You know that expectations are high when upon entering a restaurant Jessica Alba is in line waiting to be seated. As the restaurant arm of New York’s latest hot hotel, the Mondrian Soho, Imperial No. 9 is already weighing heavy with anticipation, and for the cynical New Yorker tired of the overly trendy, too-cool-to-eat restaurants that have taken over Manhattan, Imperial has a lot of impressing to do.
Décor alone, Imperial doesn’t disappoint. Split into two rooms, it is hard not to fall in love with the greenhouse effect that the sky roof and lantern-lighting provide in the atrium-like first room. Dimly–lit oversized chandeliers and garden chairs give the place a naturally relaxed vibe instead of all the pompous fittings you would expect for Hollywood princesses like Mrs. Alba. Of course, this is New York and with space limited even those who have managed to score a table have to rub shoulders and pretend not to hear their neighbour’s conversation in the Wagamama-style seating arrangement.
As for the food, seafood extraordinaire Sam Talbot boasts a menu of sustainably-sourced fish, that upon first hearing such ethically-inspired words might conjure images of vegan joints where dollops of tasteless daal are served on environmentally-friendly cardboard plates by dreadlocked hippies with dirty fingernails. Au-contraire, if the prices don’t defy this stereotype, the food definitely does. Not to be limited to only one tasty choice, Sam’s delights of the sea are made for sharing. Fluffy king crab in a tangy sweet and sour sauce, cauliflower fritters and pink tuna with a citrusy grapefruit are the dishes worth fighting over. Something tells us chef Sam is something of a lothario, as most of the bite-sized options are refreshingly light, appealing to the waif-like housewives sure to be popping in for weekday lunches. Bursting with flavours like coconut, lemon and maple jus, the Imperial’s sharer plates are a delightful throwback to summer days on the beach rather than icy nights on the subway.
For anyone who has experienced the wrath of Balthazar’s maître d’, or just about any waiter in continental Europe, the delightful demeanour of Imperial’s staff must be praised. A friendly smile and some refreshingly original line-caught fish goes a long way.
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