When Indian Accent, London, announced its closure a couple of weeks ago because it could not afford the loss of clientele as a result of the social distancing norms being enforced in restaurants globally, I mourned its loss.
News of the Spice Lab Tokyo, reopening a few days ago, reassured the growing fan club of this creative interpretation of the Indian dining experience, practised in varying degrees by leading Indian chefs across the world, from KN Vinod in Washington DC, and Vineet Bhatia in London to Gaggan Anand in Bangkok and Manish Mehrotra in New Delhi and New York, would not be the next victim of the Covid-19 pandemic. When the 15,000-yen-per-head restaurant reopened, I got talking to Ravitej Nath, who has spent three years, together with his protégé Tejas Sovani, translating the vision of the its creators — Sunandan Kapur, vice-chairman of the automotive components conglomerate, Krishna Group, and his wife Priya.
Spice Lab Tokyo (Photo: Facebook)
Opening an Indian fine-dining restaurant, its prices pegged at Michelin-star levels, that too in Ginza, which is among the most expensive swathes of real estate in the world, is a brave decision to take. For the Kapurs, it was a leap of faith. Their brief to Ravitej was that they wanted their Japanese friends to start seeing Indian food in a different light.
The only Indian-inspired dish of note in Japan, invented by the revolutionary, Rash Behari Bose, is the Chicken (Katsu) ‘Indo Karii’ served with rice and pickled vegetables at Nakamuraya restaurant in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. Nepalese nationals are the custodians of Indian food in Japan and the average bill at the establishments they run add up to not more than a tenth of what the 14-course menus at the Spice Lab start at. To the Japanese, obsessed with the integrity of ingredients and plating of food, Indian cuisine is a procession of chilli-hot curries spiked with spices. Changing this mindset and getting Japanese patronage were two challenges, but Spice Lab succeeded on the second front.
It has done so with its minimalist interiors, visually winsome presentations, and intelligent melding of Indian flavours with Japanese spices. The Japanese don’t easily warm up to the marriage of their spices with foreign flavours, but the Spice Lab team did not ruffle feathers with its damame and blue cheese kulcha, or tomato crab rasam and curry leaf poached lobster with udon noodles, or its kombu-wrapped wagyu sirloin — kombu being edible sea algae that sushi are wrapped in, which also go into making kombu dashi — served with soramame, or boiled broad beans, and black pepper sauce. Spice Lab marks the beginning of a new generation of Indian cuisine.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)