1a St James's Market, St James, London, SW1Y 4AH, United Kingdom

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Pinondang Sinaga is an Indonesian gentleman from northern Sumatra who used to run a food stall at Camden Market. In February 2023 he opened the restaurant Toba in St James Market, in the premises that used to house Ikoyi before it moved to the Strand. The restaurant is named after Lake Toba in Sumatra, formed after the massive Toba eruption that created it – the lake is in the caldera of the volcano. This is all that is left of the original mountain around 74,000 years ago after the largest explosive eruption on earth in the last two million years. This incidentally, is thought to have caused a ten-year volcanic winter that almost wiped out all human life on earth along with numerous other impacts that show up in the fossil record.

Toba the restaurant is slightly less dramatic in scale than its namesake, seating 36 diners, with five chefs working in the kitchen on this busy weekend evening. Tables are quite small and closely packed, with banquette seating and plain wooden tables. The menu was a la carte, with most dishes priced £12.50-£28. 

The wine list had 35 labels and ranged in price from £32 to £300, with a median price of £91 and an average markup to retail price of 3.4 times, which is chunky even for this posh part of central London. Sample references were Vinho Verde Adega de Monçao 2022 at £36 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £13, Tormaresca Nèprica Primitivo 2021 at £59 compared to its retail price of £23, and Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis 2022 at £74 for a wine that will set you back £24 in the high street. For those with the means there was Domaine Bernard Millot Puligny Montrachet 2020 at £180 compared to its retail price of £66, and Antinori Tignanello 2019 at £300 for a wine whose current market value is £158. Beer was Asahi at £6 for a small bottle, and Belu mineral water was £6 for a large bottle. 

Indonesian potato patties (£9) were fried and came with a spicy sauce on the side. This was a very simple dish but the potatoes were nicely cooked and the sauce had a good spicy kick (13/20). Chicken satay (£12.50) arrived as four skewers of chicken grilled over charcoal with a freshly made satay sauce. There was a definite smoky taste to the chicken, the sauce a little sweet (13/20).

Jakarta style vermicelli noodle salad (£14) was served with rice cakes, fried tofu and beansprouts with a homemade peanut sauce and topped with onion crackers. This was harmless enough, the rice cakes a little limp though the tofu was fine and the noodles were pleasant (12/20). A trio of spicy sambals ordered separately (£8) enlivened this dish.

Plecing kangkong (£14.50) was a dish of mixed vegetables that had been tossed with spiced shredded coconut and topped with Indonesian shrimp paste. The vegetables were arguably cooked a little longer than ideal but were nice enough, the shrimp paste enlivening their flavour (13/20). Nasi goreng is a classic fried rice dish, this version being with seafood (£20) and having decent prawns, tiny queenie scallops and good fried rice (13/20).

The star dish of the evening was beef rendang (£20), beef slow coked in spiced coconut. This Sumatran dish can trace its origins to Indian merchants that travelled to what is now Indonesia. The dish is initially made as a beef curry but is then reduced slowly to a thick consistency with no liquid left. Short ribs are the cut of beef most often used these days, and the dish, cooked with galangal, was designed to be long lasting, the spices and salt preserving the dish for long journeys before the days of refrigeration. Kerisik (grated, toasted coconut) and chillies are key components, and although recipes vary the dish often uses tamarind, lime, garlic and lemongrass as well as red chillies, shallots and cardamom pods. The result is a dry dish that should be very tender, as this one was, with a decent kick of chilli spice. Good beef rendang is a joy and this was a very good version (15/20).

The bill came to £86 per person with beer to drink. Service was efficient and friendly, though the music playing in the background made it hard to understand the waiters at times. Overall, this was an enjoyable if quite fully priced meal, but then you are sitting in smart premises just yards from Piccadilly. 

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