INJA sees Indian and Japanese dishes combine in singular ways for a unique – sometimes confusing – offering.
By: Suman Tarafdar
Posted on: May 9, 2023
LF Says: ★★★.5
Shiso Leaf Banarasi Chaat. Alaskan King Crab Raj Kachori. Kushiyaki. Gobi 65 Maki. If these names do not roll off the tongue easily, or seem incongruous, well, do not blame yourself. This is a journey into the hitherto unexplored. A fusion of Indian and Japanese … cuisines? Or food of the two nations?
Well, the newly opened INJA – yes, an amalgam of Indian and Japanese, if you haven’t guessed – in South Delhi’s tony New Friends Colony (yes, this was where the acclaimed Indian Accent once was a favourite haunt of many a Delhiite), fuses together in a unique blend that one can safely say has not been attempted before. So, is it a pioneering attempt that will lead to other such imitations? Time will tell, and perhaps sooner.
INJA is part of Dubai-based Atelier House Hospitality, and its debut restaurant in India. Panchali Mahendra, Managing Director, Dubai, Atelier House Hospitality, considers the restaurant a destination dining experience. Atelier House Hospitality, founded in 2017, also provides advisory, consulting, and operational services and whose restaurants in Dubai include Marea, Mohalla, The Host, Asma, Meshico and 11 Woodfire.
The 72-cover restaurant is divided into five sections – three dining spaces, a private room and a bar. Take a moment to appreciate the interiors, which impart a global feel. The designer, Samar Zakhem, has imparted a clean, distinctly Japanese feel to the interiors, merging popular Indian and Japanese design touchpoints for a unique look.
Japanese design influences dominate through clean wooden surfaces, natural stone, the natural wood colour, the fur Yunies design, the wallpaper, the lighting through lamps. There is sparse, but effective use of plants, large cacti, with button cacti representing a bonsai. India makes itself felt through Mughal trinkets and the peacock colour fabric and lime wash materials.
Each interior space is divided, with a distinct feel, including the cozy PDR and a bar that's effectively a standalone. Look out for the lovely Shibori panels interspersed with brass plates and the ceiling with copper tones - to match the peacock blue. The dimly lit interiors, intimate table settings and decor impart a global touch. The terracotta wall with pottery in each niche is nice, if a little unmatched with the rest of the decor. The PDR has a wall that depicts a village from Japan. Artists from Japan were brought to create artworks displayed on the walls.
All that I had seen till now made it quite apparent that there's a unique fusion on offer. The a la carte menu is not extensive, but just about every dish is something you are unlikely to have encountered before.
Chef-Partner Adwait Anantwar, part of Atelier House, helms this outlet. Having worked with chefs Sujan Sarkar (of Rooh and Olive Kitchen & Bar fame) and Himanshu Saini (of Tresind), he says he was very taken up with Japanese culture and food. “Professionally I have only worked with Indian cuisine, so it came almost naturally to me to bring these two cuisines together. The food at INJA is all about keeping intact, the simplicity and minimalistic approach of Japanese food but at the same time presenting robust Indian flavours without one dominating the other.”
The dish is presented in two parts – the shiso leaf tempura placed on jhakiya seeds while the tuna and pomelo chaat with tamarind ponzu is plated separately. The exuberant juiciness of the salad combined perfectly with the crispness of the tempura.
The menu is divided into various sections – Cold & Raw, Maki, Small Plates, Big Plates and Carbs.
We launched with Shiso Leaf Banarasi Chaat (think delicate palak patta – spinach – fritter) & Tuna pomelo salad (₹1490). Crispy juicy combo. The dish is presented in two parts – the shiso leaf tempura placed on jhakiya seeds while the tuna and pomelo chaat with tamarind ponzu is plated separately. The exuberant juiciness of the salad combined perfectly with the crispness of the tempura.
The Alaskan King Crab Raj Kachori.
The Alaskan King Crab Raj Kachori (₹4500, ₹975 for the vegetarian option) followed, where the stuffing included avocado espuma (foam), mango furikake (Japanese seasoning) chutney and ito togarashi (fine strands of dry chili). Yes, you had to break the outer kachori and then mix the rest of the ingredients. Another soft-crisp combo. Nice, if you mixed it right. The final taste, however, does not justify the exorbitant price. If it is the Alaskan King Crab that pushes up the prices, surely there are more similar options available that would not impact the flavour of the dish, while also being more local, and therefore sustainable.
Papad and achar okinamasu (₹975) with sea bass tartare and mango achar (pickle) was next, which felt like a forced fusion, with distinct flavours. It was followed by Gobi 65 Maki (₹635), creamy cauliflower tempura presented as sushi, along with mayo and crispy curry leaf tanuki.
Papad & Achaar Okinamasu.
Lobster rasam chawanmushi (₹3180) - egg custard, lobster tail in a cup followed. A silky-smooth savoury egg custard and butter-poached lobster tail was mixed with rasam masala and drumstick seeds. Edging on slimy, it again brought together flavours that seemed better on their own.
Kushiyaki (₹550) turned out to be koji chicken wings with tamarind and jaggery teriyaki. The wings were glazed with the chef’s inhouse tamarind and jaggery teriyaki and smoked Kashmiri chilli. Easy on the tongue, it is perhaps the most approachable dish for the regular diner. It is also available in vegetarian options, with eggplant, sesame and peanut chutney mizo glaze (₹490) or with stuffed morel, poblano pepper, black garlic malai marinade and pickled daikon (₹1825).
Udon Khasi Curry.
Udon Khasi curry (₹635) had noodles combined with Khasi black sesame curry. Presented as a mountain of noodles, along with crispy zucchini and carrot, it was easy to like with the sesame seeds adding an extra flavour layer.
The penultimate dish was Shorshe Maach Donabe Pot (₹1230), which had robatayaki seabass, mustard curry, potato crisps. Tangy. Other pot options are available – a Tempura ‘Rare Morel’ Lotus root yakhni (₹935) or chicken keema per Eedu, fried egg, edamame, aloo salli (₹935).
Boshi Smash cocktail.
The dessert – Nikuman Halwa (Japanese steamed buns stuffed with black gajar halwa) – was avoidable by common consensus!
There's a bar too, with similarly unusual cocktails presented by mixologist Kumar Mangalam. In keeping with the theme, these cocktails too were a blend of the Indian and Japanese, such as the Lychee Gondhoraj martini, Inja Secret Tea and Ume Highball with Umeshu.
Ume Highball with Umeshu.
While some of the combos are unique, quite a few would fit in the comfort category. One would say the base is Japanese food, with Indian elements added in. Does the food of the two nations – there are multiple cuisines in each – blend successfully? The answer is elusive and might be as unique as the menu.
Designed to be a fine dine destination, diners have the option of adding 4gm Imperial Oscletra caviar for ₹3,000 or 10 gm uni for ₹1,600!
LF Says: ★★★.5
Note: INJA is open only for dinner.