An eerie vacuum surrounds all roads winding into Mehrauli. It’s like walking into an NCERT textbook on Medieval History. The landscape, like the text, has evolved to suit the sensibility of a modern mind, but the monuments, like a collection of faded pictures on each page, stand committed to the narrative of their past. Mehrauli, the capital’s south western edge, enjoys the quietude of the woods. Not lovely, dark or deep, but punctuated with rock-ribbed structures dedicated to reinstate the supposed glory of historic someones. There’s Balban’s tomb, the Jamali Kamali tomb complex and Adam Khan’s tomb. But, shadowing their novelty is the Qutab Minar.
For the Dilliwalla of these days, Qutab Minar is generally sighted from afar, whilst stuck in long-enough-to-make-one-reflective traffic jams. Clearly, the idea of dining in a restored century-old haveli, basking in distant views of such a structure is something that nobody in this fatigued city would pass up on. And, that is why Delhi now has an En, its newest Japanese fine dine restaurant.
Spread across three floors of a sprawling mansion, a very un-Delhi like sense of the outdoors can be experienced here. To optimise on its vicinity, there are seating clusters on terrace balconies and adequately large windows, all opening out to the minar. The gestalt is confused. Under an overwhelmingly high ceiling, are bronzed pillars and traditional wooden doors dotted with symmetric frames, which divide one quiet cluster of tables from the other. These are shined up with the cosy crimson of overwhelming chandeliers, also of Rajasthan-royalty reckoning.
Where’s Japan? It’s neatly tucked into samurai souvenirs—swords, Buddha heads, and rare sake bottles, displayed in living room discipline at the entrance. The wait staff costumes also seem imported from Japan; graphical in cherry blossom. The meal begins with a platter of three appetisers, symmetrically arranged on a glass slab. The server calls these Ebi Goma-ae, Kinpira, Ryu-Gi Chicken. Fancy names aside, this is a wishy-washy chicken and prawn mess. Its vegetarian counterpart comprises ordinary mash potatoes, asparagus smeared with a trying-to-be-peanut sauce and badly done lotus stem. The tempuras are crunchy, golden and correct, and one soon realises the mistake of not having called for an extra helping.
The Chicken Tatsuta-Age is a tad too chewy but a warm curry packed with boiled radish and beans rescues it. There are two ways to embrace a foreign cuisine, by developing a taste for it or by adapting its flavours to suit the local audience. Let’s just call the sushi ‘authentic’ then, because, despite an icing of wasabi mayo, it is rather difficult to comprehend. Chef Katsuya Honda has been in the country only for six months and is trying to understand the Indian palate. His focus for now is on fresh ingredients; a crisp and clear approach that should hopefully reflect in the food one day. Then, the meal progresses to the tofu, which could have been tastier had their fried batter casing held on firmly in each bite. The garlic fried rice aren’t fragrant and so, don’t leave a lasting impression. The Miso soup, in both vegetarian and chicken variants, is watery. At first, one thinks it is need of a long and strong stir, soon enough, one realises it is need of much more than that.
The dessert, in sync with the review sampling norm, is a platter full enough to feed all of Burundi. Only, there isn’t much flavour to tickle the Burundians with. The cheesecake is pretty looking but unsettlingly tough; Kevin Costner wrongly cast in Bodyguard, all over again. It tastes exactly like the Indian condensed milk dessert —the peda, in retrospect; it might
have just been that. The green tea ice-cream is bitter, which is ok if it were to earn a mention in Liz Hurley’s fairytale detox-diet plan. The gateau chocolate though isn’t bad, but by the time one forks into it, the palate has already played an easy victim in a Tarantino flick.
On being asked if one likes it, it feels like ‘169 divided by 7’ in a pop quiz. Where one think hard, for the few minutes legitimately, then much longer awkwardly, shrewdly adding and subtracting inside the fortified cocoon of a straight face, to come up with an answer that is accurate enough. But, as the popular sentiment for mental math riddle dictates, it’s never worth the effort to come up with an answer.