Not too long ago I saw a whole family sitting in a restaurant checking their phones over dinner. That’s both parents, plus all 3 kids, staring at their own little glowing glass screens for over 30 minutes solid. Now, I’m not here to judge them – I have no idea of their personal circumstance, perhaps these moments of quiet reflection spent enjoying the never-ending torrent of self-esteem destroying news feeds and twitters streams are a welcome relief from all the chat chat chat they do at home. But I suspect not. Imagine my amazement then when I came across their perfect restaurant, the one place that contained everything they needed. That’s right, a restaurant with computerised interactive tables complete with ‘fun’ activities and games so nobody has to speak to anyone else ever again! I couldn’t wait to see what I had been missing. Would this fulfil my every edible and social need rolled into one not-quite-affordable package?
SPOILER ALERT: It didn’t. At all.
First of all, let me explain the concept of this very specific restaurant to you. inamo, one of the latest chains trying to establish itself and vying for your hard earned cash, is one of currently two restaurants in the Big Smoke (we went to the Camden branch) – the other can be found in Convent Garden. You, as a naive and willing punter, are shown to your table, seated and provided with a tablet computer and an annoying, clicky pointer thing. If you have eaten here before (and that suggests you have therefore returned, may the Almighty have mercy on your soul) you are then left alone. That’s right – the concept here, is to do away with interaction altogether by removing the need to engage with the waiting staff, or in fact anyone at all.
At your first visit, it is explained to you why the table is such a dizzying mixture of changing shapes and colours – the projector hanging above every table tracks the clicky pointer and allows you to select, draw, watch the kitchen webcam as well as interact with various options and games. Here, you see, instead of actually talking to anybody you can instead take on other strangers across the restaurant in some interactive multi-player games. I fully admit, the first impressions had me saying ‘wow’, ‘cool’ and various other dated phrases from the 80’s but as I will describe to you, this very quickly turned to terms more appropriate to the pain and suffering of a middle aged, middle class man being unable to discover, order or see to eat his dinner. #Firstworldproblems
Mrs P and I started with drinks. Having discovered the drawing ‘app’ and scribbled across the table to get a feel for how the thing worked (I will admit that the first thing I drew may have been a rude shape, but it’s OK because Mrs P made me rub it out before anyone else saw), we loaded up the menu. We clicked on the drinks, we clicked on order. The drinks came, and were nice, even if they were served in cleaned out tin cans. This was almost too easy and lulled us into a totally false sense of security because as we turned our attention to the food, the menu started playing up. Mrs P couldn’t sort it out for love nor money and almost ended up ordering most of the children’s menu by mistake!
We battled on and after multiple re-starts and dead-ends we ended up back at the drawing app again and again. We reasoned that perhaps this was why we are also provided with a tablet with the menu on as well. But as I pointed out, why provide two ways of doing the same thing when one way is clearly 7000% harder? That doesn’t make much sense to me.
Anyway, the food here is ‘Asian Tapas’ style. Think bite size plates of various non-denominated Eastern related influence trying to pull together Japanese, Thai, Chinese and Korean flavours. We picked Singapore noodles, Yum buns, chicken satay, pork ribs, chicken gyoza and Korean chicken wings. The noodles were marked in the ‘Classics’ section which is to identify them as sharing between two, whereas the others are intended to be individual plates.
Having already got annoyed with the difficulty of ordering via the table itself, the dishes came when ready and while there was very little waiting, none of them really lived up to anything like the expectation of even a mediocre Chinese takeaway. The Iberico pork ribs were bland and chewy with the tastiest thing on them being the fat rather than the overly sweet and very thin sauce. Plus look at the size difference between the ribs! Clearly here is a team totally unencumbered with such mundane limitations as consistency. The wings also over promised and under delivered and I felt bad because these poor chickens must have been below the age of consent when they were dispatched. The wings were tiny and not even the sauce could be bothered to put in a half decent show.
The buns were white and soft but considering that the middle one was still frozen, I was fairly sure the microwave had missed a minute or so. The rest of the plate didn’t fair much better with the sauces being a very sweet but generic bunch that didn’t bring any additional joy to the party and there wasn’t anywhere near enough herbs and veg to go with the three piles of fatty or dried meat that were presented alongside. In all fairness to the team, when I sent the frozen bun back, they tried to replace it but as it took them to the end of the meal to bring it to the table I declined the offer and they took this dish off the bill. That was much appreciated indeed, as I would later find on inspection of the bill – small plates here are priced at a grand scale!
The chicken satay skewers were likewise over cooked, chewy and a bit rubbery. A dive and dunk into the satay sauce did manage to loosen things up a bit but at a little over 8 quid for the plate, I felt more than a little robbed.
Finally the Singapore vermicelli noodles in oyster sauce. Now I know that there are different versions of vermicelli but I don’t know about you but when I looked at these, I didn’t see vermicelli I simply saw more probable despair.
I include a picture of what I was expecting (photo courtesy of Melissa over at cilatroandcitronella.com – great blog btw), so you can truly appreciate my disappointment but by this time, I had already complained about the bao buns and got super annoyed with the table, but hey, how bad could it be? I dived in but lo and behold, fate had delivered one last steel toecapped boot straight into the goolies of destiny. I did not like these. Sticky, thick, gooey and cloying these were far from the noodles of my dreams and I would probably have felt even more let down if I hadn’t been further distracted by fighting off a headache gained from looking at the ferociously absurd table.
So just in case it is not yet abundantly clear, I did not like imamo. But, I am fully prepared to admit that many people will love it. For me, it’s bad value, average quality, gimmicky and above all it actively attacks what I feel a meal should be; an opportunity to talk to other people. A centre piece or point of interest is one thing, but the more distraction you put into your life, the less likely you are to ever make a real connection with anyone. And let’s be honest, with the world going to hell in a hand basket at the moment, we need as much understanding and connection in our lives as we can get. So don’t get distracted; eat, drink and be merry because you never know what you might learn from the person sitting opposite you.