Named after its owner and head chef from Osaka, Inoue Daisuke, Inno Dining is a new arrival in Jingan, an import from its former base in Gubei. This casual Japanese diner is run by Inoue and his wife, Noriyo Koga, who’s just quit her job to go full time here. Their new space is part of the kitschy, nicotine-stained Feng Lan Hotel, up a dark alley off Yanping Lu, round the corner from Caliburger.
Compared to the hotel, Inno is tasteful. And it’s already popular, too. Of course, it’s the hoariest of old clichés to say the safest indictment of a restaurant is its clientele. On a recent visit, though, we can’t help but feel self-assured: as we sit at the soft-lit ground-floor bar, to our left, an attractive Japanese couple on a date; to our right, an attractive Japanese couple on a date. At a totally different tempo, upstairs is a sort of rogues’ gallery of salarymen on a piss-up.
With this atmosphere, and the satisfying sense of discovery, we want to like Inoue’s Korean BBQ chicken (58RMB/five pieces) a lot more than we do. It’s good-looking enough, served in a black metal dish, on a blonde-wood slat, the red, mild-spicy, deboned legs on a bed of sautéed onions – but the taste is just so-so, let down by the middling quality of meat.
Far better, and the star of the night, is the miso-cheese fondue (78RMB), the other specialty here, served with al dente
vegetables and slices of baguette. To be honest, we can’t taste the miso, but we do detect the Danish blue cheese, which Inoue mixes with cream cheese and mozzarella to get that slow, oozy, molten texture and the incredibly moreish depth of flavour.
Elsewhere, it’s a mixed bag of medium- to low-fuss, well-presented comfort food. It’s fairly straightforward dining. The menu is small, and the predictable (caprese
45RMB, caesar salad 55RMB) is offset with an emphasis on daily specials. Korean dishes get a mention but they’re a bit of an afterthought. The bias is mainly Italian and Japanese as made by an Italian: basic and simple. Inoue is confident in his ingredients.
Mixed-fish carpaccio (98RMB), with fine-chopped onion, scallion, fried garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar is convincing. Partially skinned boiled pumpkin (20RMB) wears its soy lightly, allowing the sweet mirin sake to lift the densely mushy texture just enough.
The cooking here is probably only half the point, though. Clearly for our boozy upstairs contingent, the food is a sideshow. And the drinks list is worth a mention for its length and price (reasonable throughout). There’s a decent range of sake (from 50RMB/Kizakura Karakuchi, 180ml), umeshu
(unripe fruit liqueuers, from 35RMB/glass), beer (from 18RMB/Kirin draft), classic cocktails (from 40RMB) and an impressive wine list, around 35 bottles in all, with about ten bottles for under 220RMB.
As we pay our bill, one couple drains the last of their sweet potato Kagoshima shochu
(250RMB/bottle, 720ml), and another bottle of Suntory whiskey (280RMB/700ml) disappears upstairs. Our co-diner leans and whispers, ‘It’s only Wednesday’.
By Alexander Barlow