Udon know how good this is
Bandra's new Japanese diner hits the right spots with sushi and noodles and can go a long way if they smoothen the rough edges
This is Mumbai. The only reason anyone could possibly ever enjoy rain in the month of November might be because it is better weather than October's scorching heat for a bowl of simmering ramen. But if that's the only reason you're going to Kenzen, a new, astonishingly small (they have just three tables and a counter with four chairs) sushi and tempura bar, you may come away displeased.
The chic, three-month-old space has minimalist decor with teak-polished furniture and mostly white walls, barring one sporting Japanese artwork, and a big round mirror mounted on one end, beside the kitchen door. It's a neighbourhood eatery, really, rather than one you'd go to for your anniversary date, unless you're a hip, artsy couple living in Pali Hill.
Chicken udon noodles
For a restaurant that opened in September, it already seems to be doing pretty well. This comes through when the staffer on the phone requests us to shift the reservation time to 10.30 pm, instead of 10 pm because they're full until then. Inside, the soothing atmosphere is interjected by a familiar hum of diners. The attendants are friendly and attentive and offer to take the order while outgoing guests wrap up their meal so a table can free up.
Spicy akami roll
As the flippant weather outside oscillates between a lazy drizzleand spurts of heavy rain, the heart yearns for something soothing and warm. But a bite of delicious spicy akami roll (Rs 550) serves the taste buds just as well. Made with jalapenos and lean tuna, and dusted with chilli, this sushi is bang for your buck if not the best in the world. The Philadelphia roll (Rs 551) is just as satiating too, with a creamy filling that seamlessly marries the subtle fishy notes from the salmon.
Miso salmon donburi
By now, a table is available, just in time for the mains, which includes a serving of oh-so-delicious chicken udon noodles (Rs 200). And though the udon itself is sourced and not house-made, the dish is bursting with umami flavours and a palatable greasiness from the butter, which balances the brine from the soy perfectly. For its price, it's a cracker of a dish that's set to put you in a good mood, ruined only temporarily by a sapid seafood ramen (Rs 550), with flaccid tempura, an over-boiled egg and a dishearteningly lacklustre broth that has neither the kick of miso, nor the strong and comforting flavours you're likely to find in a good bowl of tonkotsu (Kenzen doesn't do pork/beef ramen, sadly). Thankfully, though, the miso salmon and fried rice donburi bowl (Rs 595) comes as a saving grace. Barring the quality of the rice, this Japanese staple is a hit thanks to the delicately seared and flavourful fish.
We learn later that this nondescript Asian is the brainchild of two childhood friends — Joy Gohil and Tanuj Bhambri, who is also the chef. The homely, unassuming vibe of the space then becomes self-explanatory. What is a little more confusing to understand, however, is how long they can last. With an adequately sized menu covering the basics of Japanese food and totally affordable price points, Kenzen is likely to draw first-time customers, as it already is. But the bigger question is, with veritable competition from diners like Izumi and Seefah right next door, does this new space have what it takes for loyal and sustained patronage? Maybe if it smoothens the rough edges. Better ramen next time?
At Kenzen, Rizvi Mahal Society, Linking Road, Bandra West.
Time 12.30 pm to 3.30 pm; 7 pm to 11.30 pm
Food review rating: 4/4 EXCEPTIONAL, 3/4 EXCELLENT, 2/4 VERY GOOD, 1/4 GOOD, 0.5/4 AVERAGE
Kenzen didn’t know we were there. The Guide reviews anonymously and pays for meals
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