talent is majestic. Inside is an exposed brickwork setting; there’s subtle copper piping trinkets, dark wood floors and a shiny bar. It seats 90 people across two floors – downstairs is where I like to be as I just prefer the bustling vibe.
The First Outing
We were the beneficiaries of the sommeliers knowledge, she seemed to know her onions and was delightful with it, settling with this delicious pinot noir from Grace Bridge California £35.
First up were the oxtail croquettes (£2.50 each) which were crispy shelled snacks glued down with herb mayo. It’s the sort of croquette that every kitchen in London should sell as they are simply divine. Inside is the very essence of cow slow cooked until the gelatinous goodness breaks down and the cooking stops when there no more moisture, thus intensifying the powerful savoury flavour.
Better still were the deeply satisfying al dente tortellini filled with slow cooked ossobuco topped with hazelnut gremolata £10. They were crested with coins of bone marrow and umami parmesan.
The pitch-perfect scotch egg (£5.50) came with flawlessly seasoned duck meat, a golden yolk, all wrapped in pleasingly crispy panko bread crumbs. And that’s the only the snacks done, yet I feel satisfied already.
From the starters, first came the nicely browned pan fried herb gnocchi (£8), I found myself spooning the sticky sauce they came which had caramelised chanterelles and trompettes – the whole thing was lick the plate good.
Red mullet (£19) came with a greaseless crisp batter, the kind that all fish should be coated in. The pearly white flesh was beautifully meaty and fresh. The richness was offset with carrots, fennel and shallots boosted with the vinegar they were pickled in.
My least favourite, but by no means a bad dish was the salted beef cheeks (£19.50) with deeply flavoured oxtail consommé and charred hispi cabbage. It was accessorised with root vegetables, a salsa verde and coins of unctuous bone marrow.
They even smashed it out of the park with their purple sprouting broccoli (£5) with hollandaise. Every meal should feature a bit of green.
For desert, the pain perdu (£7) with vanilla ice cream is what we went for, which is a culinary piece of architecture before we get to eat it. I’ll explain, first brioche is soaked in crème anglaise over night and is treated to a basting in butter. Then it’s coated in sugar, which is torched to give it that irresistible textural crunch that offsets the luscious soft centre. I can happily say that this is a death-row course and is one of the best desserts that London offers right now.
We chatted with our maitre’d at the end of the meal who seemed like an engaging chap – he mentioned that Jun was in the kitchen and would we like to meet him? Of course we said yes! It was a genuine pleasure meeting Chef Tanaka as not only is he a talent but down to earth too. When I asked if he had any favourite restaurants, he mentioned that he preferred unfussy dining on the rare occasions he ate out and named Padella, Bao and Sushi Tetsu as the ones he pined after!
This time we dined upstairs. The ambience is a lot more chilled up there, given the choice downstairs would be my sweet spot.
It was that kind of night.
Freshly baked pitta (£3.50) arrived puffed up, full of steam it gathered from loitering in the oven and was dusted with oregano & sea salt. The only thing was that there was nothing to dip it with.
You may have gathered that the oxtail croquettes are an essential item.
Rabbit confit lasagna with tangy tomato compote (£11) was the start of some of the dishes that wants to mother you on a cold winters night.
Duck scotch eggs were faultless again.
Caramelised scallops (£16) had this confectionary shop sweetness about them, together with the pumpkin & ginger risotto, it’s the kind of food I just can’t get enough of. It was easily the dish of the night.
Ossobuco tortellini is a total maverick of a dish and it’s good to still see it on the menu.
The red mullet is a gem.
Th purple stem broccoli (£7) with hollandaise came with a welcome addition in the form of a delicious crispy egg this time. And why shouldn’t it.
Polenta, egg yolk, leeks and Comté (£6) was a hearty affair and was a meal in itself.
For a main we ordered the venison, its moisture was locked in through salt baking – the centre was pink and juicy and the pile of chopped cavelo nero and hazelnuts it came on absorbed the luscious juices. A dollop of puréed beetroot was thrown in, we slathered it on each bite. There was absolutely nothing that didn’t belong on this plate (£26).
Lamb en croute was a skilful play on not just pastry cookery but how to do the meat justice by keeping it moist and succulent. The earthy Jerusalem artichoke purée seemed to suggest that it had lashings of butter in there to make it velvety smooth (£28).
Ordering this pain Peru has become a rite of passage when desert time arrives. It’s spectacular.
We also ordered a zingy caramelised lemon tart with fromage frais sorbet (£7) which was another banger, but couldn’t hold a light to the pain perdu.
VISIT NUMBER 3 – MY BROTHER’S BIRTHDAY
We couldn’t fault the plonk here and this one hit the back of the net with an assist from the sommelier (£48).
We kicked off with the “freshly baked” pitta, although it seemed it was freshly baked yesterday and didn’t belong on the table.
Things got back on track with those delectable oxtail croquettes, you can’t come here and not order them. They are the very definition of how a snack should be.
Truffle arancini was a welcome addition to the menu (£2 each) which was made extra decadent with the use of truffle mayo.
The other snack that cannot be overlooked is the stunner of a duck scotch egg. It’s one of the best I’ve had.
Ossobuco tortellini is a pasta lovers wet dream. Well at least in my eyes.
Confit rabbit with tomato compote is the dish that just wants to hug your palate in the best way imaginable. It’s so comforting.
I can’t praise their fish cookery enough here and happy to see the red mullet still featuring on the menu. This time they use a coarse, yet punchy anchovy vinaigrette with charred broccoli as an accompaniment. It’s still a stand-out dish but I preferred its predecessor with the pickled fennel.
Grilled veal chop (£27) was cooked with respect, within its maillard edges and pink flesh. It came with aubergine & tomato confit, giving the dish a Mediterranean accent.
Pan fried gnocchi with peas and broad beans (£16) was a hearty, meatless affair. They weren’t shy with the portion either which suited us just fine as none of my siblings have finite appetites.
Lamb en croute with pea purée (£28) was the dense cramming of moist animal, mushroom duxelle and spinach inside sublime pastry. The sauce it came with should feature in anyones dream roast dinner.
The crispy potatoes (£5) aren’t the sort that will give you that double crunch that ricochets through your fillings. But they had a lovely nutty flavour and a welcoming waxy texture.
The faultless pain perdu.
VISIT NUMBER 4 – BROTHER’S 40TH. This time eleven of us came to dine and the kitchen crafted a set meal for us.
The beautiful plonk we couldn’t get enough of throughout the evening. The Davila came in at £45 per a bottle and the Bourgogne pinot noir was £50.
“The Ninth” to lubricate proceedings – it’s the restaurant’s take on a white lady. (£11)
Gorgeous craggy edged sour dough with salted butter was a sublime start. Being an avid bread geek, it matters that you get the good stuff.
Those utterly brilliant and comforting oxtail croquettes were the first thing I was searching for when the menu arrived.
These little pastries were made for the vegetarian, they were akin to empanadas and weren’t bad to be fair.
Burrata, garnished with black olive oil and hazelnuts, was as creamy as they get, came with heritage marinated tomatoes full of lactic tang.
Sweet like candy langoustine ravioli was wrapped with squid ink pasta, got a sprinkling of peas and datterini tomatoes from Sicily. It’s another case in point of how good the pasta is here.
Whole sea bream was skilfully deboned, then it’s marinated with lemon confit and umami miso before it gets fired over coals. Another delectable piece of work.
The vegetarian got a stunning vibrant green risotto.
She also got a brilliantly made orecchiette with morels and egg yolk. Her scanty appetite meant I could hunker and hoover most of it.
Chargrilled lamb cutlets had a pleasing edge to edge pink centre that came with spiced aubergine and a dollop of acidic yogurt.
The stunning mains came with golden brown roast jersey royals & rosemary, charred tenderstem broccoli pimped with anchovy dressing and slices toasted garlic. And finally, artichokes that came with a punch of vinegar pickling.
I would have been heart broken if it didn’t feature.
More skilled pastry work was showcased with this expertly made tarte tartin with rosemary ice cream. What I found though is that rosemary is too intrusive to be in dessert, it had this nostril clearing potpourri back note to it that didn’t sit too well with my palate.
VISIT NUMBER 5: Fast forward 2 years and a lockdown later I’m back. (Edit October 2023).
We lubricate with 500ml £25 of the thoroughly decent Trebbiano from Italy.
We start with their house baked sour dough and border butter (£3.70). Real sourdough is defined by a crisp crust that gives off a shade of smokiness and roasted aroma. Besides that, the crust of real sourdough bread is usually thin and bark like and makes a distinctive crackling sound when the bread is broken in to. This one arrives slightly warm so the butter seeps into the lacy, sticky holes. My heart beats out of my shirt for bread like this.
Of course we had to order the oxtail croquettes (£2.5 each), they’re a very snappable edible and I can earnestly say that they are relentlessly delectable.
Beaufort and truffle gougeres arrive next – the attention grabbing crisp shell and funky, tangy oozing centres gave ripples of flavour.
From the ocean side of the starters we have the scallop carpaccio £16. The scallop is expertly sliced into the thickness of 50p coins and is dressed in tomato vinaigrette, lemon verbena for an extra intense joyous whack citrus and green tomato. There’s Rizla thin daikon for crunch too. The whole business shimmers under the street lights. We bulldozed our forks into the dish like a plow into a field, it was crushed in two bites.
Now we’re onto the pasta’s. We order the rabbit lasagne with peas, girolles and livers – the latter being from from our furry friend I believe. It’s the size of a small bathroom tile and is served in a pool of viscous sauce, the type that would coat the back of your spoon as well as your tongue. The livers are caramelised on the outside and a ruby pink on the inside. The top is browned, like a M&S custard tart and there are layers of pasta, each fold holds its cargo of rabbit béchamel amplified with rabbit. My God it was good.
From the photosynthesis section we get the grilled hispi cabbage with tahini, seaweed and seeds £7.
Back onto the things that once had a pulse. They have a strong understanding of how to cook lamb. Here we have lamb cutlets chargrilled so we get the compelling caramelisation and the deep flavours created by the maillard reaction, where the heat of the wood fire does it magic with the amino acids and natural sugars until there’s a burst of deeply savoury umami. It is that virtuous combination of scorched skin and melting pink flesh that dissolves on the tongue that does wonders. Stick some apricot and anchovy vinaigrette along with herby sough dough crumbs, then you’ve got me licking off the plate – in this case it’s a skillet.
Last from the mains was the chargrilled whole bream, lemon confit and white miso, radish and fennel £24. What key here is that they have nailed the main ingredient, the fish itself – it’s charred on coals, bringing more Maillard reaction until the centre is every so slightly pink, meaning that we get a juicy, softly fleshed product. They find a way to extract every single bone aside from the head before it gets to us.
Crisp Belle de Fontaney potatoes £7 are the waxy kind and cut the hasselback way before they crisped in the oven. They were good too.
Then finally we complete the game with the pain perdu with vanilla ice cream £10. Some call it dessert, I call it a compelling moment.
VISIT NUMBER 6: Fast forward 3 years and one more lockdown later I’m back. (Edit October 2023).
Real sour dough features here once again, it’s a darker bake this time and it’s full of tangy nuttiness. We find ourselves slathering the custard hued butter into the warm nooks. The Maillard reaction is what gives this sourdough its rich, dark crust. Every bite crunches and melts on the tongue – none of it escapes.
Pan con tomate £6.5 with mussels and salmon roe is another smash hit. More of that sour dough is crisped in beef fat, spread with crushed tomatoes and three plump mussels before it’s garnished with slithers of pickled red onion, salty fingers and what seems like aonori. Our host tells us that they reduce the liquor the mussels are cooked in, combine it with olive oil and sherry vinegar before drizzling it on the mussels which are a mix of female and male varieties. Both have rich, sweet notes. When it comes to pan con tomate which I’ve consumed a lot of by the way at the likes of Barrafina and Sabor, this one is a boundary smasher and all the better for it.
Red mullet tempura (£19), escabeche, with a dollop of wild garlic aioli is also a beautiful thing demanding applause. I had it the first time dining here and failed miserably when trying to make it at home. The real test of how good something is, is when it permanently makes a mark on you and you want it so bad you try and replicate it. I do not comprehend precision, class and an understanding of cooking fish like these guys, only how too expertly eat it.
Onto the mains
We get chargrilled seabass £39 from the mains. It’s deftly deboned, cooked over fire and comes accessorised with mussels, datterini tomatoes and herbs. Under the charred skin, you’ll get astutely judged flesh that is to the perfect doneness – pink, juicy and just slides apart when you brush your fork over it.
Crispy agria potatoes £9, are thinly sliced potatoes confit’d in fat before being pressed overnight and deep-fried until golden. They are a celebration of shattering crunch with soft folds of potato that elevates the humble spud into something that’s worthy of a permanent residency on the menu.
The vegetable dishes have the hallmarks of a chef who understands the fundamentals cooking non meat items, and knows how to add drama. Slippery red pepper comes in its own juices, aged balsamic, cubes of feta, hazelnuts, grapes and salty capers £9. They give the same amount of determination to vegetables to make vegetables good as they do meat.
The same goes for this veg dish. We get uniformly cut chargrilled hispi cabbage, kohlrabi, miso and furikake – a Japanese condiment typically consisting of dried fish, sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, sugar, salt, and a little bit of yum, yum – MSG. If in doubt add MSG.
The meal cannot end without this culinary masterpiece. The torched sugar is miraculously thin and crisp as I remember it and the filling is rich with vanilla, cream and butter. It’s a delightful piece of work. Dessert should make you smile like a Cheshire Cat – this one does. My only grumble is that it needed a bit more heat running through it this time.
When did I go? Dec 2016, Jan 2017, June 2017, June 2018, Sept 2020, July 2023
The damage: Expect to pay £60/80 per head with wine
The good: Staggeringly good modern cooking is what you get and it delivers it in spades. There’s so much compelling food here from the oxtail croquettes, the pasta cookery and they make remarkable things with fish. Oh and that death-row pain perdu, don’t ever forget ordering that. They’ll even take a group of you, so you and a handful of your mates can play too. It got a Michelin star within a year, they were surprised. I wasn’t. Many will call this meal a treat, for me it’s a cathartic experience with many wow moments. My romance of this place is yet to wane.
The bad: It’s stayed consistently good, but only the pita bread was a bit meh as was the odd rosemary scented ice cream. But these are all forgivable things.
Would I go again? This is silly question
Address: 22 Charlotte St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 2NB