Sushi by Saito

California Roll with Tabasco (my experiment)
California Roll with Tabasco (my experiment)

Sushi has taken it’s best shot at our palates in this city. It arrived in plush lounges, it’s many monikers printed with reverence on thick, handcrafted paper, it’s name taken in hushed tones by industry and dropped a little too casually by social butterflies. Commanding prices that rarely fell below four figures a platter, Sushi & Sashimi were the golden twins that ruled this city. Time is the great equalizer that affects rich and poor alike, though some rich do have the privilege of looking grotesquely taut, towards the end, culminating in a look quite similar to Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory. The twins too, no longer found themselves to be the subject of animated conversations accompanied by glasses of golden bubbly; their names began appearing on regular menus of restaurants in localities they hadn’t heard of before, when finally, the inevitable happened.

They became a buffet item.

Tuna, Salmon, Sardine and Shiitake Nigiri
Tuna, Salmon, Sardine and Shiitake Nigiri

Which is where I found Chef Saito’s handiwork at The One, Le Meridien the day before yesterday. A Japanese Chef with a decade and a half of pro cooking behind him, Chef Saito’s professional association with sushi spans seven years. An experimenter by nature, with a mischievous grin that pops up every now and then,  I had the privilege of eating sushi, rolled by Chef for our table. The One includes his sushi as a part of the regular buffet (lunch and dinner) while Nero serves it a la carte.

Fresh sushi really is a delight, though I do confess, a hit of masala is needed to complete my meal. Snow white rice, cooked and prepped so every grain is individually visible and shiny, hand pressed into ovals with a neat slice of fresh fish embracing it – and there’s your perfect piece of Nigiri. A little wasabi, a touch of soya, pop it in and experience what’s possibly the only food of it’s kind where raw fish tastes like ambrosia with perhaps the exception of Ceviche, which to be fair, is citrus cooked.

The Culinary Warrior
Chef Anchal Badoni, The Culinary Warrior

Talking of wasabi, I was presumptuous at The One and was soundly punished for it. Standing at the sushi counter, I saw a young Chef, handkerchief wrapped around his face, eyes clenched shut, writhing in what appeared to be throes of agony, and at the same time, mixing up a huge bowl of wasabi. He was obviously overdoing it, I thought, and proceeded to let loose a guffaw, and perhaps a few more. The young man turned around, removed the handkerchief and the look on his face immediately reduced my levity. I requested him to let me sniff the stuff, and on being handed the bowl, proceeded to do so. A tiny whiff was all I took, which at first, did nothing but mildly warm my nostrils. A second later, bolts of white hot pain flashed through my nasal passages and tore it’s way through my brain, exiting off the top of my head. A few minutes later, after the most excruciating pain, I apologized to Chef Badoni, humbled and suitably chastised. Never again will I laugh without establishing just cause.

Chef Saito and his Assistant Chef Amit Sharma
Chefs, Saito and Amit Sharma

Chef Saito has little English, so our translator,  Vedangee Ambekar, was heaven sent. She did a wonderful job and made the language barrier virtually non-existent. I asked Vendangee to frame a question to Chef Saito, essentially asking him how he would react to a diner who splashed Tabasco on his Sushi. Based on my perceptions of the strict culinary etiquette followed by the Japanese, this was a query I felt sure would elicit a fiery response. Chef simply shrugged and said, ‘Okay’. ‘Okay’, was not an acceptable answer and I felt sure Chef was being polite. Grabbing a bottle of Tabasco, I liberally poured the stuff on to an exquisitely prepared California Roll (stuffed with avocado, gari and salmon, and topped with flying fish roe) and feeling Chef’s keen eyes on  me, quaffed the piece. It was not a nice experience. The far less than subtle flavors in the Tabasco overwhelmed the delicate nature of the sushi and made for a combination I would suggest you never, ever try. Watching my expressions change, Chef Saito proceeded to laugh his guts out. He later explained, he’d be happy to prepare Sushi any way his diners wish, as long as they enjoy the result. I forgot to ask, but did miss the presence of Sashimi on the menu.

The Sushi menu features selections of Nigiri, Maki and California rolls and is on till the 21st of April, I think you’ll find Chef Saito’s Sushi a welcome addition to the buffet at The One or an accompaniment at Nero.

Sid Khullar

Sid Khullar is the founder of Chef at Large, a blog that began in 2007. He enjoys cooking, writing, travelling and technology in addition to being a practising Freemason. Health and wellness is a particularly passionate focus. Sid prefers the company of food and animals to most humans, and can be reached at sid.khullar@chefatlarge.in.