At the Ninth in London's Fitzrovia, chef Jun Tanaka has created a hugely varied menu, for which he is still celebrating an unexpected Michelin star. Neil Gerrard pays a visit
Jun Tanaka is still basking in the glow of an unexpected Michelin star when The Caterer comes to visit the Ninth on Charlotte Street in London's Fitzrovia. Having launched the Ninth with one-time schoolfriend and now business partner Jim Barry just over a year ago, a star wasn't even on the radar, Tanaka says.
Ironically, the launch of his first solo venture (so named because it is the ninth restaurant he has worked in) was the first time he has spearheaded the opening of a new site and not thought about the possibility of winning one, he admits.
"The whole idea of the Ninth is that it is a neighbourhood restaurant with simple food and great ingredients at a reasonable price so it was a real surprise," Tanaka says of the award in the 2017 Michelin Guide. That's not to say he doesn't have the pedigree for it.
American-born and educated in Tokyo and England, Tanaka began his career as a chef aged 19, following a hotel management and catering course.
By 1991, he was lucky enough to secure a position at Le Gavroche. "The training I got there was incredible. I don't think I really appreciated it until years later," he recalls.
From there, Tanaka got a job at Chez Nico in London under Nico Ladenis when it had two Michelin stars and after 10 years he moved on to head chef roles, most recently at Pearl in London, which he joined in 2004 before leaving in 2012 (the restaurant closed in 2013).
Given his background, you might expect Tanaka to offer the sort of classical French fare that characterised his formative years as a chef. While there are still traces of those roots on the menu, especially in the desserts like pain perdu with vanilla ice-cream (£7) and tarte tatin with rosemary ice-cream for two (£14), there's a much more Mediterranean flavour to the rest of it.
"I prefer Mediterranean food," he explains. "It is lighter, fresher and something you can eat on a more regular basis. I also feel that I enjoy food a lot more when I share it."
A dish that characterises this approach is one of the Ninth's bestsellers, the ossobuco tortellini and hazelnut gremolata (£9.50). "This uses the classic French way of cooking veal shin with chicken and veal stock, then caramelising a mirepoix with garlic, aromats, white wine and Madeira. Combining the French way of making sauces with Italian pasta gives it a real depth of flavour. I reduce down the sauce, mix it with the shin, put a brunoise of vegetables in it, wrap
it in pasta and boil it, and then I coat it with the braising liquor so that it is nice and sticky," explains Tanaka.
y far the best-selling dish is the oxtail croquettes (£2.50), which Tanaka created in part to ensure he wasted as few ingredients as possible.
Since he had oxtail left over from the salted beef cheeks with oxtail consommé and charred Hispi cabbage (£19.50) he decided to make use of it. "The croquettes are made from the oxtail meat from making the consommé and any trimmings once I portion up the beef cheeks, mixed together with some confited onions with a bit more sauce and served with a watercress and horseradish mayonnaise."
e of the most striking things about the Ninth's menu is how extensive it is in a world where so often now four starters, four mains and four desserts, or a single-option tasting menu seem to be the norm. In addition to the meaty dishes described above, the dinner menu boasts a couple of salads, six hot starters including caramelised scallops, pumpkin risotto, chives and ginger (£16); four raw and cured options, including sea bass carpaccio, salsa verde and pickled kohlrabi (£9.50); four fish dishes, including whole roast sea bass, Datterini tomatoes and clams (£22); four meat dishes, eight vegetable options and four desserts.
"I know from an operating cost perspective [a smaller menu] is a lot easier to handle, but from a customer's perspective, I genuinely feel they prefer choice," Tanaka explains.
It has been a long and at times arduous journey to get to this point for the chef. It was a three-year quest to find a site but in addition to the star, Tanaka can be proud of the fact that his 12 chefs (with six on any given service) and his 9-10 floor staff are serving 800-850 covers per night in the 74-cover restaurant (with another eight spaces at the bar and eight on a heated terrace outside).
"It's the first year of opening and it has been very stressful and not easy at all," says Tanaka. "There is always something you can improve and my focus is 100% on this restaurant, but I can genuinely say that it's a happy kitchen, and I'm happy where I am at the moment."
From the menu
Duck Scotch egg £5.50
Salad of stracciatella di bufala, pickled beetroot, walnuts £11.50
Rabbit confit lasagna, tomato compote £10
Partridge escabeche £8.50
Raw and cured
Flamed mackerel, dill, cucumber, capers £8.50
Cured langoustine, shellfish vinaigrette £12
Chargrilled Iberico pork, herb vinaigrette, piquillo peppers £25
Salt-baked venison, Cavolo Nero, beetroot, hazelnuts £26
Herb gnocchi, Pied Mouton, trompettes £8
Polenta, egg yolk, leeks, Comté £6
22 Charlotte Street, London W1T 2NB