CODE meets Jun Tanaka, The Ninth

Published 12 August 2020

Jun Tanaka began his culinary career at Le Gavroche, going on to work alongside Michelin-starred chefs including Nico Ladenis and Phil Howard. In 2015, he opened his first solo venture to much critical acclaim. Here, we chat about how The Ninth has pivoted during lockdown, keeping standards high and the meal he’d cook for the rest of his life.

How would you describe The Ninth for those that haven’t eaten there?

We’re a relaxed neighbourhood restaurant that serves French food with distinctly Mediterranean influences, designed for family-style sharing. There’s a real focus on really good quality seasonal produce. I wouldn’t say the dishes are simple, but the aim is that they should taste effortless.

You’ve just launched The Ninth Barbecue Box, tell us more about that?

During lockdown, I barbecued a lot. Trying out different marinades and vegetables on the barbecue – it actually helped to ease some of the frustration of not being able to go out. So, the idea for the barbecue box came after a discussion with my head chef Nuno. We wanted to offer a selection of meats in different marinades like our veal chop in Greek yoghurt, poussin in preserved lemon and lamb cutlets in olives as well as different vegetables with sauces and condiments. The box arrives with step by step instructions and a QR code which takes you to my IGTV showing how to cook everything. It’s available for two or four and we ship all over the UK.

We’ve seen your black truffle pasta kit all over Instagram… how has it been adapting your offering over the last few months? 

We developed our takeaway offering during the height of lockdown which had its challenges but we’re super happy with the results. We knew that we couldn’t just take one of our restaurant dishes and put it in a box. We deconstructed each dish to try and understand how well each of the components would travel. We tweaked the recipes and ingredients, and then stress-tested every single item on the menu by cooking them, and leaving them in the box for 30 minutes before eating it. If we couldn’t get it as good as if it was served in the restaurant then it didn’t make it on to the menu!

What was the biggest lesson you learnt during lockdown? 

Diversify. Whether it’s my career, business or personal investments, it is essential to be diversified. I believe this will make my business better prepared to weather the storm.

What is the biggest challenge for you when it comes to reopening?

It’s getting the balance just right between making our guests feel safe when they dine with us in the restaurant by implementing all the necessary safety measures – and even beyond – but at the same time retaining a level of comfort and familiarity that makes us, us. The experience shouldn’t feel so alien that it takes away from the enjoyment of eating out!

Other than your own restaurant, where are you most looking forward to eating now you’re able to? 

Since the 4th July, I’ve made an effort to go out to restaurants as often as I can. I’ve eaten at Jolene, Perilla, LeroyBright, Mortimer House and Arros QD, to name just a few! I think it’s vital that we support each other during these times. What I’m looking forward to is Noble Rot’s new restaurant in Soho when it opens!

What was the experience of opening your first solo venture like?

It was a mixture of emotions: excitement, nervousness, stress, fear and happiness… Actually pretty much how I feel now about reopening the restaurant on 20 August!

What advice would you give to those wanting to do the same? 

You have to go into this with your eyes wide open. This is an incredibly difficult industry made even harder by this virus and chance of success is small. But if this is what your heart’s telling you to do then go for it because there is nothing more fulfilling than following your passion.

You’ve retained a Michelin star since your first year. How do you ensure standards are kept high? 

It’s all about having the right team around you and taking good care of that team. They have to share the vision that you have for the business and be open to learning. You as a leader have to invest the time to teach them, and also show them how to teach others.

If you could only cook one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

 It has to be shellfish on the barbecue with a simple tomato salad.

To find out more about The Ninth, visit the website here

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