Inamo is the venture of Noel Hunwick and Danny Potter, university friends who now run restaurants in two London locations: Inamo Soho, on Wardour Street, and Inamo St James, on Regent Street. I visited Inamo St James last week for two friends’ birthdays, distinctly sceptical about the posited combination of pan-Asian food and “pioneering” technology: diners order from their tables via touchpad, then watch the chefs on webcam. I expected tiny portions, pretension and inefficiency: blue screen of death and a bit of cold tuna. All of which, I should say, I’d prepared myself to bear in the name of old friendship. Thank goodness Inamo defied my expectations; I shall certainly return.
To spend time in the restaurant feels like an episode of Hustle, crossed with Hotel Babylon, filmed in the future and set largely in space. Lights project desktop-style, high-colour images onto your tabletop; they’re slightly kitsch in their evocation of late ‘90s screensavers, but also satisfyingly techy for the iDo generation. Away from the tables, this landscape of white tables and beam-me-up dining shifts. There’s also, perplexingly, a great deal of bamboo pillars, running from floor to ceiling and creating strange partitions through the restaurant. Some slide, creating passable gangways for waiters and successive impressions of imaginary, aerated doors: others, less helpfully, rotate like rollers in a funhouse. It’s impossible to get a real grasp on who is sitting where: people disappear from view as you walk past the pillared rooms, and there’s more privacy and a greater intensity of intimacy than you’d expect just a few steps from Piccadilly Circus.
After 9, the varied and friendly crowd – student, day-trippers, walkers and a chic business clientele – gives way to a boozier, but still amicable mix of partiers and the beautiful people. The atmosphere could be overly hedge funder were Hunwick not in evidence, dressed in jeans and a student cardigan.
The food is scrumptious. You want to eat everything, ten times, and the problem with the gorgeous sharing plates is that you’d rather not share them. I think the secret is to come back on your own and order the soft-shelled crab and the beef carpaccio in a gluttonous orgy of delight, to prepare you for the moral sacrifice next time. The staff, good-looking and disarmingly friendly, are well-trained and would doubtless overlook your shame. Other highlights from the menu include Thai, Japanese and Korean influences: our party very much enjoyed the red curry, the fresh scallops and the enormous, succulent prawns. Were there any justice in the world, I’d be eating one now.
When you do take friends, the “extras” option on the tabletop allows you to play tête à tête battleships. To me, this is pointless as it spoils your concentration on eating. I am currently reading Iris Murdoch’s wonderful The Sea, The Sea, which rightly asserts that the act of consumption should be both and revered and accompanied by as few distractions as possible (note: I do not live up to this. Murdoch is wedged beneath the bowl that holds my pierce-and-nuke meal). Also, in a “sharing plate” situation, revisiting your childhood via a pan-Asian future allows your so-called friends to make off with the scoff. No battleships. Only sashimi. It’s a rule.
Inamo’s cocktails are impressive (I liked the Ichigo) and their non-alcoholic cousins faultless (a friend and I enjoyed the Appleberry Mojitos). The bathrooms, from the outside, look like they might be tiny futuristic shuttle-pods, or possibly the gateway to some Dwarf Star Sector -9942 Omega Sex Shop. Inside they’re bit purple and gold and overheated, but I was paying undue attention, having raced from Southwark Cathedral (Evensong, gowns), and needing to effect a transformation into heels and bigger hair.
Inamo is more fun and less expensive than I expected. The high-concept look is smart and slick, but the feel far more playful than with most West End fusion. Practicality dictates technology; you can order a taxi and look at maps from your table. However, but I’ll be interested to see how Hunwick and Potter keep the specification current. Currently, true touch-screen technology is absent: the Inamo menu is controlled via trackpad. This feels a little dated – the round sensor also looks a bit like a cinema cupholder – and I’m surprised it isn’t possible to create a table which, like many laptops and tablets, can distinguish fingertips from elbows, phones, crockery and cash.
However, in short: A+++. Would scoff again. Please expand from SW to OX1, ASAP.
 Having meditated on this for many days, I also think they look a bit like the sets from the first Graham Norton show. You know, the one which was on Channel 4 after Frasier and emphasised the naughty things one could do with the Internet. Yes.