With a little Joss

Sep 09, 2012, 07:54 IST | Anjana Vaswani

When Democritus analysed taste, he focused on four experiences: salty, sour, bitter, sweet. But then, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher had never tasted sushi, highlighted by chemist Kikunae Ikeda in 1908. Farrokh Khambata's restaurant attempts to present every discernible flavour it has to offer

SoBo’s corporate crowd can look forward to set sushi-dimsum lunches now. Farrokh Khambata assures us this is on the cards, but he can’t tell us what it might cost. “I have yet to iron out the details,” is all he can offer. Umame, his brand new pan-asian restaurant, is slated to open its doors and while the menu is ready and the space that was previously occupied by continental restaurant Valhalla has been overhauled, Khambata’s here to ensure everything is just perfect for the big opening on September 10th and the soft launch that precedes it.

Umame, a new pan-asian restaurant at Churchgate, Pics/Bipin Kokate

An antique light dangles over an oversized mustard table at the entrance, backed by a wooden honeycomb trellis through which we can see workers bustling about like busy bees. The bar that ran alongside the length of Valhalla is now positioned at the rear of the room and acoustic panels and illuminated cityscape images have replaced the backlit glass tiles on the ceiling.

Mustard upholstered chairs and simple wooden tables are arranged through the interiors and lined with artificial turf, an outdoor, smokers’ gallery, what Khambata refers to as, “the alfresco area,” runs alongside the space and offers a great view of Oval Maidan. With dim lighting, this place, just like Amadeus, Khambata’s Mediterranean restaurant at NCPA, seems designed for dining and dance. A sound-proofed private party area that accommodates 40 to 100 people, depending on your choice of seating arrangements, confirms our conviction. Will the prices here draw the throngs though?


Though the menus weren’t available on the day of our visit, Khambata did reveal, “Joss favourite, Chilean Sea Bass is priced at Rs 1,600 here. That’s Rs 200 more than what it was priced at before but that’s because the fish has become more expensive.” Patrons who lament the closure of Joss will be pleased to learn that specialties like the Whiskey Flambéd prawns (Rs 660) will also feature on the menu here. So will sushi...a la Khambata.

Having observed a general hesitation to sample raw fish, Khambata presents “new style sushi,” (approximately Rs 1,100, he tells us) in which, “fish is dressed with marinades, like Jalapeno cream for instance, to enhance its natural flavour, without altering its texture.” Khambata is also excited about his extended Dimsum range (Rs 280 to Rs 320 approximately), but while we enjoyed the prawn and chicken varieties, the steamed vegetarian parcel with a finely chopped corn, mushroom, carrot and water-chestnut filling was too bland.

We loved Khambata’s Lobster Tempura Roll (Rs 1,400) with Nitsume (traditionally, a reduction of soy, sugar and Mirin) and Miso mayo, best described as an Umami (or Umame, if you will) flavoured cream. And, beautifully garnished with a mini wasabi seafood sculpture and japanese ginger, the Sunset Boulevard, a prawn tempura sushi roll (Rs 980) is incredible. Khambata’s original, creamy crab and tobiko (flying fish roe) topping lent the dish a special punch.

We would also recommend the coconut-based Massaman lamb curry (Rs 1,200), a Thai recipe prepared with succulent knuckle of lamb. The extensive rice list includes the Japanese Sticky Rice, Garlic and Egg Fried Rice, Nasi Goreng, Vietnamese Fried Rice with Crab and Chicken, and a special (read, expensive) Lotus Leaf Rice, which, Khambata says, “is an acquired taste as the recipe includes dried scallops.”

The dessert list is impressive too (items will be priced in the range of Rs 325 to Rs 350, Khambata tells us) and while the Matcha (green tea) Tiramisu we sampled was just subtly flavoured, it’s the dessert sushis that we’re most eager to sample, especially the white and dark chocolate sushi with wasabi dipping sauce. Needless to say, we’ll be heading back for more. 

What is Umami?
Sometimes called, “the laughing philosopher,” or “the mocker,” Democritus may have scoffed at the notion that his theory of taste required a 20th century addendum. The Greek travel buff had theorised that taste is a consequence of differently-shaped atoms. Jagged atoms tore the tongue and created a bitter sensation, round and smooth atoms translated as sweetness, salty was the result of isosceles triangles and sour was produced by large, rough, angular atoms.

In 1908, chemistry professor at the Imperial University of Tokya, Kikunae Ikeda, decided to extend this list to include a uniquely Japanese taste that was hitherto undefined, and which Khambata describes as, “the taste of the earth and the sea.” Ikeda’s investigation involved isolating the dominant taste of dashi, a Japanese soup base and found it was linked to a seaweed. He dubbed this sensation Umami, a word derived from Umai, the Japanese word for delicious.

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