Japan is quickly making its way into the Indian luxe consumer's mind - be it through fashion brands like Kenzo or cosmetic giants like Shiseido. Megu, Delhi's latest swish place for Japanese cuisine, is a gem which takes the music to a crescendo
By: Soumya Jain
Posted on: April 10, 2012
Japan is quickly making its way into the Indian luxe consumer’s mind – be it through fashion brands like Kenzo or cosmetic giants like Shiseido. Megu, Delhi’s latest swish place for Japanese cuisine, is a gem which takes the music to a crescendo.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to review a Japanese restaurant. Some would say I’m crazy since Megu at The Leela Palace, New Delhi has been hailed as the place to be ‘seen at’ since its recent launch. However, I had it firmly entrenched in my mind that Japanese is a mainly non-vegetarian cuisine, so how would a hard-core herbivore like me survive a whole dinner? As it turned out, this notion was soon overturned.
The benign Buddha
The décor of the restaurant is beautiful. Full of Japanese references (obviously), it’s inviting and comfortable, even cosy. The restaurant is divided into four parts with two main dining areas. One of them has a crystal Buddha figure at the centre of the room which has become the face of the restaurant, with a humungous Bonsho bell hanging over it. The bell was made over a year in separate pieces in Japan, and then assembled at the restaurant in India, but the truly remarkable thing is that you can’t detect even a single joint in it.
The Kimono Room, a quintessentially Japanese room with colourful hand-painted wallpaper and an air of intimate festivity, is a private dining room for eight people. The outside dining area and bar can be booked for private parties too and if the weather favours you, then the wafting breeze and dramatic fire bowls will turn your Japanese dinner into an even more piquant experience.
The Wasabi wonders
Today I know that my good sense prevailed when I agreed to do the review! Not only was there a good range of vegetarian options, Megu also upended my belief that Japanese is a bland cuisine. The entire credit, of course, goes to Chef de Cuisine Yutaka Saito. “The New York Megu dishes are also present in the menu at Megu Delhi, but we have added a few more for India specifically,” he said. For the gastronomically ignorant, Megu is an international chain of Japanese restaurants revered by enthusiasts.
Chef Saito, who descended in “very hot” India last June, explained how he devised new recipes for Megu Delhi, keeping in mind that vegetarian dishes were needed to cater to a wider base of patrons and that Indians like spicy, salty dishes. “We have given Japanese a modern twist. And we have created vegetarian dishes which may not be purely Japanese, but are presented the way Megu dishes should be!” he said.
Like a child is given a present wrapped in layers of pretty paper, my food was presented to me in multiple courses, each more beautiful and intriguing than the last. First came the signature dish Crispy Asparagus. Fresh asparagus sticks, rolled in Kakino Tane rice crackers, flash fried and sprinkled with Yuzu Shichimi salt, were made to quirkily perch on a wooden box! A squeeze of lemon turned the slightly bitter taste of asparagus into a tangy delight.
“Beautiful” I thought, as the next dish was put in front of me. Christened Shira Ae, it was a spinach and tofu cake topped with Japanese sesame seed and surrounded by a creamy sesame seed sauce. Using your chopsticks or fork, the cake could be ‘opened’ like a blooming flower and mixed with the sauce. The result was flavourful and mildly sweet. Delicious!
The Tofu Carpaccio was the one that really took me by surprise. These little tofu ‘pop-ins’ topped with sesame sauce and wasabi jelly hit my nasal passage with a wonderful sharpness that made my eyes water but was thoroughly enjoyable, right down to the last piece.
Wasabi Serabi was another beauty encased in a ‘potli’-like melt-in-the-mouth pancake. These butter-baked vegetables in Ponzu vinaigrette with a touch of chilli oil were finished with basil streak. The lemon around the dish made it truly lip-smacking. This was followed by Teriyaki Glazed Haricot Beans, another crunchy dish topped with a mix of roasted peanuts and coconut and garnished with freshly grated coconut. It was sweet and salty, maybe a tad bit too salty, but an extremely agreeable recipe again.
All these, by the way, were just the beginners. So while I waited for the main course, I was shown how the Salmon Tartare, another signature dish, is served. In this unique recipe, chopped salmon is stuffed with Ossetra caviar and soya-marinated salmon roe. Creating a pretty picture, this ‘cake’ sits over a large lemon slice, surrounded by a puréed Ikura sauce and crowned with a soya and wasabi jelly. The magic unfolds when a pre-heated piece of the unique Bincho Tan charcoal (which is free of chemical additives and is almost smokeless despite burning up to an astounding 1000oC) is brought to your table and held over the wasabi jelly to melt it, releasing its aroma to flavour the dish. Transferring the cake to another plate, the lemon slice is squeezed and mixed with the sauce. The cake is then bought back to its original place and mashed to mix it with the sauce. It is now ready to be had as it is or spread on the accompanying Yamae brushed brioche. This performance certainly deserves applause!
My main course of assorted vegetarian sushi rolls arrived with yet another innovation. Instead of the traditional seaweed to roll the tempura fried veggies, these sushi rolls used a paper-thin soyabean and sesame seed wrapper. Scrumptious and quite filling, the sushi rolls were served with fresh ginger and wasabi grated at the table and were not predominantly spicy or salty but quite balanced in flavour. The novel wrapper made all the difference to this Megu delicacy.
Despite bursting at the seams, I was not to be let off easily! My table was now furnished with dessert – Kuro Goma (black sesame), Shiro Goma (white sesame) and green tea flavoured ice-creams. This last one was made using the green tea powder used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. It was slightly bitter, but very refreshing, and the sesame ice creams were mildly sweet and quite simply lovely. This enormous meal was then rounded off with clear green tea which I leaned back and sipped in pure bliss!
The extremely intelligent blend of flavours and the contrast of ingredients like tofu, which don’t have a dominant flavour, with stronger flavours like wasabi and sesame, make the dishes fabulous. The recipes may not be traditional, but the techniques used to prepare them, are authentic. The way the food was presented made it even more enticing. Each piece of crockery has been made expressly for the delicacy it had to serve.
Megu also serves sake, including sparkling sake, for the first time in India. The Harushika Tokimeki Sparkling Junmai is mild sparkling sake infused with tropical fruits and candied citrus, perfectly balanced with a refreshing sharpness of the acid. Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai has the richness of ripe melons and pears which allow it to be paired with any cuisine. Megu also has a good wine selection in case sake is not your thing.
Megu has already garnered a considerable following. Groups of friends, elderly couples and large families made the restaurant buzz with excitement. And I was told by the servers – who were of course dressed in kimonos – that reservations had to be made at least two-three weeks beforehand. The servers were courteous and knowledgeable about the dishes and Chef Saito, being the absolute humble gentleman, kept coming back to ask if everything was fine.
A dinner at Megu is nothing less than a spa treatment - an experience of gratifying all your senses by basking in the lovely atmosphere and enjoying food which is not only prepared well, but also looks appealing, or as Chef Saito would proudly say, “look like Megu dishes”. Clearly Megu has astounded me and has unwrapped my new-found love for the incredible Japanese cuisine.
Coordinates: The Leela Palace, Chanakyapuri, Diplomatic Enclave, New Delhi, India
For reservations, phone: + 91-(11)-39331360
Open for dinner only