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Tuesday, 25 August 2009
Over the coming year, I will be visiting as many of London’s underground restaurants as I can get into, and will be posting my reviews here. I have been intrigued by this new eating concept in the London food scene, and am curious to find out where this will lead us. So watch this space, more reviews to follow.
Run by the musician Horton Jupiter, The Secret Ingredient is located at Horton’s flat in Newington Green. Being a Japanese food aficionado, I was very curious to try his personal take on one of my favourite cuisines.
This was the first underground restaurant I had managed to get myself booked into so I was feeling slightly apprehensive about the evening. I arrived a few minutes before my 9:30pm slot, but was asked to wait in their garden as the first sitting was running slightly late. I soon struck conversation with a delightful couple, Maria and Carl, we were then seated together soon after 10pm. Maria turned out to be a mega foodie, and incredibly knowledgeable about her native Italian cuisine and all things foodie, I liked her instantly.
Whilst waiting for our starters, we were served a small dish of finely cut onions as an amuse bouche, seasoned with umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums). This can be both very sour and sweet but married beautifully with the onions.
The night was off on a good note, and soon came our first dish, a selection of delectable vegetable morsels served on a mirrored plate. To note were a small radish served with a gorgeous lemony sauce, a bundle of carrots and green beans wrapped up in Nori (Japanese seaweed used mainly for sushi), and a delicately flavoured cabbage parcel.
We were then served a plate of a finely cut root vegetable, I guess sweet potatoes, with peppers, and sesame & wakame (Japanese seaweed) dressing. The flavour was simple and delicate.
This was followed by a platter with other hot items like gyoza (fried dumplings), deep fried tofu balls, mushrooms and broccoli.
As customary in some finer restaurants in Japan, white rice and miso soup were served at the end of the meal and prior to dessert. The miso soup was well made, and the tsukemono (Japanese pickles) was a nice addition.
For dessert, we had freshly cut fruit, mango and strawberry, with a sweet and chilli sauce, served with Japanese sake.
On that evening, Horton’s assistant was apparently his flatmate. Service was a bit on the slow side, we finished our meal at 1:30am. He was quite attentive though, and with no previous waiting experience, I felt that he managed two sittings of 12 people well. We chatted with Horton on our way out, he is a rather sweet and flamboyant character, and I liked him. We briefly discussed the possibility of adding new dishes to his menu, apparently not changed since the beginning of The Secret Ingredient. So Horton if you are reading this, I would be delighted to show you my suggested recipe of roasted aubergine, with sweet miso and cheese!
Verdict – Intimate setting, with personable service and good, simple Japanese food. Horton certainly knows some key Japanese ingredients and how to use them to create some unique dishes. At £20 per person + tip, this is not a bargain considering his running costs and the quantity of food being served. An interesting experience which I would certainly repeat in future (subject to menu).