Q&As with Danny and Noel, proprietors of Inamo
Web editor Debra Waters discovers how two entrepreneurs went from being disgruntled diners to the proprietors of a new restaurant that injects high-tech fun into dining… without sacrificing taste.
Restaurants open in central London every week, but Inamo is no ordinary restaurant. What makes it unique is its interactive ordering system; diners order from an illustrated food and drink menu, which is projected onto a table surface from above, and use a touch sensitive panel to choose their meal.
The venue is intimate yet futuristic – think Tokyo bar, or
set, rather than Soho haunt – while the decor and cuisine pay homage to the Far East, so it’s easy to presume that Inamo is a Western copy of an Asian innovation. Yet this virtual environment is the first of its kind in the world; not only can customers bypass the traditional waiting system, they can decide on what virtual tablecloth to ‘lay’, spy on Inamo chefs at work, play Battleships and puzzles, browse information on the local area, and book taxis.
I went along to experience the ‘future of dining’, initially concerned that, as with many themed restaurants, the surroundings would be more interesting than the food (and so unlikely to warrant a return trip). Another gripe was that it would feel impersonal, given the lack of interaction with waiting staff. I need not have worried – the food was impressive in swiftness of arrival, presentation and taste, and the staff courteous (
busy – this is not a job for slackers!)
The system takes a bit of getting used to – if you’re meeting someone for a catch-up forget unearthing the latest gossip; at first your attention will be focused on ordering and (in our case) un-ordering unintentionally-picked dishes. Not that there’s much that isn’t worth trying: the pan-Asian menu is tempting and good value for money. Wild boar roll with enoki mushrooms and asparagus (£6.50) was juicy and flavourful; the Crunchy greens salad (£5) was generously proportioned and saved from being too wholesome with a delectable sesame dessing; succulent Black Cod, marinated with spicy miso (£11.95), was superbly cooked and seasoned, while the Seared rib eye with three sauces, chilli herb, yuzu soy and truffle (£15.50), was an intriguing mix of East-meets-West flavours.
The cocktails were darned good too; the Thai Sapphire (£6.50) brazenly bumped my top tipple off the No.1 spot within a couple of sips.
Inamo is a restaurant worth visiting if you’re looking for a commendable – and affordable – Asian meal in the heart of London, and want an alternative experience to regular dining. The pace is surprisingly leisurely too. Expect to see an Inamo in your town soon.
Debra Waters, web editor
Inamo: the future of dining?
We asked Danny Potter and Noel Hunwick, who met at Oxford University, about Inamo….
What was your inspiration for Inamo?
Being frustrated with not being able to catch the attention of waiters in restaurants we tried to come up with a concept which removed many of the points of annoyance that customers can have with waiting staff. You order when you want, ask for your bill whenever you want, and call a waiter at the touch of a button. We also wanted to make it much more than simply a functional system, adding charm and a sense of theatre from setting the ambience (by customising your table-top) to ordering a cab home. We thought about using touchscreens, but wanted something more functional and more elegant, and so worked on our projection system. It is indeed a world first (as far as we know).
Have people’s preconceptions so far been that this is a Japanese concept?
Some people do initially assume that we have adopted a Japanese concept as Japan is often closely associated with anything that is considered to be "hi-tech", but it’s all British design!
How long did it take from an idea over dinner to a restaurant in Soho?
Almost three years. We explored several different options before settling on the system we’ve created now.
What did you foresee as the teething troubles of such a new concept and have these, or unexpected problems, occurred?
A lot of the problems we were most afraid of have not materialised. This is probably because we expended such a large amount of effort worrying about them and their resolution that they’ve worked out fantastically. There have been the usual challenges in starting any restaurant and these are very much human issues! Obviously the technology has added a new dimension to get right, but it’s working very well indeed at the moment.
Do you think people’s eating habits will change by using this concept? In what way?
What’s been interesting is that the concept has freed people up to define their own eating habits. Some people order one dish at a time, others their entire meal, or even their entire group’s meals. We’re learning to be flexible to adapt to this.
Don’t like your tablecloth? Change it.
Is the Inamo concept the future of dining?
We think that our concept is one that is going to grow and that interactive ordering will have a significant market share, yet there’s obviously always room for different styles of service. People will always enjoy a slow, formal french or italian meal, being waited on at tables with white cloths. We do too.
Were you concerned that people would find your restaurant gimmicky? How important was it to you to ensure the food was good enough so that people would return again and again?
From the start we’ve been at pains to emphasise that the food is the king in our restaurant. No culinary concept works without good quality food. We’ve also tried to make sure that the food is highlighted on the table, and that we don’t project patterns or colours onto dishes, as presentation is obviously key. We also wanted to try and make our food competitively priced within the market.
Why did you decide on Pan-Asian cuisine and the chefs you chose?
We felt that Pan-Asian cuisine suited our style of service, where food often arrives as it is ordered. We chose our chef due to recognising that it was vital that we backed up our concept with high quality food from a chef capable of delivering that, which Anthony Sousa Tam certainly is! (Anthony was head chef for both
following stints at
, Ubon and
Is Inamo a work in progress?
Two of the great things about the concept is that it is so flexible and so extensible. We can change and adapt according to customer feedback. We’ve already made a number of changes in the first few weeks. We aim to always improve so that inamo will be an even better value, more efficient and more fun offering in six months time than it is today.
How do the waiters feel about having what I imagine is an easier job?!
We have removed some of the elements of the waiters’ role, the idea being that this frees them up to be more sociable and observant on the floor. I think that they still find it a challenging job as service is fast paced. Each waiter is still expected to work every bit as hard.
Where do you see the Inamo concept going? A chain? Internationally?
Our primary task is to make sure that Inamo runs smoothly and provides something great to our customers. We wouldn’t want to plan the future without first grounding ourselves in the present…
to visit Inamo’s website.