Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants as Theatre: Inaho and Joe's Cafe

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants as Theatre: Inaho and Joe's Cafe

Article excerpt

MY MOTHER has been making engagement chutney. Bananas, dates, prunes, crystallised orange, apples, cider, onions, spices, ginger, sultanas and demerara sugar have been simmering on the Aga for the last 24 hours.

She already has 1992, 1993 and 1994 engagement chutneys maturing in the larder. Now her youngest child, my sister Katie, is getting married this Christmas. Ever since Alex proposed to Katie through her snorkel while diving in Cuba, there have been earnest discussions about princess lines versus duchess lines, tiaras or tinsel.

My nieces (the bridesmaids) wanted to wear angel wings up the aisle, but these were vetoed by my father.

My role is as best woman. `All you have to do is give a speech,' my sister explained. The problem was where to start. Katie and I were dressing in the same purple flares and red capes when we were five and went to the same schools, brownies and pony club camps (she was always a prefect, I was always expelled). She'd saved me from being raped on a mountain pass in Ladakh, and I'd rescued her from going into PR (she is now a BBC producer on Crimewatch). `Can I mention the boyfriend who gave you a breadknife for Christmas?' I asked. Definitely not.

So we went out to dinner to discuss it. Inaho, a small wooden shack in Notting Hill Gate, was serving sushi and sashimi long before Yo! Sushi put beansprouts onto conveyor belts and Nobu started serving salmon teriyaki to Madonna. Notting Hell-raisers may now have moved on to wheatgrass shots at Planet Organic, but this 16-seat restaurant still serves the freshest, cheapest raw fish in London to a mixture of Japanese students, local bachelors, viscounts and taxi drivers.

The wooden walls are covered in kitsch. There's a cuckoo clock, a plastic snowman, a framed jigsaw puzzle of a geisha, and lots of shiny pot plants. The tables and chairs are pine, and the pristine kitchen can be glimpsed through a beaded curtain. It all reminded me of the early 1970s when my sister had a spacehopper and a slinky and insisted on wearing her nightie to playschool. 'I don't want anything embarrassing in this speech,' she said. `Not even the lederhosen we used to wear on holiday in Switzerland?' I asked as the cuckoo clock chimed. `No.'

The waitress appeared with a tray of sake cups. We chose a bottle of ozeki sake, brewed in California, served warm. Our first choice was half an aubergine, sliced and grilled, to which miso sauce had been added. Eaten with a teaspoon, the flesh was soft, fibrous and succulent. It suddenly seemed the only way to taste this purple vegetable (far superior to Marco Pierre White or Gordon Ramsay's aubergine caviar and only 2.50).

We moved on to hand-rolled sushi two seaweed cornettos of rice, prawns and cucumber, then a plate of mixed sushi with mackerel, salmon and octopus, all cut within the last five minutes. My sister spat out the small yellow triangles. `Oh my God, I've just eaten a fugu fish, it can be fatal,' she worried. It was a piece of omelette.

I thought we should have some yellowtail sashimi. `I'm not eating slimy raw fish,' said my sister, who is so cool she has membership of the Met bar and was wearing Birkenstocks aged ten. But she's very fussy about her food. She was a roast chicken and spaghetti Bolognese child, and once only ate porridge for three months on a holiday in India. …

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