My sister and I were reading on Avlaki beach in Athens the other day when she looked up and said, “I’m trying to figure out if I’m a fox or a hedgehog?” ” Heh? What’s that now?” “Well,” she continued “the ancient Greek poet Archilochus said ‘the fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing’ Isaiah Berlin (his real name, not making it up) expanded on the idea in an essay.”
“Well I’m definitely a fox!” I declared. I’d already penciled my character into this column when I had read Sasasunakku’s recipe for Toffee & Pear Spice Cake which referred to Sarah Wilson’s blog post on ‘scanners’. Nowhere is this more apparent than in my choice of reading material, the magazines I’ve brought along on this trip include: Apartamento, Bon Appétit, Oh Comely and the FT Magazines. The books I have read this summer are King Abdullah’s, Our Last Best Chance, The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh and on to Michael Caine’s, An Elephant in Hollywood. (There’s a point to all this, I promise.)
I was reading that Michael Caine is an avid gardener who loves the British countryside. But he can’t stand the long damp winters. Solution: he has a sprawling country home in Britain and winters with his family in Miami. Ping! Went the light bulb over my head, that would be perfect! That way, I could opt out of 6 months of snow and sorrows in Berlin and the lack of dim sum, sushi and good cheap eats and love it instead for what it does have, turning a blind eye to what it doesn’t do for me. (Hmmm, I’ve just realised this is probably what French men think as they build up their pyramid of wife, mistress & alternative sexpot – managing to love the first two simultaneously!)
Here is how those first 3 paragraphs relate to Dinings. When in Berlin, Dinings (followed by Yauatcha and Barrafina) is probably the restaurant I miss the most. And nothing, nothing, nothing even comes close to it. To the point that I find sashimi in Berlin so lackluster that I don’t bother. (Yes I know about Sasaya in Prenzlauerberg and yes, the people who work there are indeed ‘really Japanese’ and the quality is good but it’s too traditional for my taste.)
I love Dinings because:
1. They make stuff I can’t. I will never get the quality of fish they have or be able to prepare it as well as they do.
2. It’s simple stuff and that is the hardest food of all to pull off because you can’t masque imperfections
3. It’s a most plain, un-embellished place. The restaurant is in a basement on a residential street behind Edgeware road. There is nothing on the walls, the seating is wooden, the tables are small, and the ceiling is low. One side has a small window where you can see people’s feet as they walk by. And it doesn’t matter at all because the food is so captivating.
4. This one is kind of a sub-point to 3. It’s not a reverential place; you don’t go there to genuflect at the altar fine dining. It’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to how I feel when I eat at home, except I’ve got no washing up to do.
5. They have flavor combinations that I love, relying a lot on sour whether through lime, lemon, yuzu or even vinegar and mostly doing away with perennial (and much too salty) soy and the neon wasabi.My favorite dishes and what you must make sure to order when you are there is the yellow tail sashimi with yuzu and garlic. The crab tar tar chip (it’s ordered by the piece and may strike you as expensive at £3.45 but please just try one). Agedashi tofu is a favorite of mine and even non-tofu lovers like it, it’s no longer on the menu but depending on how busy it is and who is in the kitchen, they might make it for you.
Desserts in Asian places can often be an afterthought. Not here. The desserts stand up to the mains. Last time I had a black sesame panna cotta with a scoop of ice cream, sesame praline. On other occasions I’ve tried and loved the green tea crème brûlée, the seasonal granitas with fruit and julienned fresh mint in a sweet version of the tar tar chip among others.It’s been less than a week but I feel I am ready to take another trip to London for a seat at my favorite restaurant.
Dinings, Sushi & Japanese Tapas
22 Harcourt Street
London W1H 4HH
Edgeware Road / Marylebone