This premises used to house the long-established Matsuri, a teppanyaki bar that kept going for decades. In March 2017 it had a major refurbishment and reopened as Ginza Onodera, part of a restaurant group with locations from Tokyo through to New York and Shanghai. The new establishment serves a variety of styles of Japanese food, with a dedicated sushi section, a teppanyaki bar, robata grill area, general dining area and private dining room. The dining area is in a large basement, which is very smartly decorated, and the space can seat around 120 diners in total in the various sections. The head chef here is Ryosuke Kishi, who was formerly sous chef at Matsuri, and trained in Tokyo at The Grand Hyatt hotel amongst other places. The fish used is sourced from the waters around the UK and the Mediterranean, with for example Cornish turbot, rather than being imported from Japan.
The menu is wide-ranging, and there is a three-course lunch menu with a selection at each stage, priced at £23 to £35 depending on which main course you opt for. The menu feels quite “safe”, so there are no challenging dishes that you might encounter in Japan – I still recall being presented with cold squid intestines in a restaurant in Sapporo. The wine list, overseen by a sommelier who previously worked at Quattro Passi, is quite extensive, as well as offering a substantial sake selection. Sample labels included Terras Gauda O Rosal Albarino 2016 at £35 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £18, Schloss Johannisberg Riesling Qba 2015 at £45 compared to its retail price of £22, and Chateauneuf du Pape Chateau La Nerthe 2009 at £95 for a bottle that will set you back £28 in a shop. For those with the means, G. Mascarello e Figlia Barolo Monprivato 2011 was £270 compared to its retail price of £103 and Tenuta san Guido Sassacaia 1995 was £450 for a bottle whose current market value is £211.
I chose from the cheap lunch menu. Spicy tuna tartar was nicely presented, the tuna laced with pine nuts and topped with slivers of burdock root crisps.. The pine nuts added an extra texture, but for something labelled “spicy” it was decidedly tentative in the spice department (just about 13/20). Salad with prawn kakiage (fritters) had red shiso and a red vinegar sauce. The prawns were reasonably tender and the tempura batter quite light. The vinegar sauce was just sharp enough to cut through the inherent oilness of the kakiage, and this was a nice combination of elements (13/20).
Unagi (freshwater eel) donburi had the traditional bed of rice into which the cooking juices from the eel had soaked. The dish was smartened up by having the rice as a neat cylinder, the eel garnished by more burdock root crisps, and offered with sansho pepper on the side, to be added to taste. Sansho pepper comes from the prickly ash shrub and is actually a relative of Sichuan pepper, and has a lemony taste and a slight numbing effect. This was a hearty and enjoyable dish, the eel nicely cooked and the rice enlivened by the cooking juices, the sansho pepper adding its zesty spiciness (14/20).
I skipped dessert. Service was very good, the waitress both knowing the menu well and topping up my water glass effectively. The cost for my food was £33 with mineral water to drink. However if you had dinner and enjoyed some wine or sake then a typical cost per head would be more like £80 with service. This is not cheap, though Japanese food rarely is, and you are dining here in a very smart environment in St James with slick service.