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Of Plates And Paintings

Published on Verve Magazine | June 2008

Oriental Twist – WASABI, DELHI

I do love the theatre. There you are, breathless minutes away from the start of the play, a frisson coursing through your veins. Anticipation rife. Then, the drama begins.

Wasabi, the newly opened Japanese restaurant at The Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi is drama too on several levels. Your vision is captivated by not one but three stages, literally and metaphorically. The Sake bar, the Teppanyaki counter, the Sushi platform – are different scene settings. Flute glass chandeliers are UFOs suspended from an unsuspecting ceiling. Bold canvases flaunt their colours in contrast to rippling vinyl sheets. And the private dining room is embraced by pink back lit onyx walls. The few tables allow us spectators (and ultimately participants) to be strangers should we so desire.

Stoking your desires and your appetites, are a talented ensemble of chefs, maitre d’s and sake shakers. The Taj group’s maestro chef Hemant Oberoi has produced and directed the play. And his main protagonist is one who appears when requested, the genie in the bottle. Chef Morimoto. Acknowledged as natural successor to the likes of Nobu and Tetsuya.

Morimoto announced his genius ten years ago. In 190, his diverse skills as chef, actor and cuisine commentator came together in a hugely successful television show called The Iron Chef.

In real life, the ‘Iron Chef’ assumes reel-like dimensions. With supreme confidence he moves with feline grace like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Watch him slice that octopus, that sea-urchin,

that tuna into whorls and petals with his prized knives, a couple of which are rumoured to cost about ten thousand dollars each! Under this ponytailed chef’s flowing haori work jacket, muscles ripple in one co-ordinated motion as he coaxes out impossibly thin slivers of sashimi.

Before you can say Tai Chi, a large dish which looks suspiciously like a pizza appears on the table. It’s a tuna pizza, with tuna carpaccio in a creamy mayonnaise sauce sitting on a crisp tortilla. Surprise surprise. It’s Chef Oberoi’s clever twist, where Italian meets Mexican meets Japanese. Next, a selection of sushi and sashimi like Botan Ebi, Aji and Tamago with freshly grated wasabi, for us to choose from.

Morimoto joins us at the dinner table, pulls out a sprig of tiny violet flowers, drops it into the soy dish, chopsticks a salmon sliver and dips it into the sauce. With the raw fish now garnished by the flowers, he commands, “Eat.” I do. Watching the amazed expression on my face, “tastes a bit like garam masala, no?” laughs the man who loves Indian spices thanks to Hemant Oberoi.

And thanks to the two, Wasabi at the Taj Mahal Hotel, on Delhi’s Mansingh Road is as much of a best-seller as its older sibling in Mumbai.