THE DISH: Ginger

THE DISH: Ginger

Ginger//3 Kazanskaya Ulitsa//Tel. 912 9621//Open from noon to the last guest//Menu in English and Russian//Dinner for two with alcohol 5,570 rubles ($180)//

Published: October 17, 2012 (Issue # 1731)

Ginger con fusion

Fusion as a concept is rather like the EU — on paper, it sounds like a recipe for multicultural harmony, but give it time and the cracks begin to appear in the utopian wallpaper.

New Japanese restaurant Ginger, part of the Ginza Project restaurant group, is not technically a fusion restaurant — its menu is strictly devoted to cuisine from the land of love hotels, bullet trains and karaoke, but with the interior design, Ginza has fallen into a familiar fusion trap.

This is a restaurant that has no idea what it wants to be. If it were possible to subject restaurants to psychoanalysis this one would be moaning on the psychiatrist’s couch with a serious case of schizophrenia, and it’s all down to some frankly bizarre design decisions.

True, the décor initially makes a good impression, coming across as bold, confident and quirkily variegated, and creating the unusual atmosphere of a cross between a Spanish bodega, an Asian noodle house and a 1970s hotel restaurant.

However, the longer the meal went on, what had initially seemed to be an originally-woven interior tapestry of diverse elements began to unravel, as the disparate influences began to accrue in a potpourri of increasingly confusing discord.

Tree stumps under the washbasins, farmyard animals on the bathroom tiles, a forest of ropes hanging from the ceiling, a constellation of spherical glass fish tanks dangling from chains above the open kitchen, blue goat heads mounted on white tiles — what do all of these things have to do with Japan? What do these things have to do with each other? Why is there a delicatessen counter in the hallway outside selling sausages and meat, with Castilian hams hanging above it? Why is one corner of the restaurant ruined by a giant advert for Ribeye, the Ginza establishment next door (even this is confused — the slogan reads “Sushi, sushi and once more sushi!”)?

It is difficult to resist the thought of the designer at his drawing board, coming up with idea after idea, none of which he was willing to discard, resulting in a surreal concoction that even Dali would have struggled to emulate.

The music was no exception: What began as an eclectic but enjoyable trip from the ’50s to the ’70s and back via Frank Sinatra, Motown and Californian surf music soon spiraled into the musical equivalent of a trip to the dentist — think breathy lounge jazz covers of hits by the likes of Modern Talking, Ace of Base, and Bon Jovi. Nobody should have to suffer a lounge-jazz cover of Brother Louie or It’s My Life — not at the dinner table, not anywhere.

And it had all begun so well, as courteous waitresses led us past Japanese chef Gunji Hiroyuki’s open kitchen, where white-coated men sliced fish with the precision of surgeons, and invited us to choose a table. This was not tricky — firstly, because the restaurant seats only 40, and secondly, because 38 of those seats were still available on a Sunday evening.

The starters whetted our appetite with their subtle simplicity. The eel avocado sarada (690 rubles, $22.25) was a light lettuce and watercress salad with strips of warm eel lacquered in teriyaki sauce, while the ebi gyoza soup (390 rubles, $12.60) was an aromatic miso broth of firm mange tout, wakame seaweed and dumplings bursting with fresh shrimp.

Other highlights included the tataki (590 rubles, $19) — bite-sized morsels of soft baked scallop spiked with ginger and green onion — and the shrimp sashimi (350 rubles, $11.30), served on a bed of ice with lime and wasabi.

The kamo sushi of fried duck with mustard and teriyaki sauce and the yaki mongo octopus sushi with plum sauce (each 190 rubles, $6.10) stood out for their novel combinations of flavor and texture, and the tempura shrimp rolls (690 rubles, $22.25), coated with luscious masago caviar, were another big hit.

The drinks at Ginger are as pricy as the food: Half a liter of Maisel’s Weisse beer costs 420 rubles ($13.50), while a 0.25-liter bottle of Acqua Panna water will set you back a shocking 290 rubles ($9.35), and even a pot of “hormone-stimulating” ginseng tea costs 250 rubles ($8). Wine begins at about 2,000 rubles ($65) a bottle.

Ginger is probably aiming to be a place where serious sushi aficionados can indulge their pleasure far removed from the soulless halls of the city’s large sushi chains, and they have done a sterling job with the food, which is excellent. The high prices mean that you’ll have to spend a lot not to leave hungry though.

But when it comes to fusion, great ideas don’t always work in practice. Just ask the Europeans.

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