I was first lured to Dinings’ tiny Marylebone premises by the pedigree of Tomonari Chiba, an ex-Nobu chef. I remember being distinctly underwhelmed by the modern sushi interpretations and what they coined as “Japanese tapas” on my visit (made in the restaurant’s opening month), and left without a desire to return. Three years on Dinings is still thriving, and with most accounts being favourable, it seemed silly for me not to give them another chance. I tested the waters with a quick solo lunch and was impressed by a great value chirashi set, so decided to return with my friend K for a fuller exploration of the menu on a weekday evening.
Upon arrival we were ushered downstairs to a corner table in the dreary bunker-like basement, next to a noisy group of city boys. Starved and ready to eat, we quickly made our picks from the à la carte and large specials boards propped up against the wall. Ignoring the rowdy crowd beside us we started catching up over our pots of green tea, and before long the cold plates started to arrive. The beautifully composed Seabass Carpaccio with Ponzu Jelly and Truffle Salsa, pleasing to the eyes as it was, was unfortunately less of a treat for the palate – the concentration of acid from both the dressing and jelly was so excessive, it completely overwhelmed the delicate sea bass.
Next was the artfully arranged Toro Sushi Three-ways, that featured a Negitoro Gunkan, Seared Otoro Nigiri and Chutoro Nigiri. Of the three, the negitoro number was the definite standout, with the chopped up mix of tuna belly and spring onions enhanced by the addition of fragrant shredded shiso with sharp pickled radish. Less successful was the Otoro (fattiest tuna) which was quite lean and hence benefited little from being torched (the dab of jalapeno resting on top was also negligible). The chutoro (medium fatty tuna) nigiri was fine, but I found myself brushing off most of the garnish (identical to what adorned the earlier carpaccio dish) as the sourness distracted from what was otherwise, a rather good cut of fish.
I was looking forward to the Wagyu Beef Tataki with Ponzu Sauce and Porcini Oil as it sounded incredible but what was set before us was ordinary at best. While I couldn’t fault the pimped-up ponzu dressing, the meat itself was dry, grainy and had so little fat content that I question if it was Wagyu at all. Not a winner in my books.
After the first lot of mediocre dishes we experienced a bit of a lull, which eventually turned into 45 minutes of nothing touching our table. Annoyed, I made several inquiries with the wait staff who weren’t in the least bit interested, and totally non-committal on when our food would be arriving. After a further quarter of an hour’s inactivity, our Grilled Crab with Creamy Spicy Sauce finally emerged from the kitchen. It was an unusual, but rather lovely concoction of briny king crab meat and creamy avocado, slathered with a mayonnaise-like topping, that had been browned under the grill. It was delicious, but our taste buds were somewhat numbed by the hour-long wait.
The appearance of that dish placated us for a while but we soon found ourselves waiting again, and when K started complaining of hunger pangs after another 20 minutes had gone by, I was properly fuming. I complained once again, and thankfully they took heed and within minutes our remaining dishes started trickling out. The Pop Corn Shrimp Tempura with Creamy Sauce was soaked in oil and over-salted, and paled in comparison to the Nobu dish from which it clearly took its inspiration.
The Soft Shell Crab Kara-age served with Ponzu Sauce was similarly greasy, and I took to dousing it in the accompanying sauce to mask the oily aftertaste but it still managed to leave an unpleasant sensation at the back of my throat.
Perhaps the best dish was the last of the evening – a Chargrilled Iberian Pork which was tasty, succulent, and paired with an uplifting Tomato Yuzu Lemon Sauce. It ended our meal on a higher note, but in no way did it redeem what was the worst dining experience I’ve had in a long time. Not only was the waiting time unforgivable but at no point did we actually receive any apologies from the front of house. And for half a meal (we dared not order more lest we had to wait another hour) and aggravatingly shoddy service we had to fish out over £50 a head… and we didn’t even order alcohol. I’m getting angry again just thinking about it.
22 Harcourt Street
London W1H 4HH
t. 020 7723 0666