Mizu Izakaya’s New Menu Offers A Fresh Take On Japanese Cuisine

When you walk into Mizu for the first time, it can be hard to put a finger on what exactly to expect from the trappings of what is touted to be a ‘celebrity hotspot’. As the heavy wooden door opens up to a minimally decorated restaurant, with a raw bar towards the left, operating in full swing, a few tables dot the well-used space. Although unsurprising, the place is packed with diners who are there not just for the food and craft cocktails, but for something more profound and deeper than promised.

As we seat ourselves at a table closest to the hot kitchen, chef Lakhan Jethani greets us with a smile – his childlike excitement palpable from the passion with which he speaks about his creative vision for the newly launched Dai San menu. “Every year we come up with an updated menu, in which we flush out 25 items and add about 20-25 items in the menu. This year, the third iteration of our menu – called Dai San, spoke a lot. We wanted to move a step closer to Japan and wanted people who have travelled to Japan feel that nostalgia. When they come to Mizu, we want them to have the feeling of being transported back to Japan; we started moving towards a lot of Japanese cooking philosophies, cooking techniques and to a lot of recipes towards my personal travels in Japan,” he says.

In Image: Salmon Yuzu Truffle and Special Soy

Like any traditional Japanese eating experience, the izakaya concept – one that focusses on small plates to accompany drinks, is one that is thoughtfully constructed around this very essence. As our server brings us a green jar of sake placed on ice to kick off the meal, we patiently await what’s in store as Lakhan takes the lead on what to bring to the table, while we sip on the cold, almost clean-flavoured spirit. Starting off strong, the Salmon Sashimi with yuzu truffle dressing, gondhoraj and wasabi crème fraiche disappears off of the plate seconds after it arrives – a testament to how simple, fresh and unexpected this delicious combination of flavours were. Chef points out that the plating style was reminiscent of ocean waves, as a visually stunning Tuna Taru Taru makes its way to the table.

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Freshly chopped tuna, combined with peanuts and cucumber sits as a mound atop a 62° egg yolk sauce and black garlic reduction – all of which was polished off with deep-fried Mentai bread. The soft, almost creamy textures of the tartare combined with the crisp fluffiness of the bread was an addictive combination that piqued our curiosity about the work Lakhan and his team put behind giving the raw bar its dedicated space within the restaurant. About this, Lakhan quips, “It is always nice to see chef's work live, cut your food live, cut your fish live. We have two stations on the raw bar – one for vegetarian food and one to prepare non-vegetarian food. A lot of Japanese restaurants do have live chefs working on a counter, which gives it a very Japanese feel. The purpose of having it segregated from the hot kitchen was because we are dealing with raw fish, which needs to be cool at a specific temperature.”

In Image: Tuna Taru Taru

He adds that the fish is stored at a temperature of 1°C and served at 6-7°C, pointing at the photon air conditioner right above the raw bar, which blows on to the two or the three people who are working there and on the produce that is being cut over there, hence maintaining the temperature and quality; because he believes that when working with raw fish, the temperatures cannot be hot. As impressive as the opening line-up of dishes were, the chef left little to be disappointed about with his Mizu Dragon Roll – with tempura prawns, spicy mayonnaise, tenkatsu, special soy, thinly sliced avocado and chopped green onion. Accompanying this, was the buttery-soft Togarashi-crusted steamed bao with slow-cooked chashu pork belly, fermented ginger sauce, wasabi mayonnaise and scallions.

What was starkly notable about this small plate was the fact that the slow-cooked belly’s texture was softer and relatively more delicate than the steamed bao in which it was sandwiched. Chef Lakhan shares that his approach to any kind of dish is to champion ingredients. “As a cook, I am tired of hiding in my plates. I don't like to hide between hundreds of types of flavours, ten types of sauces or a type of mash. Specifically, if we are importing such beautiful fish from Japan, that fish needs to be highlighted, those flavours need to be highlighted. I approach my food when I'm really thinking about how to approach a dish. Secondly, I do a lot of trial and testing – I do not put the dish out on the menu until and unless I have tested it maybe 25-30 times. That is why I always get very enamoured by chefs who, do changes or seasonal menus, which are micro seasonal menus that change every three months,” he says.

In Image: Togarashi-Crusted Pork Belly Bao

Breaking the smooth-sailing course with more drinks, crafted by Mizu’s in-house mixologist, Avantika Malik, the Kyuri – with cucumber foam, Mezcal and soy sea salt was a refreshing break to wash down all the perfectly crafted dishes we’d sampled. The Espresso Crème Brulee – Mizu’s take on an espresso martini, was also brought out with its vanilla-infused vodka, homemade Bailey’s, espresso and hazelnut – finished off with a swirl of torched meringue. While the Kyuri was a light, slightly savoury drink, the latter is one that all dessert cocktail lovers would want to enjoy while dining here. As we relish each sip of these layered but simple cocktails, a noteworthy aspect of each plate was not just the way in which flavours were paired, but also the way in which the chef approaches his treatment towards ingredients and plates – something that he learned while spending his time working in Japan.

To this, he shares, “There are a lot of techniques that reflect on my menu that I have learned from Japan. I did my Japanese cuisine basics there followed by an internship in a Shojin Ryori restaurant, which is a contemporary Buddhist cuisine restaurant. I also did another internship in Japan with an Edo-style 12-seat counter sushi restaurant. So I learned a lot of different techniques within both these restaurants. I took a lot of private lessons with noodle making also in Japan.” While teasing the possible release of a soba noodle dish that is soon-to-be featured on the menu, warm Kabocha Tarts find their way to our table. Flaky puff pastry with a pumpkin puree centre that is almost reminiscent of an egg custard, topped with cheese and nori flakes proved the delicacy with which vegetarian food was also treated at Mizu.

In Image: Kabocha Tart

Lakhan, who is a true believer of the trial-and-error philosophy, believes that a good balance of intuition and pragmatism is what really drives his creativity while conceptualising a plate. He illustrates this with an example of how, if a diner ends up liking a single dish for which they might come back, chances are that they might also like to try other dishes on the menu – making way for other dishes to shine. He adds that, “It is more important to be able to standardize your recipes or build your recipes in a way that you could standardize them in a restaurant approach or an la carte restaurant approach, because it's not just once you have to serve that dish the same way, with the same taste, with the same temperature, every single time that it is ordered in your restaurant. When a dish is ready, it's intuition. There were times with a lot of my dishes where my team members felt that it wasn’t ready.”

Almost as if on cue, a portable single burner stove is placed at the table, atop which a bowl sits with Mizu Shumai swimming in a kombu broth. What appears to look like a mound of flat noodles at a first glance, is in fact a morsel stuffed with Conger eel, crab and prawns. The broth is warmed up for the tender seafood-filled shumai to take on some of its mildly fishy flavour, with the kasundi on top adding its unique depth. As the bubbling broth and piping hot shumai is served in individual bowls, the delicate but scalding morsel exploded with tastes of the sea. The umami flavours from the silken broth was easily the true winner, without over-powering the freshness of the seafood.

Working with flavours that are native to India and Japan isn’t something that Lakhan is a stranger to – in fact, it is this approach that he finds himself often taking a leaf out of, while creating concepts to execute at Mizu. “There are basic requirements, where the chef needs to keep his mind and eyes open, to be aware of what their surroundings, their geography or the location that they are situated in produces. Only once you are aware of this, are you able to make good decisions into trying to bridge the difference between the cuisine that you are cooking and the place that you are in,” Lakhan quips.

In Image: Mizu Shumai (L), Mentai Scallops (R)

As we meander our way through the meal so far, we order one last savoury dish before the Matcha Misu offers up a sweet-ending to the meal. The Mentai Scallops – a delightfully smoky, chargrilled seafood offering, is basted in a mentai butter and served with a light and creamy corn mousse. The nursery sweetness of the corn, paired with the smoky-savoury scallops is simple yet sublime. As a great conclusion to the meal, the Matcha Misu – Mizu’s very own take, is a boozy dessert with a Japanese spin on it. Containing a green tea soaked matcha sponge, rum-spiked mascarpone mousse, tea boba and koshian paste, the dessert is perfect for anyone who does not enjoy a cloyingly sweet end to their meal. Although chef Lakhan says that he doesn’t have any significant projects in the pipeline, he’s constantly working to develop elements with collaborators from all over India.

Whether it is a special blend of soba flour from Uttarakhand to make hand-cut soba noodles for a dish that is soon-to-be-released or even pickled plum beer made with umeboshi, in collaboration with a brewery, his passion for discovering new ways to present ingredients is reflective throughout the menu. The spectacular meal experience at Mizu is worth writing home about, quite literally! Lakhan also hopes that someday the restaurant can come up with a changing Omakase menu or even source a batch of fresh, seasonal fish all the way from Japan for his lucky diners to experience. Until then, there’s always the signatures to look forward to.