WAKAI: J-aa-p-aaa-n…love in Tokyo…

Barring a few glitches, WAKAI offers a divine Japanese fine-dining experience in Mumbai.
Wakai food and drink reviews
WAKAI: J-aa-p-aaa-n...love in Tokyo... 5

We had booked a Saturday night meal at the new fine-dine Japanese restaurant in Mumbai, WAKAI. The restaurant called thrice to reconfirm and each time they called, a 60’s Bollywood hit would play in my head and wouldn’t stop! ‘J-aa-p-aaa-n …..love in Tokyo…. j-aa-p-aaa-n …..love in Tokyo….’ and much to the annoyance of all at home, I kept repeating the same line aloud & out of tune! No, I don’t have a Bollywood playlist but growing up all we got for entertainment was the programme Vividh Bharati on All India Radio and a few tunes like this stuck! It was only in school that I learnt that J-aa-p-aaa-n was, in fact, Japan.

Wakai's interiors are, well, wacky, to say the least.
WAKAI’s interiors are, well, wacky, to say the least.

So with my chorus-of-the-day in my ear and a spring in my step, I walk into WAKAI with my Mrs who is also by now humming the same tune!

WAKAI is Chef Parvez Khan’s maiden venture.  Having spent 15 years at India’s most awarded restaurant, Wasabi, cooking alongside the legendary Masaharu Morimoto and honing his skills in Japan, Parvez can be considered a master of his art…Expectations run high!

Step into WAKAI guys and you are in Tokyo! The look and feel is a cross between a boutique eatery & street café in busy Kabukicho District. It’s neon lit and checker floored with a burst of loud colours that impress. At times I felt I was sitting inside an air-conditioned restaurant and at times on a street drowning in bright lights — so cool, so busy city Tokyo, I was sold.

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It’s 8 pm Saturday night. We are early. The restaurant is still filling out…and we get to choose our table. Tables for two are all stuck against a wall, so it took me a bit to find one that I could pull out — apart from claustrophobia, my elbow needs more room, especially in a fine dine. The staff were very understanding and allowed me some liberty. I know, I know, if this were Japan, I would have been respectfully asked to accept or eject. 

We get straight to the menu. Our first and second choice of whisky are missing…we had to settle. I got a Bourbon, a delicious Woodford Reserve and my wife, a can’t-go-wrong Laphroaig. They did have a few Japanese whiskies which were pointed out too late, also a choice of cocktails which no one indulged us in. 

On to the food. 

There was an open kitchen with its white tube lights, part of the décor and experience but unfortunately all the chefs were operating their counters in hushed silence and almost out of sight. That’s where the fine-dine kicks in and street café ends. In my many nights out in Japan the folks in the busy, noisy open kitchens were loud and jocular and although I could not understand a word of what they were saying, each guest was welcomed with a collective shout out. You just sat, threw back some drinks and enjoyed the theatre in motion…an experience not to be missed in this lifetime or the next. Covid’s done, go Japan! 

Back to WAKAI. The drinks are on the table, we soak in the space. The music is dry and out of sync. 

Suggested read: The best cherry blossom experiences in Japan and India

For starters we order:

Corn on the Cob, Rs 610: There were four pieces precisely cut and well presented on the bed of a flavourful sauce. Mrs, a big fan of corn gave the dish a wholesome 5 stars.

Lamb Cilantro Gyoza, Rs 890: feather light, flavours bursting as you sink into them.

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Sashimi — a Japanese delicacy. Raw fresh fish cut not too thin and not too thick, but just right. To all seasoned pescatarians if this is your first time at the raw, it may take a while to develop a palate for Sashimi but don’t let that stop you. This delicate delicacy done right can take you to another planet. Just so you know, at a deluxe fine-dine in Japan, each 2×2 inch piece of the best Sashimi can be more expensive than a square inch of Fifth Avenue, New York! 

I love Sashimi and WAKAI has great choice. I pick three to start with: Chu Toro (medium fatty tuna); Sake (salmon); and Hamachi (yellowtail) at a total cost of Rs 1,580…to start. Worth it. 

The produce was fresh, feather light, cut perfect and I can’t explain the joy when you pop one on your tongue. 

My dear friend Hiroko-san always said, “To enjoy it to the fullest, you take just a little tiny, tiny piece of wasabi and place it on one side and fold the fish and flap it open, then you dab a bit of soy on the other side, just dab don’t drown it! And for heaven’s sake don’t mix the wasabi in the soy…” Slide the sashimi onto your palate and experience the three flavours separately and all at once and just for the flash of a nano-second you are truly in heaven. Well done WAKAI. Another round of the same quickly followed.

 Next up:

Black Cod Miso, Rs 2,950, has always reminded me a bit of delicious marrow, stiffer in consistency though, as you peel each smooth and buttery layer of the fish and let it melt on your tongue with the unmistakable subtle salty sweetness of miso. It’s a joy of unbelievable proportions. Unfortunately, our cod had been overcooked at the edges, it was a trifle dry and had lost its magic. Boo! (This can happen to the best but in a fine-dine it should not have left the kitchen).

The lamb chop shichimiyaki at wakai is excellent but serving it with mash is perhaps not such a good idea.
The Lamb Chop Shichimiyaki at WAKAI is excellent but serving it with mash is perhaps not such a good idea.

Lamb Chop Shichimiyaki, Rs 1,950: the lamb was of great quality, we requested medium-rare and what showed up was a perfect medium-rare. Served with mash it seemed like an import from Japan’s friends on another continent. It was delicious but I would not order it in a Japanese restaurant as it killed the oriental zone my palate was in. 

We finished off with Yaki Soba Chicken with Egg, Rs 550: Japanese stir-fry noodles, order only to fill up those spaces in the belly that are yet to be. We pecked at it.

Having crammed every nook and cranny we were bursting — no space for dessert on this visit.

Wakai feels like a fine-dine restaurant one second and a busy tokyo street the other.
WAKAI feels like a fine-dine restaurant one second and a busy Tokyo street the other.

Some criticism before I go….

The service was unobtrusive. Waiters served and whisked away empty plates with professional finesse, where they sunk was their knowledge of the menu. These lovely folks were not trained to help and had to refer to the head waiter or the chef for everything.

Will I go back? Yes I would, but in a larger group so I can dip in and out of some more mouthwatering food. Would I recommend it? Absolutely, but note the prices in advance as you can run up a steep bill even without alcohol. 

As I hit the street, a young lad just a metre out is singing for his supper — “Mera joota hai Japaani…”, another old Bollywood hit. My Mrs and I exchange glances and laugh aloud!

Must read: OPA not so Opa!

Ratings

Food: 4/5
Drinks: 3/5
Design: 5/5
Vibe: 3/5
Service: 3/5

Total bill for two: Rs 15,242.00 (food-only Rs 9,962.00)

WAKAI, 24 A, Raja Bahadur Mansion, Mumbai Samachar Marg, Fort, Mumbai 400023; +91-9769999918, reservations@wakai.in

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