265 Hampstead Road, London, NW1 7QX www.inamo-restaurant.com
Solidly analogue when it comes to eating, Mike finds the hi-tech of Inamo matches the high quality food. He literally draws us a picture.
Twenty steps take you from Mornington Crescent tube to the freshly opened Inamo pan-Asian Camden restaurant and bar. As we run the short gauntlet of Camden nightlife towards its modernist concrete frame architecture, Inamo looks slightly unreal like an outlet you might find in Dubai, perhaps because the building itself is also new. We approach through a terrace of tall bamboo planters, al fresco seating and outdoor heaters, though none are brave enough on this chilly December night.
Once past the swish of the huge glass door there’s a warm inviting feel mixing timber, stone and copper. Every surface is a well-constructed quality material offering the assurance of solidity. Black ceilings and dark floors, low lighting and shadow are punctuated by iridescent table tops each with a digital projector beaming down from above.
Camden is the third branch of Inamo, the Soho one being the very first UK restaurant to combine interactive technology and dining over eight years ago, so it’s blend of computing and cuisine is clearly working.
Manager Sheila wastes no time in helping browse the IPad provided to single out Kyuri Plum Sour and Passionate Martini cocktails from their enticing range, before giving us the lowdown on the high tech table.
Once briefed, we click a menu of a virtual tablecloths ranging from a dark twinkling night sky through odd choices like brick wall and what looks like stonewashed denim to stark bare white. Then you overlay patterns: abstract swirls, Asian script or one whose design included what could be a cartoon chef with bulbous hat or from my angle a stubby version of what the Cerne Abbas chalk giant proudly shows off to Dorset.
We decided on a mid tone tablecloth to avoid the slight Halloween uplighting effect from the brightest choices, and a simple non-phallic overlay pattern to avoid the penises.
Black dressed discreet waiting staff serve our cocktails like Ninjas as we further interface with our menu to discover you can also game at your table; fortunately not Assassin’s Creedwhich might have climaxed with a chopstick in the eye of a neighbouring diner, but the altogether more gentle and nostalgic Pong, but we weren’t here to play games, the cocktails were delicious but by now we needed food.
At this point Noel the co founder squatted down to apologize as our high tech table wasn’t yet in sync with the IPad for integrated ordering because of plumbing problems with BT’s internet pipes, computers eh? No matter, nice that Noel was taking the time to reassure Inamo’s early adopters their snag would soon be fixed as they had been in the other branches first few days.
The menu is packed with clickbait cuisine, sharing platters, Asian tapas and classics. Reassuringly; there is also a kids menu with small portions of the real food rather than kid fare like Fish Sticks’n’ Teriyaki Ketchup.
Currently the usual four course set menu for £20 is superseded by their festive menu which runs from now to 13th Jan. With so much alluring choice, the only glitch with ordering is that it’s difficult to know how much to get with no waiter to say with their eyes: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Steady there fat lad, I think that should do itÃ¢â‚¬Â.
Our 2014 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, ViÃƒÂ±a Leyda arrived first, a soft and plummy Cabernet Sauvignon with an analogue cork instead of a modern screw top. The food arrived hot on its heels, we’re all used to digital ordering but this is faster than Prime.
Striking examples of Crunchy Tempura Prawn Maki and succulent Seared Tuna Sashimi weren’t over-chilled like most city Sushi. Supple Spicy Miso Salmon tasted fresh, Buxom Shrimp and vegetable Dim Sum burst in the mouth and a Pork Chop with Yakiniku Sauce from the Robata charcoal grill had just right amount of char. Some items had looked smaller on the internet and consequently our table for four was by now packed with appetizing food destined only for two.
Seconds later yet another order I’d forgotten arrived by Ninja. I had previously thought Yum Buns to be exclusive to my wife so I just had to try them. Soft and yielding (the bun not the wife), you fill them with brisket, duck and pork and a range of hoisin sauces.
Three proved too much so we napkin wrapped some for the teens back home. Our table then decided to animate itself. We decided we liked this uninvited intervention as we ate, as cleverly there’s a digital void where your plate sits so your food’s aesthetic isn’t forced to compete with the gently flowing collage of coloured light.
As it comes en masse you eat in one big sharing course with no gaps to drink your wine, so we found ourselves with plenty left. Time to draw – you can sketch your masterpiece and colour it directly onto the digital table surface just like a paper tablecloth in restaurants of yore but with the benefit of a digital eraser for when your portrait goes a bit Picasso.
To inspire our muse we decided to share chocolate coated fresh strawberries, chunks of brownie and marshmallows on sticks to dip into the digital audio interference of popping candy, a fitting end.
The IPad ordering had worked very smoothly Ã¢â‚¬â€œ nothing frozen, no bugs and no spam. The food here is easily good enough to thrive without this tech but the youngish clientele don’t even register it, it’s now part of every facet of life and it won’t be long before we will chat to our augmented 3D printed meal before we tuck into its face.
My usually analogue leaning wife and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at Inamo. The only mild disappointment came when, after a comfort break, I was dismayed to find you have to push an actual button to flush the loo.