From Delhi to Mumbai, Guppy by ai seems to be spreading its easy charm all over, especially with its wonderful new summer menu
By: Arundhati De
Posted on: June 18, 2015
LF Says: ★★★★
When you first hear the words “Guppy by Ai” – does it make you think of a sound of exasperation uttered with dramatic disdain in Marathi?
Well, peculiar as that maybe, that is certainly how I made sense of the funny name of this trendy, kitschy Japanese restaurant when I had visited its brand new outpost in a tucked-away courtyard corner of Delhi’s Lodhi Colony market in late 2013. In contrast to the quiet nature of its location, the little restaurant was abuzz with activity – it was Karaoke night and a large group of tipsy expats were crooning away, bringing the roof down! I was with a girlfriend who was keen for me to try this new place that served excellent sushi. At the time, the only alternative was Wasabi by Morimoto at the Taj.
Nearly two years later, I continue to lightly smirk every time I hear “Guppy by ai” even now, after having visited its Mumbai location on several occasions.
With a couple of waves of the magic wand, held firmly in the hands of A.D Singh, Founder and Managing Director of the Olive Hospitality group - the rustic, white-washed, pebbled, Grecian feel of Olive Bar& Kitchen has been effortlessly transformed into its current colourful and graphical avatar as Guppy by ai. The familiarity of its former self remains intact with the strong smell of horses in the adjoining stables of the Amateurs Riding Club and the old layout, which remains unchanged.
Having visited the Mumbai Guppy on a few occasions before, mostly for a weekend evening of drinks and light eats – I was excited to visit once again – with the intention of really digging in and moving beyond a skinny meal of sushi and sashimi.
The urge to visit Japan has been particularly strong over the past few months and this feeling has grown stronger to fulfill my wish of seeing the famed Cherry Blossom (Sakura) trees in all their glory during spring. "Hanami" is the centuries-old practice of picnicking under a blooming Sakura or Ume tree. The custom was originally limited to the elite of the Imperial Court, but soon spread into the samurai society and, later to the common people as well. Under the Sakura trees, people had lunch and drank sake in cheerful feasts.
Keeping up with the wonderful Japanese Hanami tradition, the Executive Chef of Guppy – Vikram Khatri went on to design and launch the new summer menu in April 2015. I was glad to have caught up with him in Mumbai, as he went on to educate me on the nuances of the flavours infused in the new menu and share the definitive list of what to eat that evening.
We were a large group and there were a fair number of dietary restrictions to be balanced in the ordering. A factor that I find has become strikingly prevalent today – with restaurateurs paying attention to diet and health in their food choices. Case in point within our group of seven: we had one gluten-free, one vegetarian, one severely seafood allergic and another who ate everything but poultry - so really a lot of details to consider before placing the order, and giving the server a tough time to help us in making suggestions.
I love eating modern Japanese food and on first glance, the menu looked exciting, so I was really looking forward to begin the meal. The Sakura Wood-Smoked Pumpkin soup came as a starter, and as tasty as it was – it was not very “summery” since it was a very hot evening. The rest of the food too, came quite quickly and in no particular ceremony, much to the relief of the hungry lot. The refreshing Seaweed and Mesclun Salad was terrific with a lot of zingy flavour, and enjoyed by the veggie and non-veggie eaters alike. The Salmon Tartare soon followed and was devoured almost entirely by me. I enjoyed it for the temperature and the combined flavours of fresh avocado and cucumber slivers, in a japo-mayo dressing. The pink salmon available in india is commonly available only in its frozen form. High-end restaurants allegedly import special fish and meat on a daily basis to maintain the standard of their ingredients; but truth be told, you can never know this for sure, unless you work with the FDA!
The winners of the appetiser section were definitely the gluten-free Mushroom gyoza that we ordered twice on popular demand. These were fragrant and fabulous. I liked that when I put my fork into it, I felt agentle “poof” come off it. And coming in for a close second was the Uramaki Sushi, uniquely prepared with organic black rice. Sushi rolls are pretty inconsistent in Japanese restaurants in India – either the rice used is not of the authentic quality or the art of rolling it perfectly is too tough for our desi chefs to master. Save a few five-star restaurants that serve the real stuff, it is tough to find consistently good sushi in the city. But we were all quite impressed by the Veggie California Roll and the spicy Tuna roll, prepared with organic black rice. We girls saw ourselves coming back for a Skinny-Sushi-Champagne night out!
In between lots of chitter-chatter, bubbly and general bonhomie – it was time for the main course. Since the group was eating in a “what comes first is eaten first” fashion, the lines between the courses were quite blurred. (Or maybe it was the Zampa Soirée Brut…)
The bland and the sweet
The Baked market fish was a preparation that Chef Khatri seemed quite proud of. He explained to me how he had gone on to use a particular parchment paper and mimic an authentic Japanese cooking technique to preserve a certain quality to the fish. But in terms of taste, the outcome was that of a bland dish; neither did the pickles and sauce accompanying it do anything to revoke that dryness. Until they revise the preparation, it can be avoided and it would be advisable to go with the Signature Black Cod instead. A dish that put Nobu on the international swish-set culinary map – the miso-glazed Black Cod is usually a reputable, contemporary Japanese restaurant’s signature dish and should never be anything short of excellent. I was happy to say that Guppy’s Cod was pretty darn good, especially when paired with their garlic fried rice – indulgence!
Despite all the food, some of us had created space for dessert and we asked Chef to send us two desserts of his choice. What came were an eggless Warm Apple and prune pie and a Mango, liquorice with coconut sorbet. All seven of us, including those who had feigned shock when we were adding dessert, had our spoons ready in attention when the dishes were placed on the table. In terms of presentation, both were fair. The warm apple pie was nice as the pastry and crust were well-baked, but didn’t really suit as a fitting end to the Asian flavours of the food we had just had. The Mango-Coconut sorbet must be avoided – the consistency of the sorbet itself was wrong and felt like the ice had been doused in coconut oil. In hindsight, I should have stuck to the Chocolat Fondant that I ended my last meal at Guppy with. Sure it is a bit boring, but makes for a perfectly sweet ending.
As the dinner wrapped up and the happy troupe made its way from the dining area to the bar to carry on with the Friday night revelry, I drained the final contents of my flute while re-reading the menu. There were so many dishes that I was keen to come back to and sample (the Tiger Prawn pot sticker, the chilled green-tea noddles, the Chirashi seafood salad to name a few…) and I was already looking forward to bringing my family to discover this with me soon enough.
To me that is the simple and true test of a dining experience – will I come back again? Will I tell others to visit it too? And my answers to both are a yes.
Incidentally, while writing this article, my curiousty led me to discover the story behind the name Guppy – AD Singh wanted to move away from the intimidating nature of Japanese cuisine by making the restaurant warm and welcoming for more people. And to my opinion, in that case , he has done well. Guppy by ai offers sensibly-priced Japanese food in a cool location. This is truly a place for the yuppies – adults who want the food to be as good as the service and ambience of the place where they can meet for international quality food in a cosmopolitan setting.
Until I get to Kyoto, I remain a Guppy Yuppy
LF Says: ★★★★
Coordinates:The Guppy Pop-Up at Olive Mahalaxmi, Mahalaxmi Race Course, Amateur Riders Club, Mumbai, India
Ph: +91 22 4055 9595 / 96
With an insatiable appetite for life, Mumbai born and bred Arundhati De completed her higher studies in Mumbai,and went to Paris to study MBA at ESSEC. Parallel to her MBA, Arundhati was selected for the prestigious Chaire LVMH programme and specialized in Luxury Brand Management.Having grown up in an eclectic and aesthetically evolved environment, Arundhati has inculcated a lot of artistic and fine values. Arundhati has always been very interested in jewelry, travel, lifestyle, food, cinema, and current affairs, which amplified during her time in Paris. Currently she is Director of Sales at Nirav Modi, a luxury jewelry brand, and is involved in a myriad of its strategic and brand-building activities. With a firm grip on the luxury retail climate in India, her previous trysts include being the brand manager for New York based jeweler A. Jaffe, working at Cartier Middle-East headquarters in Dubai, and interning at the Louis Vuitton International headquarters. A self-confessed magazine junkie and travel bug, Arundhati ventured into journalism in 2011 and has covered globally famous events such as Cannes Film Festival. For her personal blog, she hopes to continue travelling and discovering individuals and companies that are innovative and responsible for enhancing the world we live in.