During our past visits to London, Joanne and I have visited iconic restaurants….well-known and often physically imposing rather large formats like SCOTT’S…BRASSERIE ZEDEL…CLARIDGE’S and J. SHEEKEY. All good, all large.

But during our recent visit in October, we shifted gears and also smoked out several lesser-known places, typically family run, with carefully curated menus and generally smaller spaces. Some sported a Michelin star, but most were a bit off the radar – a quality reflected by their tender pricing.

Charlotte Street is in the borough of Fitzrovia, in the heart of London. It’s a modest little street but chock-full of charm, little shops and restaurants.

One particular find was a restaurant called THE NINTH at 22 Charlotte Street. Warm, inviting and moody, it’s decked out in dark wood, with marble table tops and exposed brickwork. Under the steady hand of owner and chef Jun Tanaka, the restaurant earned a Michelin star in 2015 and has held onto it ever since. More about Tanaka later.

The Michelin Guide states, ”The Ninth is the best price/value restaurant in London and a cause for celebration.”

Food writers claim that the best places to sit are on the second floor, but Joanne and I snagged table #9 – a deuce – on the first floor, right in the front window looking out on to the action on bustling Charlotte street. We loved it.

On to the menu…

By and large, the succulent and delightful dishes are unexpected rifts on British heritage cooking with Japanese influences…and all underpinned by French technique. And dishes are meant for sharing…or not.

I confronted the menu with my usual GUSTO for achieving my end-of-night goal of becoming a SATISFIED PIG.

We started with oxtail-filled croquettes on a bed of watercress mayo – £3.50 each, followed by something called “Barbajuans,” a deep-fried savory pastry said to have originated on the eastern shores of the Riviera near Monaco. They were filled with green onions, chard, garlic and ham and topped with a fistful of Parmesan (£6.50).

Razor Clam Ceviche was next, accompanied by a crispy deep-fried whole artichoke with a leek aioli dipping sauce. Finally – and I don’t know quite how to characterize it – we enjoyed an appetizer, or maybe a pizza or main course, of Beetroot Tarte Tatin. It was savory with sweet wedges or beets, feta and pine nuts on a somewhat chewy, buttery crust. Delicious.

Onward to pastas….

Truffles were in season, so…

As one of my mains, I ordered Conchiglie (little shells) with cream and parmesan, smothered with a slew of black truffles. The Ninth also featured a similar dish featuring Orecchiette (little ears) and white truffles. Both dishes rollicked with a soft-cooked egg. nesting dead center.

The boiled-then-fried Gnocchi had a nutty, crispy exterior and were bathed in a sweet pea puree, then finished with shaved parmesan, peppery watercress and tiny Girolles mushrooms. We also tried the Gnudi – a cousin to gnocchi, made with ricotta cheese instead of potatoes. The tiny dumplings were cooked in foaming butter with shallots, shitake mushrooms, garlic and thyme.

Because it was fall, wild rabbit was on the menu, offered in the form of a lasagna. I’ve never had wild rabbit confit lasagna, even in Italy. I wish that I had ordered it. But my second main course of Langoustine Ravioli did not disappoint. It was laced with intense datterini baby plum tomatoes and just-cut basil leaves – £31.

Here’s a winner: beetroot and fig salad with coconut yogurt!   COCONUT YOGURT ? YEP !    YOU BET !

And in the mystery of the Salad/Main Course world was the crispy Lamb Shoulder Salad with tomato, watermelon and feta cheese. Little gem lettuce leaves and cucumber gave it a nice crunch while pickled red onions provided an additional flavor note.

Another lamb offering was Chargrilled Lamb Cutlets, served up in a cast-iron skillet. The beautifully cooked lamb was accompanied by apricots, “cine de rapa” greens from Puglia, Italy, and a raft of anchovies. Oh, c’mon Minnesota. Try ‘em – you’ll like ‘em!

Salted Beef Cheeks came in three iterations, including one with oxtail consommé and braised sweet hispi cabbage (£19.50). Another featured peas, broad beans, and Girolle mushrooms and almost pickled vegetables. Yet another – this one more of a starter – consisted of a single beef cheek with a dollop of horseradish, red beets and a slice of crispy fried bread to crumble.

Another nod to the fall hunting season was whole roasted quail with foie gras, smoked bacon, pistachios and green grapes.

Joanne’s one-and-only side dish (sissy) was the Salt-Crusted Whole Sea Bass with castlefranco lettuce from Italy, radicchio and daikon radish. She declared it “wonderful.”

I didn’t know what “Belle de Fontenay” potatoes were, so I ordered ‘em. Turns out they’re not some fancy French recipe, but instead a breed of waxy potato from France. They were actually prepared “Hassleback Style” – partially sliced and oven-fried with gobs of butter (yielding gobs of flavor). It originated at the HASSLEBACKEN RESTAURANT in Stockholm, Sweden.


Chocolate Cremeaux Pudding came with a scoop of raspberry ice cream. It was rich and decadent, but oh so refined.

Apple Tarte Tatin is a classic, but this one, featuring a chewy, caramelized base under apples that wobble, shook things up with an accompaniment of rosemary ice cream.

We had to get the Cheese Plate, of course. It featured Sainte-Maure goat cheese, Bleu d’Auvergne, and…I can’t remember the third one.  Too much wine by then? Naw.

Then there was the housemade Paris Brest – the classic French baked choux pastry sliced in half and filled with praline mousseline crème and flavored with baked almonds. Not that again!

But I’ve saved the best for last: Pain Perdu – house-made brioche bread pudding that had been marinated in custard for 24 hours and fashioned into a soft brick, then fried in copious amounts of butter. If that weren’t debauched enough, it’s dusted in caster sugar and blowtorched like a crème brulée. A scoop of vanilla ice cream rode shotgun.

So that’s it: Michelin-starred cuisine – meticulously prepared and invitingly presented in an immeasurably appealing and approachable atmosphere.  And the price ?  Our dinner was around $ 150 USD including wine.

So how did Chef Jun Tanaka create such a jewel of a restaurant?

Well, he’s worked in nine of London’s most prestigious restaurants, among them the three-star icon Le Gavroche, under Michael Roux and alongside Michael Pierre White and Eric Chavot – all three celebrated Michelin-starred chefs.

In 2015 he purchased the space on Charlotte street and opened The Ninth, a minimalist moniker representing the number of restaurants that he has worked in.

Jay Rayner, the insightful and endlessly entertaining restaurant critic for the Guardian newspaper in London, has said that, given his background and training, Tanaka “would be expected to emerge as head chef of his Ninth, with a restaurant that would look like all the ones that had gone before. It would be a white table-clothed restaurant, the kind where dishes are plated on pieces of porcelain-like eggshell, and delivered with hushed reverence to tables of long-married couples…the only ones that can afford the bill…who no longer have anything to say to each other. It would be the kind of place where nobody ever admitted farting.”

He did just the opposite.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *