New Delhi, India
June 18, 2012
My husband and I visited Izakaya by chance. We’d been planning to eat at another restaurant, discovered that it had shut down, and decided that Izakaya—which was right next door—might be worth trying. The menu sounded good, so we went right in, greeted by a courteous and sweet hostess. The restaurant’s name, emblazoned in black calligraphy on a white background, is very striking, and as we stepped in, it seemed a little like entering a Japanese garden: a white gravel path, with flat black stepping stones, leading to black straight-backed chairs and tables. (One little point we appreciated a lot for its practicality: each chair has only one arm, making it so much easier to get in and out!) Spherical paper lanterns hang above, and except for the artificial cherry blossoms at each table, it’s all muted and pleasant.
The menu offers a range of dishes—from soups to sashimi, sushi, teriyaki, and all the other more familiar Japanese dishes, to somewhat more unusual ones (at least in Delhi). Having never been to a Japanese restaurant—and my husband being determined not to eat "raw fish"—we went the safe way: ordering things we’d already heard about. A prawn tempura sushi; a tonkatsu bento box for me, and a bento box of pork grilled with ginger and soya sauce (buta no shogayaki) for Tarun.
Although the menu has its fair share of beverages, from wines and spirits to beer, juices and aerated drinks, we settled for roasted Japanese tea.
We’d just about ordered, when cool, damp towels were placed beside us—and the tea arrived, piping hot and ready poured in white ceramic cups. I’ve never had roasted Japanese tea before, but it had a lovely woodsy, earthy flavour that freshened us up instantly. The prawn tempura sushi followed soon after: six pieces of good, flavourful sushi wrapped around tempura prawns, with a heap of thinly sliced pickled ginger on the side, and a hefty dollop of gorgeously kick-you-in-the-nose wasabi. The waiter also brought us a little pot of soya sauce, and when Tarun asked him how we should go about eating the sushi, was very helpful and friendly: he whisked up some wasabi in a tiny saucer of soya sauce for Tarun, and showed Tarun how to dip the sushi in the sauce.
Next up (in fact, served just after the sushi had been put on the table) came our bento boxes. For both, the rice and the accompaniments were the same: strips of omelette, pickled vegetables, pickled sliced radish, sliced and finely blanched okra, a piece of potato that appeared to have been simmered in soya sauce, a potato salad on lettuce, and a large bowl of beautiful miso soup, with loads of seaweed, bits of tofu, and onion. With my tonkatsu—breaded, deep fried pork cutlets, cut into thick slices—came a chilli sauce, which the waiter poured over the tonkatsu for me, telling me that he’d get me more if I needed it. There was also, on the side, some fabulously zingy mustard.
Tarun’s buta no shogayaki was a large helping of a fantastic sweet-sour-gingery pork dish, cooked with lots of sliced onions and ginger. The buta no shogayaki was awesome. My (unvoiced) complaint with the tonkatsu was that the tonkatsu seemed to have been sitting around for a while. The pork was dry, the breaded ‘shell’ wasn’t crisp, and the ‘shell’ came away from the meat. I may not know much about Japanese cuisine, but I can tell a good cutlet from a not-too-great one.
Still, we had no complaints—and, by the time we finished, we were so full, we had no space at all for dessert (the menu includes some interesting Japanese sweets).
We paid Rs 2,254 for our meal, inclusive of VAT and service charges (the tea was complimentary). Compared to the prices you’d pay in other spiffy restaurants in Delhi, we thought this was pretty good value for money. The food is excellent, the ambience has a gentle and comfortable soothingness, and the staff is among the best I’ve come across in Delhi. These people were well-informed about the menu, were efficient and friendly, without any of that peering-over-your shoulder intrusiveness that I hate so much. (For example: I’m no good with chopsticks; seeing me struggle, a waiter very gently slipped a spoon and fork next to my bento box. No snide "Would you like cutlery, ma’am?"; no fuss).
Yes, we’re going back here, very definitely (though I may skip the tonkatsu). And, seeing that all the other tables were occupied by people from the Far East—almost certainly Japanese—I can make a pretty good guess that Izakaya is well regarded by them too.
From journal Delhi Restaurants: Expat Hangouts