Authentic, not atmospheric ♦

It’s been 11 years since Sakura first opened in Delhi. Since then, the city’s self-proclaimed “first Japanese restaurant” has opened a branch in Gurgaon, won every food award in its category and, recently, revamped its original location and menu.

The new Sakura at the Metropolitan Hotel remains fundamentally the same after its migration to the first floor. The hotel has preserved its Japanese clientele and flavour even after ending its association with the Nikko chain, and Sakura is still a locus for conducting business over sake. The aesthetic is Japanese contemporary; clean-lined, like the inside of a bento box. The (florescent) spotlight is on freshness and flawless preparation – at a hefty price, of course.

The short sake list is expensive (from R400 a shot), so we stuck to icy Kingfisher, which washes down the food just fine. A complimentary appetiser of bacon, potato, carrot and vermicelli stew took the edge off the stomach-rumbling that the 14-page food menu inspires. Sakura’s offerings are too wide-ranging for an exhaustive tasting in one meal. It’s better to by choosy and come back for more. The take moriawase platter is good value for the quality of fish, most of which is flown in fresh from Japan. The platter includes seven of the usual chef’s selection suspects (six nigiri and a simple daikon roll), but each is perfect: buttery sea bass, a fantastically fatty slice of yellowtail, and prawn so fresh and succulent it snapped apart with each bite. We chose a luscious prawn tempura roll to supplement the platter. The menu sprawls with dozens of variations on a few themes, but the chefs are happy to customise anything to your taste.

For our main course, we picked pork steak with teppanyaki dipping sauce. It sizzled its way to our table on a hot plate: tender, biteable pink-inside squares of meat nestled with broccoli, potatoes and carrots daubed with butter. A bowl of miso was gorgeously gloopy with softened seaweed. And the una-jyo donburi (barbecue eel in a box) was as good as we remembered: two thick, meaty cuts of eel, grilled to perfection in sweet sauce, the skin slightly blackened at the edges, on a bed of sticky rice. Accompaniments include a selection of pickled items, including addictive pickled plum. Scoops of grassy green tea and rough-textured red bean ice cream chased the lingering soy flavours from our palates, along with a free mug of jasmine tea.

Sakura is pricey and not incredibly atmospheric, but the food is really as good, and authentic, as everyone says. We’d suggest going often, but picking just a few items – a soup, a couple of appetisers, or just sashimi and sushi – to sample at a time.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, February 2012.