Keep your appetite large but expectations low when you go to En, a Japanese eatery in Mehrauli, New Delhi
Tucked away charmingly in a neighbourhood that is home to the Qutab Minar, En has taken residency in a place of antiquity in Mehrauli. Walking up the flight of stairs, I imagined the place would take me to another epoch. However, well-meaning authenticity was replaced with practical sensibility in the design and interiors of En. It’s a line most restaurants walk in the hope that the food, alone, combined with a smattering of ingenuity, should make for a fine-dining experience. Sadly, standardising an experience often risks not going above an average median. And eating out should always remain an above-average experience—starting from the décor to the food.
As I skimmed through the very long and luxuriant menu, I remained hopeful that the litany of Japanese classics would deliver. D (my food partner and fellow experientialist) and I commenced our culinary experience at En with the vegetarian hor’s d’ouevre—an assortment of starters that included a small bed of asparagus cooked in cheese tofu, a spinach gomae with sesame seeds, Japanese potato and lotus stems. Sesame seeds are a staple in Japanese cuisine although gomashio (a dry condiment made from un-hulled sesame seeds and salt) is often used as a topping for sekhian (sticky rice steamed with adzuki beans) and sometimes spilled-over plain rice. A wasabi bloody mary gave the appetisers a pungent kick. Edamame sea salt which transliterates to steamed soybeans in the pod made for the perfect accompaniment to our demure and dignified canapé.
Dexterously moving on to fried food, the assorted tempura with lightly batter-fried prawns, squid and vegetables with tentsuyu sauce, while tepidly extravagant, was over before we started. The non-veg tempura could have easily leveraged its sea-food experience with more than one squid on the plate. While I enjoy fresh raw meat, I gravitate towards it when I am in a coastal region, for origin of produce is important to know before you have a taste. Chances of getting that experience in landlocked Delhi are slim and since I was told En sourced its seafood from INA market, we skipped the sashimi platter altogether. The Qutab vegetable tempura roll was beauteous to look at and ordinary in taste with the sticky rice falling apart in places. However, En’s reputation was saved by the uramaki aburi salmon special roll.
The buta-kakuni (pork belly braised for 28 hours) steamrolled any plans I had of watching calories. The unctuous pleasure of pork belly is in the way the fat and meat is distributed. If you end up with a glorious and tender morsel that opens the floodgates of flavours with each bite, the braising has worked. Our buta-kakuni was prolific in flavor, and, while delicate, was mysteriously tough in places. The chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) is a gelatinous pudding and only suitable for those who’ve tried it before. While I couldn’t reason with the ‘acquired taste’, I thought it hit all the right notes.
Having sufficiently nurtured our appetite, I anticipated the veritableness of the desserts. The restaurant has a rudimentary list with basic staples like cheese cake and chiffon cake, green tea ice cream and anmitsu (cold agar jelly cubes with fruits, green tea ice cream and red bean paste) the only Japanese desserts on the menu. While I would have liked more wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) my taste buds remained unexcited as I sampled a little of everything on the dessert list.
You can call it En (fate or chance in Japanese,) I’ll call it a well-meant cruise of a sumptuous Japanese fare which wasn’t really ill-fated, but didn’t make me fall in love with the place either. Far from the madding crowd, En makes you feel like a reclusive lover crowded by history, as you navigate your way around a taste of Japan. Keep your expectations modest and your appetite large.
Open from: 12 noon to 11:30 pm
Serves special Sunday Brunches
Location: H-5/1, New Ambawatta, Kalkadas Marg, Mehrauli, New Delhi: 110030