Ai, NEW DELHI
It’s brave to start a contemporary Japanese cuisine restaurant in Delhi, a city that is just beginning to experiment with cuisines from around the world. In that sense, A.D. Singh has played it safe with Ai (the name is a Japanese symbol for love), a 200-seater restaurant at the MGM Metropolitan Mall, Saket. The restaurant is divided into four areas—an indoor lounge, an alfresco dining area with a live teppanyaki counter, an indoor eatery and a terrace lounge. So, those who are not yet Japanese food enthusiasts can hang out at Ai for sake, cocktails and starters, while experimental diners who lament that restaurants with experimental cuisines can only be found at five-star hotels have much to cheer about.
The good stuff
We chose to start with Ohitashi Takwan Gomadare (steamed spinach). Served with lotus roots, dusted with shichimi (a peppery Japanese condiment made of seven different seasonings), a spicy sesame sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds, this starter made me and my dinner companion decide never to wrinkle up our noses at steamed spinach again. The Tuna Tataki (seared tuna) served with spicy ponzu (citrus-based sauce) and garlic chips was tangy, and the fried garlic chips were not too pungent to overpower the ponzu.
The sashmi platter at Ai.
We chose Chicken Yakitori from the teppanyaki counter and enjoyed every bit of this Japanese-style skewer for its slightly sweet and nut-and-chocolate flavour. The Teriyaki Salmon served with sake-pickled cucumber had a well-done crust which added to its taste, as did the teriyaki sauce that accompanied the salmon slice, already grilled in a sweet soy marinade. You can eat the salmon without dipping it in the sauce, though it tastes a wee bit bland without it and the sweet-sour cucumber slice. The sashmi platter comes on a bowl of ice and you have the option of choosing the kind of fish you want.
The Prawns Tempura was bland, and the prawns coated with too much batter. The Udon vegetarian (thick noodles served with Japanese red chilli and vegetables) was a disappointment. Vegetables were scant, and the noodles did not live up to its reputation—“spicy”. The desserts, especially the Carrot Cake, were nothing to drool over. While we had nothing to complain about the Kahlua Coffee Mousse, we did wish that the chocolate cup it was served in was soft enough for our dessert spoons to sink into. We ended up using a fork and knife to cut the chocolate. Leather-covered table tops are a great décor idea, but without coasters they can be messy and uncomfortable.
Small dishes start at Rs299, main course dishes at Rs499, the Omakase-Sashmi (11-piece assortment) and Omakase-Sushi (13-piece assortment) are for Rs1,999 each (taxes are extra). A meal for two with either a sushi or a sashmi platter would cost about Rs4,500 without alcohol.
1> The sashmi platter at Ai.