Want to have a thin crust pizza? Head straight for Wasabi at the Taj Mahal Hotel on Mansingh Road. Or what about some foie gras? Try Wasabi again. Or what about the all-American Surf and Turf where one element is from the land (turf) and the other is from the sea (surf)? It’s Wasabi once more.
Wasabi, so far the only gourmet restaurant in India whose menu has been put together by an internationally acclaimed chef, is emphatically not a straightforward Japanese restaurant. It may sell sushi and sashimi, but it is essentially Chef Matsahuru Morimoto’s version of a Japanese standard. There are only five branches of Wasabi on the planet: one each in Tokyo, New York, Philadelphia, Mumbai and now New Delhi. The last two branches have far more vegetarian food on them than the others, but for the rest, it is the genius of a chef who was born in Hiroshima, and entered the kitchen because his mother was hopeless in the kitchen. Chef Morimoto does not believe that cooking Japanese food has to be in the hands of only Japanese chefs and there is a whole slew of chefs working in Mumbai and Delhi who have trained in the New York Wasabi.
Like many other grand eateries from the West, there is a different lunch and dinner menu, the former being slightly simpler. And less expensive. The price of a dinner for two will probably hover around Rs 8,000 without alcohol (the city’s largest selection of sake and shochu), but a whopping 95% of all ingredients are imported and that too, mainly from Japan – not known for being an inexpensive country. It goes without saying that togarashi and sichimi are from Japan, but even fresh shiitake and enoki mushrooms are from there, as is all the seafood and virtually all the vegetables, including those used as mere plate garnishes. Wasabi – the horseradish paste that has given its name to the restaurant – does not come out of a tube sourced from INA Market, but comes in the form of a root that is grated at your table.
So what can you expect of your Wasabi pizza? First of all, the base is a crisp tortilla. Toppings include carpaccio of uncooked tuna, slices of raw onions, tomato slices and jalapeno slices, all topped with anchovy mayonnaise. All food from the Chinese, Japanese and Korean nations have to be eaten with chopsticks, and the miracle is that this Japanese pizza is chopstick-friendly!
Look closely at the menu and you’ll notice how details have purposely been kept vague. The sashimi platter on the lunch menu mentions five pieces of assorted sashimi in true Japanese style, in which the sushiya serves you what he pleases. Similarly, the white fish or salmon carpaccio that is served with yuzu soy and hot oil is called simply “white fish” leaving it to the kitchen to decide what to serve on a particular day.
It’s a fair bet that you’ll never be able to recognize the tempura at Wasabi. Diced shrimp garnished with whatever the chef feels like doing that day – it neither looks like nor tastes like conventional tempura. One of Morimoto’s most successful east-west combinations is the one which blends oysters in the shell with seared foie gras and topped with teriyaki sauce. In one fell swoop he skillfully combines two seemingly disparate elements from opposite ends of the globe and sticks to the quintessential Japanese love of using the most premium products in their cuisine.
It is the same thing with ramen noodles, that Japanese staple of the Japanese middle-class. Morimoto has broken it down into elements, then put them back again. The result is a flavourful broth with soft, fluffy noodles nestling in it that have almost as much flavour as the stock. His interpretation of the American classic Surf and Turf is, expectedly, Japanese. Slices of tenderloin, (not Kobe steak, sadly) grilled and served with teriyaki sauce are counterpointed with large prawns smeared with wasabi mayonnaise.
Sushi at Morimoto is going to redefine sushi in the city. Sushi rice, called koshihikari, traditionally grows in Japan. At a price, naturally. To obtain a less expensive product, it was grown in Thailand, and more recently in Nepal. However, the all-important starch structure of the rice grown outside Japan breaks up, making it unsuitable for discerning palates. Unlike the competition, Wasabi uses only Japanese koshihikari. It also has the most impressive inventory of seafood for its sushi and sahimi, all of which have come straight from Tsukiji, the largest seafood market in the world, located in Tokyo.