The umami of authentic Japanese food was on our minds.Since we were not in the financial mood for a session in ITC Gardenia’s Edo ( Tokyo set-menu at Rs.5000 plus tax per head) we decided to target another establishment. Harima remains possibly Banglore’s only stand-alone Japanese restaurant at the time of writing this review, and we elected to explore its appeal on a weekday night.Sitting on one of the upper floors of a nondescript building on Residency Road, this place didn’t even have its lights on to attract customers and even the staircase was not conspicuous. But we were seasoned Ninjas and soon manouevred ourselves into the vestibule of this restaurant.
My companion was my dear cousin.Our previous gastro-odysseys comprised experiences like a Bombay yatra which had involved long bohemian affairs in Cafe Universal, carnivorous romps in Bade Miya and a harrowing battle with a tenacious steak in Kobe’s Sizzlers.
Ambience - Awnings marked with Japanese alphabets and a sliding door marked the entrance. The overall ambience was sufficiently elegant and made a little noisy by an animated quartet of Japanese patrons.We spied the Tatami room tucked away in a corner,and asked to be seated there. Before this we were given cool scented towels to wipe our face- after performing the refreshing ablution, I was shocked to note that my towel was speckled with black -the result of a bike journey through the unregulated urban hell that Bangalore has become. Anyway, we stepped into our chosen locale- four tables each less than a foot high were arranged in this compact mood-deepening sanctum illuminated by square lanterns. Gleaming light brown wood liberally comprised surfaces ,and wooden latticework covered off-white screens. I sat cross-legged on the cushions, before realizing that just under the low table there was a big hollowed-out pool of space into which one could leisurely suspend the legs.The city and everything outside the room were shut off and we were alone. A beautiful Geisha would have perfectly completed the atmosphere but nevermind we were still happy and expected the food to provide the required seduction.
Menu (with INR prices in brackets)- Starters star Mushidori (steamed juicy chicken,300) ,Jisakei Gari (pickled ginger,100), Tsukemono (pickled cabbage,120) among other selections. If you order Ika no Karaage, you’re served fried squid legs. Unagi is grilled Eel with kabayaki sauce (1000). Vegetarians will have very little choice here- Daikon and Potato salads are a option and so are Japanese Croquettes or Korokke the veg variety of which includes cheese and corn versions. Noodles feature special Japanese varieites like Cold Soba noodles and the broth-soaked Udon. Rice is comprised by Donburi (with meat and egg toppings) and Yaki Onigiri (triangles of sticky rice). The better known Teppanyaki sizzlers and Teriyaki are also offered, apart from main courses like Nabe which is a hearty hotpot ,suited for Sumo wrestlers and such-like, and comprising leeks mushrooms meat & cabbage et al. Pork and Beef are rendered in various cooking techniques while the emblematic Sushi and Sashimi are offered in more than a dozen presentations.
Service -was average. Although there were no guests or big parties at all in the Tatami room throughout our meal, our request to be seated there was met with initial hesitation. One vaguely Japanese-looking waiter seemed almost as indecisive as us when asked to provide guidance about quintessential Nippon dishes,but another by the name of Prasanna was the only steward who advised us wisely and created an overall favourable impression. Efficient charming service is so crucial for the operation of a place like this ;our glass of water was not re-filled for long periods of time -it became a reflection of our dipping satisfaction levels.
Sofuto Sheru Kurabu- Soft-shell Crab fried tempura-style- Inveigled, we chose this starter.Yes,the shell of this hapless crab was so meek that we could crunch right through it - a la a paani-puri or gol-guppa. But we had a tough time discerning the nature of the crabmeat beneath the crisp temoura batter. Despite our careful chewing we missed the sweet silken softness (perhaps that taste is not to be expected in this dish) and could only detect some salty marine currents. Its flavours perked up after being treated with radish puree and soy-sauce. Yakitori- Grilled Chicken skewer- Caramelized sauce enhanced the appeal of this Japanese kebab, but the leeks were stiff -an unnecessary addition. The chicken chunks were invested with a reasonable degree of soft spunk and juiciness,but they were not marvels of succulence that we were dreaming about.
Our steward Prasanna-san sagely steered us away from multiple pieces of the same maguro (tuna) Sashimi ,eventually directed us towards 3 slices each of four different varieties of fish. These were prettily presented on a bed of radish threads. Orange salmon pink snapper purple tuna white grouper all whispered shifting shades of marine flavour. The accompaniments were wispy slices of pickled sweet ginger, wasabi (Japanese horseradish- apply only the smallest flecks unless you want dynamite in your mouth) and a soy-sauce variant different from the Chinese version. My companion struggled to eat the fresh raw fish on its own and used the help of the side-flavourings. My tongue is more tolerant, but I have to admit that lack of prior experience in tasting this genre prevents me from attesting to whether this is top-tier sashimi. But I concede that all the fish was unctuously soft and fresh.
Nigiri Sushi- We were again counselled about the variety (which we wanted) of this dish as opposed to multiple slices of the same maki roll which is seaweed-wrapped vinegary ricewith prawns shiitake mushroom and tofu .We also declined the waiter’s suggestion of a California roll as this was not authentic Nippon fare. Our eventual order- Small packs of smugly aggregated Japanese rice were topped individually with various afore-mentioned fish, shrimp and sweet egg roll. Each heap as a whole was to be popped into the mouth. To discern a new taste,I tasted one slice of white cuttlefish on its own, but a tiny bit of wasabi on it was enough to create a small tsunami that would’ve obliterated the taste of fiery buffalo wings, let alone delicate fish. In this dish too, we were constrained in evaluation of its merits due to lack of familiarity with it, moreover we forgot to eat the sushi as soon as it was brought ( to maintain peak freshness,sushi masters recommend ingestion within seconds of delivery). My past experience with sushi had been with the "maki" version sold in canteens - I admittedly had enjoyed this ,enhanced as it was with the faint flavour of the seaweed frame, a creamy core of un-Japanese avocado and delicious soy-sauce. Nevertheless, the novelty quotient of these two mains here were high, and we both frankly acknowledged that this sushi-sashimi duo, consumed in a redolently Japanese chamber,was the highlight of our meal.
Katsu Donburi was presented in the form of stodgy pork cutlets with dehydrated slivers of meat ,excess of ordinary onion, tasteless scrambled eggs and average rice. My companion was sorely disappointed -he had chosen this dish instead of pan-grilled pork, after wanting "some starch" to round out the meal.
Tariffs- The above 5 dishes cost a total of Rs.3343- inclusive of 14% VAT,5% service tax, 12% service charge,2% education cess and 1% higher and scecondary education cess!
If our meal had been attended to by the staff with more dedication and less absenteeism, and if that final dish ordered had been a winner,it would have tilted the balance in favour of recommending this specialty restaurant. To worsen matters none of the dishes I ate had me lunging for the next morsel.Considering all parameters of assessment, this restaurant stands a slim chance of impressing most Indian patrons unless it steps up its overall act. Of course there were so many other dishes we did not try but limited knowlege of Japanese cuisine, and unlimited instinct tells me that we could have been better pleasured if the same set of experiences were orchestrated by better personnel.
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