One of the biggest restaurant openings that the city is likely to see this year is Megu, the modern Japanese restaurant at the Leela Palace New Delhi. Every Japanese restaurant that sets up shop in the city raises the bar considerably for the competition. Megu has raised the bar to an absurdly high extent - the next Japanese restaurant has an extremely tough act to follow.
The philosophy of Megu is that of a showcase (mainly for a western audience, or at any rate, a non-Japanese one) of the best of ingredients, serving dishes (there are 123 separate ones for various preparations) and design elements of the restaurant itself, with its chiselled black granite floors and red decorative elements. Some of the house specials have presentations that are done table-side and the operating equipment is no short of masterpieces of art.
Our dinner started with Megu wagyu carpaccio (Rs. 3,000) so finely sliced that it seemed inconceivable that human hand could have done it. However, it is the handwork of executive chef Yutaka Saito who seems to be a master at it. The hand-painted plate on which the carpaccio is served is smeared lightly with a sesame saucemayonnaise blend and the tenderloin layered atop it. The meat is Grade 9 - high on the marbling scale, the highest being 12.
Vegetarians have been catered for - the signature Megu original crispy asparagus (Rs. 800) in which plump spears of asparagus have been covered with rice crispies. It’s a play on textures and the bonus for Japanese customers is the familiarity of the crispies, called ‘kakinotane’ in Japan, a popular bar snack. If that is just a pleasant snack, made memorable by the clay ‘brick’ that is part of the decoration, shira ae (Rs. 800) was a masterpiece. Invented in the Delhi kitchen by none other than Chef Achal Aggarwal, widely considered one of the most brilliant chefs in any Japanese kitchen, it is a picture-perfect presentation of yellow squash slices covering a ‘patty’ of coarse spinach and tofu bits napped in a sesame sauce.
However, to experience the food of the flagship in New York, there are a few signature dishes on offer here. They constitute a bare 30 per cent of the menu, but their number is set to increase in the coming months. First of them is the salmon toro tartar (Rs. 2,000) with a pool of sauce made from salmon roe and a sprinkling of osetra caviar. Prepared tableside, it consists of a generous disk of wild salmon minced finely (by hand, naturally) and studded with a jelly of yamae soy wasabi. The server melts the jelly with a lighted charcoal. Megu only uses bincho tan - white charcoal, whose temperature easily reaches 1,000 degrees Celsius. You eat the tartare on melba toast.
The other treat is crispy kanzuri shrimp (Rs. 1,000). Kanzuri is a Japanese chilli that is preserved on snow for days till the heat of the chilli becomes tempered. It is then mixed with yuzu and fermented rice and stored for a couple of years to achieve a multilayered flavour profile.The surface of the deep-fried morsels is crisp with the prawns inside being crunchy.
Whether you visit Megu to drink in the gorgeous interiors, enjoy traditional Japanese food presented in a novel manner or just to see and be seen, you’ll have a world-class experience.