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Posted: Monday, September 01 2008. 10:20

Japanese Restaurant: Oye…Ai…Oui

The latest offering in modern Japanese cuisine from AD and the Olive, is set to share  the limelight with the other talk-of-the-town Japanese fine dining restaurant, Wasabi at the Taj Mahal, reports Subhash Arora.

'Only a guy like AD Singh can pull off something like this' was the general refrain when I first went for a food tasting at the soon-to-be-opened ai restaurant a week ago, which was going into soft trials. Perhaps the shortest name for a restaurant in the world-certainly the shortest sounding name- pronounced as I, ai is the Japanese equivalent of 'love'.

Be it love for good food, good ambience or good vibrations (and hopefully good wine, eventually), you would fall in love with ai as the 400+ invitees packing the 200 cover restaurant did on Saturday, before the credit card machine starts swiping on September, the 3rd.

An unexpected storm was followed by the rain gods smiling their blessings on AD for his 17th restaurant venture, the third in Delhi after Olive Bar and Kitchen (which still remains sealed) and Olive Beach that opened last year. The evening was the final 'dress rehearsal' after those few live tastings.

Hopefully it also brought to focus my unanswered question the week earlier about how the restaurant would handle the Teppanyaki and Tempura counter located uncovered outside in the Alfresco area which can seat about 50 people when the weather is kind and beautiful.

The restaurant located on the second floor of the newly opened Metropolitan Mall in Saket has two entrances; one on the right takes you to the 32- cover lounge where an all-white jazz group was belting out numbers barely audible above the din of noise created by the non-stop animated conversation of the hep, with-it and the wannabe crowd oozing out of the lounge.

An ecstatic AD Singh with his wife Sabina
The left entrance takes you to the main dining area where the 42 cover seating arrangement can be as fine, casual or hep as you choose. The two sections are separated by a common bar that can serve the customers on both sides.

The Terrace Lounge outside with rather huge sitting arrangements (some are big enough for a ménage à trois!!) and widely spread out seatings give you a very expansive feeling unless you are having a  party of a hundred or more people who can be easily accommodated here in a casual and  let-it-all-hang-out atmosphere.

Sandwiched between the Terrace and the main restaurant, the Alfresco area vaguely brings you back the memories of the old Olive's courtyard.

Chefs de Cuisine

King of the kitchen is good ol' Chef Saby who, with 10 years' experience,  had mesmerised the patrons of Olive (Mehrauli) with his 16-course taster menu- a first in Delhi at that time. Training under the Japanese Imperial Chef Akio Saito with whom he did a workshop in Singapore, he has also worked with Chef Haru at Nobu in Sydney where he also did a stint in the Observatory at Hotel Galileo.

Chef Saby believes that Japanese food is a philosophy and not food alone. The best sashimi should slide down the throat, he says. A sashimi chef goes through the regimen of 6-7 years of training just slicing the fish properly. The Japanese calendar has 365 days of different dishes for each meal, depending upon the season, which the West has forgotten.

He travelled to Dubai and Australia with AD visiting around 20 restaurants, 18 of them being Japanese. As one can guess, AD had a Japanese restaurant in mind but wanted to create something unique rather than assembling a few chefs and the menu.

Chef Grant Brundsen heading the cuisine brings years of experience working in Zuma, the modern Japanese restaurant in London. Zuma was co- started 6 years ago by Divia Lalvani, niece of the socialite Bina Ramani and heiress daughter of communications tycoon Gulu Lalvani. She had worked in Honolulu at the Hawaii Fusion cuisine serving Roy's Restaurant run by Tokyo born Chef Roy Yamaguchi when she was 16. In love with Japanese cuisine, she is now a food consultant.

Though he created several dishes which made him a favourite of several celebrities, Chef Grant has purposely not copied any recipes from Zuma which has been 'very good to me', he says. Divia and her husband of 2 years Joel Michael Cadbury, the chocolate prince, are A.D's partners in this project.

The Sushi chef Francisco from Philippines is not new, at least to Mumbaikars as he has been the Sushi Chef at Tiffin Restaurant in Oberoi, Mumbai for over 5 years. The excellent quality apart, his presentation was truly a work of art.

Chef Desmond of Singapore who brings in 31 years of experience - which includes a year's stint in Japan at the famous Mandarin - overlooks the Teppanyaki, Tempura and Hot Kitchen.

Style of Food

Semi demolished Sushi platter
Both chef Saby and Grant agree in unison that the concept here in the restaurant is 'less is more'. 'We do not believe in stuffing the plate with meat, fish, vegetables and condiments. All dishes are planned for 2 persons and can be shared by 4. Vegetarian dishes are available in a separate plate to complement the food, if desired.

The final menu was conceived in 3 weeks by the team. Wine and Sake are central part of the cuisine too, says Mohit Balachandran, General Manager, who has been with the project right from inception- he was pulled out of the existing management team when the Olive at Mehrauli suffered a tornado-like hit and had to be instantly shut down when sealed by the MCD with 'all the wine bottles imprisoned unceremoniously.'

'We plan to have about 100 wine labels to start with,' says Mohit adding, 'space and storage might be an issue. It may not be easy to display the wines the way we would like to display them.' One hopes they have enough variety of white wines and bubblies which will be the natural companions with the cuisine at the restaurant.

So how does it compare with the other new, star Japanese restaurant, Wasabi in the Taj Mahal hotel in Delhi (opened a month ago) which followed the successful launch by the Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, the former star at Nobu,  in Mumbai? Chef Grant was understandably reluctant to talk about it or compare it with ai. 'They are a small formal 40 cover restaurant whereas we can accommodate 240 pax at a time.'

When I pressed him some more, he moaned, 'it is nice and expensive but frankly it is not Morimoto, New York. It looks like they have only borrowed the name from Chef Morimoto. But the cuisine is sooo..oh non-Japanese. Maybe it is meant more for Indians' He does admit the first one in Taj Mahal, Mumbai is more a mainstream contemporary Japanese restaurant. It is not fair to compare the two, he feels. 'We plan to give a total and different fine-dining experience to our clients.'

The ai indeed promises a different style to its clients to indulge their appetite for modern Japanese cuisine and an enticing social scene within a sensual and energy-filled environment. The variety and presentation of food is sure to create many new converts to modern Japanese cuisine, though the pure and puritans at the Imperial Palace  may not be too enthralled with the modernisation of their cuisine.

A.D says he wanted to create another lifestyle brand like Olive. One would say oui to ai as a brand that is set to rock the Delhi-ites for a long while. The modern state-of-the-art music system on the Terrace Lounge makes up for what is lacking at the Olive Beach. One can rock to the beat till the closing hours as there are no neighbours getting disturbed.

'When do we start the next project?...Ummmmm. Let me think.' AD with his business partner and actor Arjun Rampal
The trip to the restaurant makes one wonder what is cooking in A.D's mind for his next project-meal for which he is partnering with model-turned actor Arjun Rampal who arrived early enough for the love celebration party on Saturday before the clock struck midnight.

Meanwhile, the over 40 varieties of dishes that seemed to be going around non-stop throughout the evening were absolutely delicious and the cooking and waiting staff handled the seemingly unmanageable number of invitees rather deftly, leaving everyone with a mental note to come back soon to enjoy in a more relaxed atmosphere when the restaurant opens formally on Wednesday.

Subhash Arora

August 31, 2008

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Comments:

 

Subhash Arora

October 23, 2008 17:00

Thank you for the seemingly caustic comments. You appear to be a qualified New York Restaurant Critic- I don’t even claim to be one. We are a wine, food and hospitality website, which ventures occasionally into reviewing special restaurants. You may find the word hep repeated too often. I don’t think the use of a word from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, twice in a 2000+ word article ought to be considered ‘repeatedly’ or indicative of ‘inability to speak English’. In fact the word was used intentionally in preference to ‘hip’ because of the smart casual atmosphere of the place. I perfectly understand ménage a trios, and hence the marks of exclamation. Obviously, you have not been to ai or else you would understand what I meant, the sexual innuendo notwithstanding.

 

Reference to Morimoto was not mine-it was a quote from a well-known British Chef. He or I never intended to compare any of these Indian restaurants to NY-which is unquestionably a heavenly place for great food- a gourmet’s delight. It would be naïve of me or any Indian food writer to think that such a comparison is even imaginable. The Chef did not even compare the two Wasabi restaurants in Delhi and Mumbai- all he said was that Mumbai was more Morimoto style. You do know, I hope, that Morimoto has given his name to Wasabi, both the restaurants in Taj Hotels in Mumbai and Delhi.

If and when you eat at ‘ai’ in Delhi or even Wasabi in Mumbai or Delhi, please do write to us and we shall publish your comments. If you know of any restaurants in New York, Mumbai or Delhi which may interest our readers, please do send us your Reviews. We shall be glad to publish them. Subhash Arora

   

Posted By : BB

October 11, 2008 17:50

I don't think anyone who uses the word "hep" repeatedly, nor has any idea what a "menage a trois" is and constructs poor sentences like, "widely spreadout seatings" is qualified to write a restaurant review. The inability to speak English testifies to a total lack of cosmopolitanism and really doesn't convince the reader the reviewer is fit to speak about morimoto, or nobu or any other new york restaurant for that matter. No real reviewer with a sense of the capacity of the epicurean establishment in India would dare make the comparisons either. Restaurateurs here are definitely making real efforts to raise standards here, and educate their clientele but Delhi and Bombay have a long way to go before being lumped with Manhattan in the same sentence.

   

Posted By : kakani

October 03, 2008 19:23

where Chef Grant Brundsen is making menu why crediets goes to chef saby?? does he know about japanese cuisine or learning from grant.ask chef savy,

   
       

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