December 2011 | Antoine Lewis

Wasabi By Morimoto - The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai

Recognised as one of the top 100 restaurants in the world, Wasabi lends traditional Japanese cuisine a delicious, modern twist

Recognised as one of the top 100 restaurants in the world, Wasabi By Morimoto at The Taj Mahal Palace is not only India’s best Japanese restaurant but is probably one of the best restaurants in India.
 
It was always meant to be so. From the moment Chef Hemant Oberoi felt Mumbai was ready for Japanese food he was clear he would create a world-class restaurant. He knew that his clientele was already familiar with Japanese food and were regulars at top-end Japanese restaurants such as Nobu in New York and Zuma in London.
 
Under the guidance of Masaharu Morimoto, who had helped set up Nobu and was successfully running his own restaurant in Philadelphia, Wasabi By Morimoto was launched, not as a traditional Japanese restaurant but as one that offered modern Japanese food.
 
With two chefs from Morimoto and an Indian team that had trained at Morimoto and in Japan, where they learned traditional techniques and familiarised themselves with local ingredients, Wasabi opened in 2004 to critical and commercial acclaim. It remains the only restaurant in India to serve freshly grated wasabi.
 
Wasabi’s unique feature is the strength of its vegetarian menu, created entirely by Chef Oberoi. It is probably the only Japanese restaurant in the world that offers vegetarians so much choice. The tomato carpaccio with yuzu and soy dressing, topped with a wasabi and yuzu sorbet, is outstanding.
 
Unfortunately, it bore the brunt of the terrorist attack on the Taj in 2008 and was completely destroyed. It re-opened in 2010 with a new look. The spiral staircase has been replaced with a bright red lacquer stairway and a glass-walled lift. Upstairs, the pale green walls and dark, mood lighting has given way to a bright and cheerful room.
 
The best tables are the ones alongside the windows overlooking the Gateway of India, with bar seating available at the sushi and teppanyaki counters. In one discreet corner is a semi-private dining table in the shape of a giant silver ball.
 
Signature dish
The black cod miso is clearly the winner, with the cod flown straight from Tokyo's famous Tsukiji Market twice a week. To achieve the mellow sweet-salt balance and delicately firm texture, the cod is marinated in salt for 24 hours, followed by miso for a further 24 hours. It is then broiled under salamander for 35 minutes and finally baked in an oven for seven minutes. It is served with translucent, paper-thin slices of pickled red pepper and sweetened Japanese kuromame beans.
The chef
Wasabi would not have been possible but for the experience and expertise that Chef Hemant Oberoi brings to the table. Credited with having introduced various niche cuisines to the Indian palate, Chef Oberoi can most often be found in his private, hi-tech 'chef studio' hosting small dinner parties for visiting dignitaries and celebrities. When not in his studio, he could well be accompanying the prime minister on his tours or catering to A-list weddings and events around the world.

This article was a part of a photo feature on Taj Hotels published in the December 2011 issue of the Tata Review. Follow the links below to go to the other parts of the photo feature:
Photo feature: Featured are five of the best that the Taj group has, with a sampling of their signature dishes and the opulent ambience in which they are laid out

Thai Pavilion – Vivanta By Taj-President, Mumbai
Karavalli – The Gateway Hotel, Bengaluru
The Quilon – 51 Buckingham Gate, Taj Suites and Residences, London
Prego – The Taj Coromandel, Chennai

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