Experience contemporary Japanese cuisine at a restaurant that brings the streets of Tokyo alive in Mumbai.
Bathed in hues of neon pink, Wakai immediately stands out at an age-old mansion in Fort, Mumbai. Upon entry, one is surrounded by an upbeat vibe reminiscent of Tokyo’s vibrant speakeasy restaurant and bar culture.
Wakai brings Mumbai its first live sushi bar and contemporary Japanese cuisine at its finest. Once there, you can choose between the lounge plus live sushi bar upstairs, or opt for the more relaxed dining environment below. What cements the authenticity of Japanese cuisine is perhaps the decor itself. From manga imagery to anime characters and even the cluster of umbrellas on the ceiling, it all echoes Japan and its rich pop culture.
In partnership with hospitality entrepreneur Shardul Singh Bayas, Head Chef Parvez Khan is responsible for curating and bringing the idea of contemporary Japanese cuisine alive in Mumbai. The 34-year-old started off as a management trainee at the Taj Mahal Palace back in 2006 and went on to work at Wasabi. His initial foray into the world of Japanese food was in stark contrast to the Indian and Continental training imparted in culinary school.
“I think if you’re getting into wanting to be a chef, one of the most important things you need to have is patience,” says Chef Parvez Khan, who admittedly took two years to get a good working knowledge of Japanese cuisine.
The motto reverberates through the meticulous detail put into the restaurant. One of the first things Chef Parvez made sure to get his hands on was a super freezer. Maintaining temperatures of -70°C and even -80°C, the ‘Lambhergini of freezers’ as he likes to call it serves as a haven for the authentic ingredients imported. Sourced from Japan’s Toyosu Market, the kitchen is rife with fresh wasabi, premium-grade angel prawns, and freshly frozen black cod to name a few.
Of the contemporary Japanese menu, he adds, “Our roots are Japanese, but we have kept our options open. Contemporary is where you take a few bits and pieces from different cuisines and inculcate it in your own food without affecting [its authentic] taste.”
And the menu reflects the same. So while nigiri sushi might be traditional, the likes of wasabi cornettos and salmon gazpacho lean towards the more contemporary aspects of Japanese cuisine.
The fish is handled with utmost precision right from sourcing to preparation. Freshly frozen and flown down, it is first cured in salt, then marinated and finally cooked on order. The sushi master prepares the classic sashimi, and the maki sushi section offers sushi with tuna, eel, yellowtail and salmon.
Of all the tastes that exist, it is the elusive fifth taste ‘Umami’, befittingly a Japanese term, that the menu manages to deliciously capture. Over several months of trial and error, the team under Chef Parvez consolidated a final menu from hundreds of dishes.
“So what I’ll do is that I’ll make the [team] sit and I’ll discuss the idea. So what I’m thinking with one brain goes to six other brains, and six other ideas come in. And that’s how you come up with a dish,” says Chef Parvez on the ideation and creation of a specific dish.
The chefs are clearly as informed and experienced in Japanese cuisine as they are skilled, and the close-knit harmonious environment transcends seamlessly into delectable food.
While the food is certainly something one can incessantly rave about, the drinks are in a league of their own. The cocktails are created by Shatbi Basu, India’s first woman mixologist. The Japanese twists to classics such as Citrus wasabi gin & tonic, Yuzu & chilli caipiroska and even a Dated Whiskey Sour are refreshing and inspired.
As Indians continue to travel the world and explore newer cuisines, the rise in demand for global food has never been greater. Even with the pandemic looming, good food made with great intentions continue to find their way into welcome arms (and stomachs!). Wakai’s plans to expand across Mumbai are still under wraps, but one can always hope for increased access to authentic Japanese cuisine albeit with contemporary tweaks.
For now, if you want to let your hair down and treat your palate – Wakai is the place for you.