Restaurant Review | Guppy by ai … Japanese cuisine at its tastiest best!

“I’m fascinated by Japanese cuisine.”
Eric Ripert

Guppy by aiIt took just one visit to Guppy by ai. It left me bowled over, wanting to return for more. I have an affinity for anything Japanese, yet little connect with Japanese cuisine but for a single trip to Japan 2 years ago. The visit to Guppy awakened my memories of that visit where I accompanied the husband who had a conference in Tokyo.

For me anything Japanese means harmony, balance, art, neatness, fresh appeal, fine aesthetics, colours that soothe, and delicate presentation. Of late, there has been delicious frenzied activity celebrating the return of Guppy by ai, the contemporary Japanese Bar & Kitchen, in a new avatar. It was an invite I couldn’t wouldn’t turn away!!

Guppy by ai Guppy by ai under the flagship AD Singh brand has reopened much to the delight of Delhiites! The reviews are out and they are all good. One visit to the eatery and you know what you’ve been missing. From the moment you step in, the ambiance wins you over. The vibrance of the anime inspired interiors greet you. They are peppy, colourful and eye catching!

Guppy by aiClever use of origami, sculpted metal lamps, ceramics that warm your heart. You can spend all day here taking in the magical surroundings. Origami kimonos adorn the walls, neat frames, little pikachus leaping from the menu card, distressed wood beamers that cleverly hide the air conditioning ducts, Kokeshi dolls, metal stacked tiffin boxes, the soothing sound of water flowing … a lot of bric a brac and vintage finds bring out a unique character. Designer Anshu Arora scores a perfect 10 to deliver a seamless and stunning ambiance.

Guppy by ai As the interiors impress, Guppy endears itself even more once the food starts flowing in {literally}. Sangeeta and I managed to make it together on the same night, accompanied by our better halves. We were greeted by the gentle, ever friendly and passionate Chef Vaibhav Bhargave, a chef I’ve known for a few years now. I’ve followed him in delight over the years at Olive and he seems to have broken new ground at Guppy.

Guppy by aiHe explains with passion…the salad bar, fresh ingredients, authentic Japanese condiments, a lavish {and very delicious} vegetarian spread, an equally rocking non vegetarian one, salads to make the heart sing with joy, pot stickers that warm the heart, gentle sauces on the side that excite but don’t overpower. The choice is amazing.

Guppy by ai If like me, you have a pretty limited knowledge of Jap cuisine, you are in for a revelation. Raw fish is not my cup of tea, and I associate it largely with Jap food, almost synonymous with sushi and sashami. How wrong could I be? Vaibhav talked us through every dish, the origins etc. And then, with the ever knowledgeable Sangeeta, the place was a treat that night! I was set to conquer Japanese cuisine, fish and all! {My photographs didn’t come out as I messed up the lens, so I’ve borrowed some from Sangeeta and used a few of mine}

Edamame Sea Salt Chilli GarlicThe menu is refreshing and exciting. With comfortable seating, we began with the starters or small plates as the menu suggests. A beautifully spiced Edamame Sea Salt/Chilli Garlic awakened our senses, the edamame was taken to delicious levels, chili and garlic being 2 of my favourite flavours. With mocktails on the side, {the liquor license was yet to come through}, we ate our way through fresh, crisp and delicately flavoured salads. First up a Guppy house salad with seasonal vegetables, palm hearts & bamboo shoots in a karashi mustard dressing {sans greens}.

Chirashi Seafood salad Next up was the Chirashi Seafood salad, an assortment of pickled prawn, tuna, salmon, crab and baby greens in goma-ae dressing. I gingery tried the seafood salad on the insistence of my good companions … it was fabulous. Beautifully balanced fresh flavours and not fishy for my discerning palette. I love good fresh salads, and I could see the sweet chef at the live sushi and bar across working diligently to stir up the goodness!

Guppy by aiStarters followed the salads. With an emphasis on the extensive vegetarian selection, and non vegetarian options too to spoil us, we were happy campers. Rice Paper Vegetables Roll, Chili Lime Dressed Agedashi Tofu, Exotic Mushroom Gyoza {Gluten-free, crisp bottom steamed pot stickers, served with ponzu soy dipping sauce}, Crisp Vegetable Harumaki {exotic vegetable filo rolls, crisp baked in oven and served with yuzu miso}, Prawn Gyoza {Black tiger prawn pot stickers, pan fried, served with ponzu soy sauce, and finally Guppy Signature Pork Belly {slow braised pork belly, glazed with soy honey and served with mustard miso sauce}. I love pot stickers and both the GF mushroom gyoza as well as the prawn gyoza were outstanding, the latter absolutely addictive with ponzu soy sauce. It was interesting to see a gluten free version included.  I didn’t eat the pork belly, but those who did found it chewy and tough, a little disappointing for a signature dish!

Wok Tossed Exotic Teppan Vegetable

Photo courtesy Sangeeta Khanna

We were rather full, yet were told that this was just the beginning. We hadn’t even touched the main course. It soon arrived and despite the protesting tummies, it was happy meal time again. We skipped the noodles, rice and carbs of course! Teriyaki Glazed Artichoke & Tofu and Wok Tossed Exotic Teppan Vegetable glazed with sesame soy were the first to arrive. I am not a fan of tofu so I gave that a miss. The wok tossed vegetables were excellent, delicately flavoured, a good bite to them.

Black Cod, Guppy by aiThe show stopper of course was the baked Black Cod which arrived dramatically, sizzling on a large smooth pebble. The good server did the honours of taking it off it’s menacing perch. I bravely volunteered to taste it as well, and it was the best fish I have ever eaten. The miso marinated cod was light, delicate, cooked just right and hit the ball out of the park! I loved it!

Guppy by ai And then there was more but I was far too full. The Grilled Jumbo Prawn served with assorted vegetables and pepper garlic was devoured by the rest of the gang. There was Teriyaki Glazed Artichoke & Tofu too, but most of skipped as the cod gave us a happy feeling.

Guppy by ai Dinner ended with their signature dessert … warm carrot cake drizzled with mascarpone. I skipped it as was happily satisfied. What I loved about the meal was the lavish inclusion of vegetarian fare on the menu, as also an interesting medley of fresh salads. All the dishes were delicately flavoured and each stood out separately. With the well designed interiors, it made for a memorable meal, a place I would return to!

Thank you Vaibhav for spoiling us that night, and thank you Guppy by ai for hosting us. I would definitely recommend Guppy to everyone. Step in and experience the ambiance. The magic will touch you. There is something for everyone here, vegetarian and otherwise, including gluten free!

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Also find me on The Rabid Baker, The Times of India

Book Review | First Food, A Taste of India’s Biodiversity … and Chaulai ka saag {amaranth greens}

“Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture.”
Mark Kurlansky

First Food , A Taste of India's BiodiversityLife can be strangely coincidental at times, or maybe it is just the trend of the times. My recent amaranth obsession is at an all time high, and then I got an invite for the launch of a very very interesting book Centre of Science and Environment – First Food, A Taste of India’s Biodiversity. The locavore in me jumped to it. What’s not to love about celebrating local produce?

Sunita Narain @ First Food , A Taste of India's Biodiversity, India Habitat Centre, DelhiA live wire opening introduction to the book by CSEs petite and very talented Sunita Narain had everyone’s attention. A cause close to my locavore heart, I was thrilled to see how beautifully local and rather unknown ingredients have been woven into the book. A lot of historical cuisine connect runs through the book, emphasising time and again that food is personal, and that everyone has a food story. The book, authored by Sunita Narain & Vibha Varshney,  attempts to share India’s rich, diverse and largely unexplored culinary tradition. Paired with vivid food memories and a deep emotional connect, it does a brilliant job!

Sunita Narain is an Indian environmentalist and political activist as well as a major proponent of the Green concept of sustainable development. She has been with the India-based Centre for Science and Environment since 1982. She is currently the director of the Centre and the director of the Society for Environmental Communications and publisher of the fortnightly magazine, Down To Earth. The recipes in First Food have been curated from Down to Earth.

Beets, carrots and kanji ...fermented drinksImportantly, it makes the mind think. Think out of the box, as also question how far we will be pushed as a community before we realise that we are losing a whole lot of local food wealth falling prey to imports. To make the environment flourish and to add economic value to local produce, getting to the roots of traditional food is essential.

traditional Indian cusineThat somewhat explains First Food, an interesting title in itself. Thought provoking too. To understand the vast economic system that runs behind each fruit, flower, leaf and grain, the book does a good job in bringing together a rich resource of information; food stories, environmental issues, intriguing trivia and of course interesting recipes.beets, amaranthFor me, it is also the ingredients that inspire. I love cooking with beet greens {thanks to Sangeeta’s vast knowledge}, and with turnip greens too {thanks to my mother who used to do it; still does}. Fermented pineapple kanji and beetroot kanji are on top of my list, thanks again to Sangeeta. These days, it’s popped amaranth in cakes and brownies, whole grain in cookies and so much more!

Lamb with turnip greens, shalgam ke patton ka goshtAt the launch that night other than the very talented Sunita Narain, we had Prof Pushpesh Pant {a noted food critic and historian} and Vinod Dua {a food critic and one of the best known names in indian media} regale the rapt audience with their tales. The professor had the audience in splits “When Sunita first told me about the book I thought it was priced too high. Then when I read it, I discovered that it was priceless!

First Food , A Taste of India's Biodiversity with Pushpesh pant, Vinod Dua and Vibha VarshneyVinod Dua, the great orator and entertainer that he is, took to food centric quotes, prose and couplets, both Indian and foreign. Beginning with one my favourite food quotes by George Bernard Shaw, “There is no sincerer love than the love of food.“, he went on to read some best loved ones much to the delight of the audience!

First Food, India Habitat Centre, DelhiIt was a short and crisp launch ceremony, followed by a live food demonstration by master chef Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent fame, and then dinner, all made from recipes in the book. It was impossible to get within hearing distance of this very popular chef, so we had to make do with queueing up for the dinner which was served alongside.  The chefs special touch was discernible…

Cooking from First FoodIt was a vegetarian spread, as is the cookbook, and the food was mind blowing good! There was so much flavour, so much inspiration there that day. The bajre ki khichdi, the gahat ki dal, ker sangri ka paneer, til ke aloo, chaulai ka saag, drumstick leaves curry all delicious. There were  accompaniments galore too. Savoury pancakes, stuffed parathas, chutneys, raita … plenty of flavour and plenty of old world charm. You’ll find all the recipes in the book!

Cooking from First Food I came home rather inspired. Early the next morning, I bought fresh amaranth greens or chaulai ka saag {also lal saag as it’s commonly referred to here} as it’s in season. Stirred up some chaulai ka saag, some chaulai ka raita, aloo chaulai ki sabzi and karonde ka khatta meetha achaar; most recipes from the book, others just inspired. Made mixed grain puris on the side {makki ka aata, chakki ka aata and besan}. Oh so satisfying and all wiped clean!

Cooking from First Food Here’s a quick recipe of Amaranth greens /  Chaulai ka saag from the book.  The books a great buy for recipes ideas and inspiration, a good feel narrative that takes you back to your roots. From herbs, flowers, leaves, fermented foods to summer coolers, it  packs a pretty punch! I also like that the listed ingredients are short & sweet.

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Also find me on The Rabid Baker, The Times of India

Cooking | Ishrat Aunties Chicken Korma … simple finger licking good curry

Proust had his madeleines, I am devastated by the smell of onions frying in butter!

Chicken korma 2Chicken Korma … simple, flavourful and just the kind of thing I’ve missed sharing here for a bit. It’s been some time since I blogged a curry on PAB. Feels like a wonderful new beginning. My sis in Houston shared the recipe with me a few years ago. It comes from an old family friend’s repertoire. Everyone who digs into it requests her for the recipe, as my sis did too. We’ve shared it,  swapped it, minimally adapted it to suit our palette.

Chicken korma Like all cooking, use this as a springboard. Make it just as is and enjoy it. Then play around and customise it if you like. Kormas are gently spiced and slightly rich. With roots in the Mughlai cuisine, this meat based curry dish often has yogurt, maybe a seed and nut paste, and a few gentle spices. Oh yes some red chili too.

Fried Onions for Korma The yogurt is traditionally slow cooked so that it doesn’t curdle. It acts as a tenderiser as well as contributing to a nice thick slightly piquant gravy. The colour of the curry comes from the fried red onions … the star of the show IMHO. They lift this korma to new delicious levels, giving it a rich colour and moorish flavour.

Chicken kormaAnother tip that the aunt uses is to sift the coriander powder instead of just throwing it in. Maybe it lightens the powder for better distribution or something. I also like that the recipe uses staple pantry ingredients. Try this very simple traditional Chicken Korma, mopping it up with some yeasted whole wheat rotis/flatbread or over basmati rice. If parathas are your calling, go right ahead!

Mutton KormaYou could also try a similar korma with lamb. The cooking time will wary of course but the basic recipe will be quite the same. For lamb, you could consider marinating the mutton in yogurt paste for a few hours, then cooking on dum/simmer until done. Kormas like these are integral parts on Lucknowi cuisine, the city of my mothers birth. Kebabs, curries, kormas, biryanis all form part of their rich Awadhi cuisine.

LucknowThis particular one is as simple as it gets. It’s one I make often. Today I made a Chicken Ishtoo, Al-Jawahar style {an eatery in Old Delhi} from a recipe on Sangeeta’s blog. That turned out finger licking good too. So many curries, so little time, but will share that one day soon!

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Also find me on The Rabid Baker, The Times of India

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