Fancy Jap laced with Euro tweaks
In Japan, the natives usually pair their victuals with freshly grated Wasabi. The fine paste delivers a much milder twang as opposed to the fiery sharpness of its concentrated cousin. While meals are being eaten, the accompaniment is made using an oroshigane, a wooden grater filmed with dried shark skin. The tiny dermal denticles of the coating makes sure the Wasabi is fine enough without taking away from the original flavour. This ancient culinary habit continues till date.
At Megu, as we tuck into a scrumptious Unagi (Sushi roll with freshwater eel), the rasping sound of Wasabi being grated accompanies us near the table. Clearly, authenticity is the name of the game at this fine-diner serving modern Japanese cuisine. It also helps in leaving an indelible impression on the discerning gastronome. Apparently, this practise of grating Wasabi at the table was first introduced at Megu in New York. It’s only fair that the experience is being replicated for foodies in Delhi.
A visit to The Leela Palace in the Capital is always special. It’s a beautiful property with staff who pamper you with attention and warmth. Another high is its restaurants. All of them award-winning and renowned for the food they serve. So, when an invitation came our way to test the new menu at Megu, we lapped it up immediately.
The fresh entrants in the menu is the handiwork of Chef Takanori Fukuda, whose expertise in Japanese cuisine spans for more than three decades. Born in Oita, Japan, he was introduced to traditional Japanese fare by his father who loved cooking and through the farmers in Oita, Kyoto and Kobe.
We start with the Nori crisps, a seaweed tempura appetiser, served with a Japanese tomato salsa that has sake as its core ingredient. Coupled with this fun munch, there’s the hijiki salad, plated to perfection. Juliennes of seared mushroom and seaweed are placed on a bed of sesame sauce and garnished with edamame beans and cherry tomatoes. The characteristic sweetness of the sauce is just enough to counter the salty softness at the centre. Our appetite is perfectly whetted.
Next up is the Italy inspired Tofu Caprese, an innovative dish showcasing the versatility of bean curd. A host of colours come together on a plate of tofu chunks, puree, chips and tomatoes drizzled with teriyaki-balsamic vinaigrette and shiso pesto. The chef also sends out two refreshing ginger-ale based mocktails called Déjà vu (with juices of peach and orange) and Frost Bite (with juices of green apple and pear). While the former is a tad too sweet for my friend, the latter is perfect. We taste the Avocado Tartare that marries avocado and tomatoes with ponzu, truffle dressing and myoga. It’s a delicate appetiser that hits the nail on the head.
The sushi and sashimi platter looks delectable and tastes great too. Also, as mentioned before the rolls are accompanied by both the concentrated wasabi and the freshly grated one. While the salmon, Akami (lean tuna), yellow tail and Unagi variations are subtle, we fall for the spicy tuna rolls for their play of textures and interesting flavours. The crunchy tuna counters the softness of the rice and the sweetness of the sesame sauce immaculately. The Miso soup on the side takes care of the sharpness of the wasabi. With delicate chunks of tofu and wakame seaweed thrown in, it’s quite a flavourful entity.
For the main course, there’s a combination of barbequed lamp chops (finished on the Binchotan grill with Yakiniku sauce) with smoked aubergine puree and Charred duck confit on a bed of barley risotto. My friend opts for a Chilean sea bass. While the chops are succulent and delicious, I’ve never tasted duck this light yet tasty. I look up to find my friend immersed in her fish, resuming conversation only after polishing off the last morsel!
Stuffed till our noses, we greedily await the desserts. And boy! What a treat they turn out to be. While the chocolate fondant served with maple miso ice-cream and rhubarb jelly is a sinful delight, the pleasant surprise is the wasabi cheesecake served with melon sorbet and wasabi cream. The cakes are buttery in texture without being saccharine sweet. The melon chunks and the sorbet act like palate cleansers and the wasabi cream is aromatic and fluffy. Endings like these make meals even more memorable.