“For us, the ingredient is everything. We don’t use a lot of chillies, spices, and condiments (though these are naturally available on request) to cloud the flavours. If you have ordered a Salmon Carpaccio or a Steamed Edamame, you are going to taste the fresh salmon and edamame front and centre,” says Chef Vaibhav Bhargave of Kiko-ba. Given that it is inspired by the Japanese Tanuki Yokai (shape-shifting spiritual beings) who bring good fortune and luck to spaces, it’s taken a while for Kiko-ba to find its footing. But after having its opening pushed back repeatedly due to Covid troubles and their former chef ’s legal troubles, the East Asian dining space is now up and running.
And boy, it was worth the wait. The restaurant is an oasis of calm in the bustle of Basant Lok Market, its space and flow clean cut and understated, a reflection of its Scandinese (Scandinavian-Japanese) design ethos; it’s the kind of place Marie Kondo would eat in. The centrepiece is the restaurant’s Robata Grill, which abuts its island bar, with diners and dipsomaniacs alike being able to see their orders being prepared before their eyes.
We begin with the Scottish Salmon Carpaccio, the Crispy Squid, and Edamame Hummus, washed down by a signature Saketini (a crisp and bubbly muddling of sake and gin) from the cocktail menu. While it doesn’t spin us a yarn in a highlander’s brogue, the Scottish Salmon is everything it promises to be: pale pink slivers of pure fatty goodness, elevated by the minimal presence of Tobiko (flying fish roe) and micro greens with lashings of a wasabi salsa and truffle-perfumed ponzu.
The Crispy Squid is similarly fresh and minimalistic, dusted with a light salt and pepper batter. Its simple flavours heightened by the application of some lime juice. On the other hand, the edamame is a lavish puddle of creamy goodness, with the slight spike of a mild chilli oil, ready to be scooped up by crisp root vegetable crisps. Up next are our entrées, which is all about prawn, to wit the Prawn Curry Gyoza and the Butter Garlic Chilli Prawns. The former comprises crystal prawn dumplings adrift in a gentle yet potent wave of burnt garlic curry, while the latter see the prawns take centre stage , with the melted garlic butter and chilli oil ready in the wings to rush in with that extra pop of flavour.
Our mains come mainly from the Robata, consisting Grilled Indian Sea Bass Grilled Avocado, accompanied by a Chicken Chilli Black Bean. Each of these is a revelation in itself, and in the interest of brevity we will confine ourselves to a line on each, though it doesn’t do them justice. The Sea Bass comes in an ephemeral cloud of a fillet only slightly accented with soy and ginger, melting on the palate. The Avocado comes halved and seared with its innards, flush with good fats, left mostly untouched except for the space left by the seed, which is stuffed with a crumbly truffle and yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit) dressing and lined with more edamame hummus (you can literally feel your body and health thanking you as you consume it).
Finally, the chicken is the kind we’d cross the road for, making us forget the insipid vehicle for other flavours that the fowl had devolved to, being instead packed with the flavour, texture, and mouth feel of chicken before factory farming. And then there was one: the dessert course, which saw us diving into and drowning in the restaurant’s signature Toffee Pudding with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream, a gloriously sticky, gooey confection that we will definitely return to. See you there.
MEAL FOR TWO: Rs 2,500 + taxes (Without alcohol) AT: Kiko-ba, 62 Basant Lok, Vasant Vihar