There’s a reason why I’ve photographed my own hand holding a teacup. Please see the photo and you’ll surely get an idea of what the small, new Japanese restaurant looks like. But that simple, inexpensive glass teacup holding my favorite Japanese Genmaicha tea reveals volumes about this five month old eatery. Which brings me to the question: when a chef adapts a foreign cuisine to suit the Indian palate, does it topple the food into inauthenticity and unacceptability?
Read on to find out more about Bandra’s brand new “Aoi” (pronounced Aweee) to get the answer.
It’s a seriously small, unpretentious (am going to use this word frequently) glassed in space, with origami birds swirling from the ceiling (please see photo), paper napkins et al. It’s plonked opposite vegetable vendors on the corner, near Mt Mary steps.
We had dined here a month ago and even then the eatery was packed. This time, I ate alone at the bar (facing the small kitchen) and shot the dishes right there. I sat elbow to elbow with Divya Nagarajan (whos been eating here twice a week and loves it as does Aishorjyo Ghosh). It was a Sunday (and I came here after enjoying the fabulous French national day) and the restaurant was packed.
Chef Vinod Garde imports all the ingredients, serves up sushi, sashimi, donburi, udon, gyoza, tempura grills and more. He frankly admits to always keeping the Indian palate in mind. He may have never been to Japan but he sure knows his Indian diner’s preferences well. And so he rolls out one surprise after another…the Italy-inspired sushi with its pesto and springy Bocconcini
and cherry tomatoes, leaves no leaf unturned, uses plenty of Cilantro and fresh basil too. Vegetarian sushi (soft with cream cheese and shitake, crunchy with cucumber and alfa alfa) is a delight. It’s the maki sushi clasping the crunchy tempura prawn that comes out tops. Ask for the Signature sushi platters (4 types 3 pieces each Rs 750 veg Rs 900 non veg.)
Must ask for the VFM Bento boxes ( a complete meal for Rs 450 with soup, rice, sushi and a main course too.) Succulent Teriyaki chicken on skewers and a well-made Chillean Sea Bass are highlights.
Can quinoa and the cabbage stuffed gyoza actually taste good? Yes.
As do the dessert marriages of Cheesecake with wasabi and Crème brulee with citrus notes of uzu.
Aoi’s menu of 60 dishes has only 15 vegetarian options. We need more. Plenty of tempura (veg and non veg) though crunchy and tasty could do with a lightness and airiness. Some of the flavor calibrations clearly do not work, like the Tokyo chicken dumpling with curry powder. Thick skinned gyoza and loosely rolled sushi could do with fine-tuning. And the
zuchini carpaccio with jalapeno olive oil needs to be more finely sliced. Golden curry with it’s Madras curry powder did not work for me. No Sake. No alcohol either.
I like unpretentious restaurants (and people). No complex posturing and nothing fake too. Purists and those looking for glossy dining, stay away.Here’s a neighborhood eatery which keeps Japan as it’s compass, but blurs boundaries to please Indian palates and does it well. It keeps the price points low (Rs 450 for a Bento meal, Rs 600 average per head) and manages the tightrope act of adaption well.
1, Gloria, St John Baptist Road, Bandra West, 400050
Ph 6999 5000
Open lunch and dinner. Meal per head: Rs 600
RATING FOOD 3.5 SERVICE 3.5 DÉCOR 3.5
SEVEN ATE DAYS
What a fabulous rained out seven days of eatingabout. And South India reigns sublime. As part of my research for the 2014 Times Food Guide, been tripping out on pillows of soft idli with dollops of freshly churned safed makhan inMadras café (Matunga). My most favorite Southern Spices from Chennai has come to Mumbai’s Masala Kraft, (Taj Palace) vibrant spicing and amazing flavors from Andhra, Karnataka, Chettinad, Kerala ricochet my taste buds. Tantalizingly spicy Kane Bezule from Mangalore, Kori Roast of the Bunt community and Hemant Oberoi’s Bomlette (Bombay Omlette encasing a boiled egg) dazzle. I eat the non veg thali (Rs 2000) alone and plan to go back for one more fix, before Sunday as that is the last day of Southern Spice here. I check out San Qi (Four Seasons) on a Saturday lunch. Yumcha on Saturday which is an unlimited feast of all four menus (Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Indian). In one long lunch I get sample over 60 dishes and pay Rs 1800 per head.
Some years ago, Bela Dalal had introduced me to the crazily addictive Royce chocolates from Hokkaido, Japan and now I get to taste them again, as Avni Raheja and Samir Gadhok bring them to Mumbai’s Palladium. And then atGaylord (Churchgate) it’s the Chicken Makhanwala spiked with kasoori methi which delights as much as our “Whats Hot tasting session” here. More than 20 home entrepreneurs bring their fabulous creations for tasting. From unique Heat to eat dishes from Rita and Pankti Chedda to flamboyant molecular gastronomy from Pooja Makhija’s Eat drink design, homeopath Nimmi Torani’s fat free mithai and more. Much more.I try them all. the bad guy with the golden heart, Gulshan Grover takes time off from his four films which are releasing to come and cheer these home entrepreneurs. Watch this space….
P.S Should you want to be invited to the Whats hot tasting sessions and be included in this column and The Times food guide 2014, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter @rashmiudaysingh, phone 7738022873.