Japanese cuisine has always intrigued me. I guess it has much to do with their style of preparation, strict attention to freshness of ingredients, and the bold flavours that can make you forget everything else as you take your bite. What I also like is their dedication to the preparation of food which seems less a chore and more a ritual that they carry out with the highest degree of love and respect. So during my food stint in Delhi this time, I was eagerly looking forward to experiencing the food at Guppy by Ai, a contemporary Japanese bar and kitchen at Lodhi Colony.
So what is contemporary Japanese cuisine? “The food that we offer at Guppi is authentic Japanese, following traditional recipes but what we have tried to do is play around with the ingredients, spices and accompaniments to lend a new meaning to the dishes, a new interpretation,” said Vikram Khatri, Executive Chef. “For example, our Teriyaki Chicken is made using the authentic sauce but we have tweaked it around by throwing in orange zest which brings in a new character to the dish. So there’s a whole mix and match of flavours,” he explained. And sure enough, the dishes that we tasted that fine afternoon took us on a delightful gastronomic trip through myriad flavours.
The restaurant primarily comprises three seating areas: the dining area with a sushi counter and big community tables; the central courtyard with a Frangipani tree, pretty light boxes and anime-inspired graffiti; and the lounge bar with the quirky décor. We chose the courtyard for a lazy Sunday lunch under the cloudy sky. While I immediately got down to scanning the menu, my friends, Attrika and Naseema, tried their hands at origami with the guided instructions to making a paper heart, along with some help from the waiter ofcourse.
While Guppi stocks a good list of sake and other liquor, we decided to stick to our favourite noontime cocktails: a punchy Bloody Mary and a refreshing Apple Mojito.
We started our feast with the light Guppi House Salad, which was an assortment of crunchy veggies – carrots, zucchini, hearts of palm, broccoli, radish, beetroot, and bamboo shoot tossed in karashi dressing. Karashi, a type of mustard which is commonly used in Japanese cuisine, added a nice tang to the salad.
The Crispy Vegetable Harumaki drew inspiration from the concept of spring rolls but instead used phyllo to wrap up the vegetables, was oven-baked and served with yuzu miso sauce. The tangy and malty sauce was a clever thought to enhance the flavours.
From their sushi section we tried the California Roll which had an interesting black rice outer along with tobiko, and was filled with crab, cucumber and avocado. “Meghalaya has this traditional black rice which has a similar sticky property as sushi rice, so we have introduced it in our California Roll,” explained Chef Khatri.
Then came the all-time favourite Tiger Prawn Tempura, a classic recipe which is so simple yet so relishing. This was served with spicy mayonnaise and garlic chips. We also tried the Prawn Gyoze – dumplings filled with black tiger prawns, pan-fried on one side and served with ponzu sauce, which is a soy dip with citrus hints. It was good to see that each dish was presented in interesting crockery with much attention given to the plating, garnish and accompaniments.
Up next was Chicken Karaage, soy and sake marinated chicken that had a crispy fried outer, juicy inner and when dipped in the spicy kewpie dip added a tantalising flavour to it. This was followed by the much awaited Guppy Signature Pork Belly. We had heard so much about the pork before we even set foot in the restaurant that we had our expectations really high. And when the dish finally arrived, it did live up to all its glory! The slow braised pork belly had a soy honey glaze, was slightly crisp on the outer but as we bit into it, the components melted in the mouth. Just as we were enjoying the sweet glaze, there was a sudden tang of mustard miso sauce which caught us by surprise, pleasantly ofcourse!
I wish I had a bigger appetite that afternoon because there were such interesting dishes on the menu such as the sashimi section, Chashu Ramen, Garlic Fried Rice with Bacon, Minute Steak Tuna Tataki, Exotic Mushroom Gyoza, and Guppy Signature Black Cod amongst others, but I had to accept the fact that one seating was not enough to taste them all and therefore called it a meal.
Guppy also offers a set lunch, a six-course menu for a very reasonable pricing of 1000 INR. This I think is a great way to experience the cuisine. They make changes to the menu based on the different seasons and what’s available in the market. Chef Vikram Khatri, Vaibhav Bhargava (Executive Sous Chef), and the team are already working on the spring menu. I bet there would be tons of exciting dishes to look forward to! We are definitely coming back to this restaurant again on our next visit to Delhi.
Till then Shiawasena Taberu Koto, ‘Happy Eating’ in Japanese!
Guppi by Ai, #28, Main Market, Lodhi Colony, New Delhi; tel: 011 2469 0005