I had arrived early, as I have been known not to elude the passing commentary that, I am apparently, ‘always late’.
So here I was, standing outside the entrance to 22 Harcourt Street watching a group of people, gathered in a circle, watch me. I had arrived during a staff meeting, as the members of the Dining’s restaurant team huddled into the tight space of the upstairs sushi bar. Do I wave? Smile? Hide? A few minutes of deliberation, and standing awkwardly still as though I could disturb the meeting all the way from outside the windows, I decided to do the obvious: ring inside and watch someone pick up the phone. I did so, but from around the corner so as to avoid making direct eye-contact with the person on the other end of the line, whose meeting I had just disturbed. A knowledgeable recognition of my name, reservation, and that my table was ready for me if I would come straight through, followed, and I instantly felt quite silly for having waited so long to claim it. I walked in and was instantly greeted in Japanese, (in unison!) by the staff. As is well known, Dinings is a small basement space, with ceilings so low, I felt like a pharaoh with all 5’5 of my height. What may not be obvious in the form of online photos or reviews, is the intimate, welcoming, ‘secret space’ it encompasses for each table, of its 28 person capacity in total.
I spoke with Nick Taylor-Guy, Director at Dinings, with accolades spanning the culinary world, not least of which, was his tenure with Nobu, in London. His passion and vision for Dining’s growth had me so enraptured, I almost forgot I was there for the food. Almost. My dining companion and I later conceded, that this was one of the only restaurants where the question ‘shall we choose a selection of dishes for you’ evoked total trust and reassurance from us, versus the usual wave of panic which washes over me when someone asks me to hand the fate of my dining experience over to them.
We started off with a plate of edamame, the usual amuse bouche which usually does very little for me, save staving off the sudden sense of starvation I tend to feel after reading an excellent menu. Our crisp crunchy beans here were presented with a milky lime dip however which was a welcome departure from the standard singular drop of soy sauce you can only ever attach to an edamame bean at any one time, regardless of how much you try to drench it.
Next we were presented with the “Tar Tar chips” – essentially mini Tacos, Japanese style. If I ever find the genius who combined these two concepts, well, I’ll let you know what happens. We sampled the Tuna and Jalepeno, and Wagyu Beef with Chili Miso. Both were soft, melt-in-mouth, and buttery in texture. You hardly taste both the Jalepeno of the Chili miso, and the wonder there is just as you’re awaiting them to hit you, the rich flavour of the taco itself kicks through once you’ve finally (and reluctantly) parted ways with your one mouthful and swallowed it. The wagyu is incredibly soft; a credit to the technique behind its preparation where it is seared, diced, and lightly blow torched to allow the fat to soften and melt.
The Seabass carpaccio, with fresh autumn truffle and Ponzu jelly is divine. Nick joked that when his mother visits the restaurant, she asks for a teaspoon to scoop up the ponzu sauce. I had thought of this about two dishes ago, with the edamame lime-dip, so whilst outwardly I laughed, I was internally debating whether I should ask now or let it go. The zesty kick of the ponzu sauce hits you almost as strongly as the fragrancy of the truffle, which in turn doesn’t overpower at all in taste, in fact, you can barely taste it upon the soft seabass slices and strong ponzu, although this, for me, contributed to the overall balance and moreishness of the dish.
The Wagyu beef tataki, seared and also marinated in ponzu, completely superseded any preceding dishes we’d loved so far. The beef is soft and succulent, just as everything presented on the Dinings menu so far, and blends so seamlessly into the slivers of oil mixed in with ponzu; the grilled taste of the lightly seared beef alone, separates it from its garnish.
The dishes thereafter seemed to tumble out; Mixed seaweed salad with tosazu vinaigrette and spicy sesame sauce, Nasu miso grilled aubergine with sweet miso, smoked and grilled lamb cutlets with shisho mint dressing, Grilled chilli garlic black cod. I made two mistakes here; eating too slowly, and arguing with my dining companion over who should have the larger lamb cutlet (we’re still at that ever so polite stage of “no, please, you have that one, I had the last slice of beef in the last plate, remember?”) Before we knew it, four new dishes lay before us, and as I turned my attention to the black cod, our unfinished lamb dish was whisked away. With four full plates before us, as well as the Wagyu beef which we simply refused to finish too soon, I couldn’t call out what I wanted to which was “wait! stop! we haven’t finished our lamb!” And so, perhaps for that reason alone, that is the only dish I feel least connected to of the night, what I do remember however, was that it was cooked to a pink tenderness, with a very light mint garnishing that made it quite mellow, yet fulfilling, for a meat dish.
Similarly the aubergine miso strikes a great balance of not being swathed in so much miso sauce that you feel compelled to eat it all, all the while feeling sick; here at Dinings, it is glazed with enough miso to make it a guilty pleasure, yet outweighed by enough aubergine to feel like a relatively clean dish.
The Blackened Cod, marinated for 24 hours and then grilled, is innovative and very pleasing with the chilli garlic marinade in place of miso.
As I was preparing myself to finally begin actually digesting the feast we’d been presented with, our final plates arrived; a selection of seabass, akami tuna, and salmon sashimi on a bed of rice lightly glazed in soy. The succulent, expertly selected cuts of fish close the meal perfectly. I say this, however we also “closed” the meal with their incredible spider and soft shell crab sushi: sushi rolls with diced, sweet soft shell fillings, accompanied with helpful servings of lightly fried spider crab along side it. Unable to breathe, we reluctantly surrendered eating, once we’d taken our last bite.
Dinings and it’s team, is charming, romantic, homely, familiar and reminiscent of the very reason London is quite the home of International Cuisine. If you’re looking for authenticity, and if you’re looking for passion and sincerity, qualities so easily lost in the arts of today, come to Dinings. It is much, much more, than just a dining experience.