A few streets away from the heart of Chinatown, Inamo blends Oriental cuisine with the latest gadgetry in a setting that manages to be trendy, but not intimidatingly so. Busy without being crowded, its table settings accommodate lone diners, large groups, families and couples with ease.
The restaurant’s gimmick, or USP if you prefer, is interactive touch-screens built into the tabletops, enabling each diner to order food direct from the kitchen and bypassing the need for waiting staff. The same technology also allows you to choose from a selection of virtual tablecloths, watch your food being cooked via Chefcam, order a cab home at the end of the meal, or check an icon-covered Google map to find the nearest club, cinema or theatre to go on to next.
This has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, it enables each member of the group to order individually as and when they’re ready, and also provides a bill that gives individual totals as well as a group one, removing any chance of end-of-meal squabbles over who had what. On the minus side, it’s not the most intuitive system in the world to use: it was too easy to accidentally add dishes to the order while browsing the menu, and hard to remove them once we had. As a result, I accidentally re-ordered my main course when ordering dessert, and added a side order of green beans to a sorbet. To be fair, in both cases staff came over immediately to question and correct the selection and more technologically adept diners may well find the system more user-friendly.
Ironically, when the online ordering is the characteristic the restaurant seems keenest to promote, the food is far superior and cannot be faulted. Booked in for lunch, we tested the claim that the set menus would be delivered within 15 minutes. They were: the starters arrived within five and, had we been clock-watching, we could easily have been in and out within an allotted lunch hour. More to the point, at £12.50 the set menus were excellent value – the exceptionally tasty miso soup, vegetable red curry or cinammon chicken, with pickled purple aubergines and edamame beans – were both filling and interesting.
The Thai curry, with butternut squash and mushrooms, was spicy and light. The cinnamon chicken was moist, tender and crispy on the outside, with a squeeze of lime, salt and chilli flakes ensuring that the cinnamon wasn’t overpowering. The regular menu offered such choices as black cod marinated with spicy miso (£13.95), mushroom toban yaki (£12.50), Berkshire pork neck with confit of apple and spicy chocolate sauce (£12.50) and spinach and mushroom parcels with sesame dressing (£6.25).
The drinks list was equally extensive and reasonable, with wines from around £14 a bottle/£4.00 a glass, sake from around £12 a bottle, beers at £3.50ish and cocktails for £6.50. The Kriek Boon cherry beer, which was light and refreshing, was a particular star, as were the desserts. We plumped for the delicious homemade sorbet (£4.75) whose sweet, fruity and spicy flavours complemented one another perfectly and Thai basil panna cotta (£5.25) on which a topping of exotic fruit provided a light and refreshing contrast to the basil-infused panna cotta.
The meal over, it’s entirely up to you to decide – via the virtual waiter – when to ask for your bill. When you do, it even asks if you’re sure. Bless it.
At under £30 a head for three courses and drinks, Inamo was good value for money. The staff were helpful and attentive, the food came quickly and the atmosphere was excellent. For a lunchtime quickie, it’s perfect, and with evenings offering an equally swift pre-theatre menu or longer, more relaxed options, it has something for everyone. We’ll definitely be visiting again.