You’ll notice that there’s a review tab up there and not many reviews to speak of. Well, there’s a reason for that. Truth be told, I’m a little ambivalent on the subject of reviews. To start with, as someone who cooks herself, I know that each dish is an individual entity. And every time you cook it, you arrive at a new creation that’s reflective of that moment, mood, situation, weather and a host of other variables. I know I know, restaurants are supposed to be all about consistency. And yet, the people who cook are human too, right? On the other hand, my friends will tell you that I can be a pain in the ass with how critical I can be about food. It’s just that precisely because I love cooking and eating, I tend to be more demanding in my expectations and harsher in my reactions to what I consider sloppy or dishonest cooking when promised otherwise.
Meanwhile, there’s the entire bit about free lunches. I’m not one for them (though I was teased mercilessly for my free Shaadi ka khana fixation in childhood) and the last thing I would trade them for, is an opinion about food that isn’t honest. I am much too opinionated for that. And yet, when most PR agencies roll out the red carpet, treat you with much love it’s difficult to come back and criticize. I know that one shouldn’t feel apologetic about doing one’s job, but it’s definitely tougher to bitch about something you’ve eaten for free. And that’s why I rarely accept PR invites. However, I’ve decided that when something looks interesting enough, I should go. Mainly so I can write about things that others deserve to know. Especially if it brings to the fore unusual world food. And that brings me to this lovely find. The Guppy Pop Up at Olive.
It’s been a while since I have been intrigued by all that’s been going around about the food at the Guppy Pop Up at Olive (Mahalakshmi racecourse). As an incurable Japanophile who is perpetually starved of options for Japanese food in Mumbai, Guppy’s been on my list of restaurants to visit. So when Gauri (who handles PR for them) wrote in to ask if I would like to out their Spring Summer 2015 menu, I replied that I wanted to visit but only if it meant I could write a review that was honest to my experience – meaning including the bad and the good. I was pleasantly surprised to receive an appreciative note for my candidness and all set for a trip down the delicious memory lane that was our last visit to japan.
The Guppy Pop at Olive. The Food.
The restaurant was surprisingly empty for a weekend, but I wasn’t cribbing. A brief chat with our host and then we cut to the chase. The very first dish to arrive was the Sakura Wood Smoked Pumpkin Soup served with crisp pumpkin seeds and sanso dust. I’m not a fan of soups and most often, I feel that they waste precious stomach space. But I have to tell you, this dish was my absolute favourite that day. A rare treat for vegans in the allergy unfriendly zone that is Mumbai’s restaurant scene, it was beautifully creamy (without any milk, cream or butter) and yet light enough for summer. Complementing the sweet creamy nuttiness of the pumpkin was the lovely smokiness of the Sakura wood, reminiscent of all the best parts of eating bacon. Definitely one of the best soups I have ever had. I cannot recommend it enough and I am pretty sure I will be going back for more.
This one is probably one of the most talked about dishes from Guppy and was a huge hit with Atul. Their Signature slow braised pork belly, served on a stick, glazed with soy honey, and drizzled with mustard miso sauce. The kebab like morsels were a rich mix of crisp skin and melting luscious belly fat. On the other hand, the meat part was just a tad chewy for me and I couldn’t really taste miso. Delicious though it was, for me the flavour was more akin to modern American BBQ than Japanese. I on the other hand, was hoping for something closer to the Yakitori style skewers that accompany an Izakaya experience. Yep, this is me nitpicking.
We also had the Exotic Mushroom Gyoza as well as the Prawn Gyozas versions and I absolutely loved the prawn version though I found the Mushroom ones somewhat underwhelming. The perfectly sized prawn dumplings were stuffed with a well seasoned, the flavourful mix of Prawns and cabbage, pan fried till they were wonderfully succulent and served with chilli ponzu soy sauce on the side. They were cooked in the typical Japanese style – soft on one side and crisp on another and the accompanying sauce worked well to complement the delicious juicy dumplings.
For me, the salads at Guppy were sadly the weakest links in the experience. Both the slow cooked tender beetroot and plump avocado tartar with a citrus dressing and the seaweed and mesclun salad sounded much better on paper than on the plate. The mesclun salad was overdressed and, as a result, limp and acidic when it arrived at the table. The beet salad, on the other hand, was bland and flavourless.
For the mains, we started with the Futomaki Sushi Roll. Large sushi rolls, generously filled with fresh salmon, tuna, tamago and crab. The roll was beautifully constructed, sturdy enough to eat easily. Unlike most rolls I’ve eaten, each ingredient held its own and yet contributed to the lovely melange of flavours and textures from nutty to fresh, juicy to crunchy. We also had the Cold Smoked Kampachi (yellowtail) Sashimi which was sadly dissapointing in both texture and flavour given its dramatic, beautiful presentation of a smoke filled stone pot that was opened to released a cloud of curling fagrant smoke. Each component tasted great on its own but did not really come together well.
Ah, the Hiyashi Chukka. A wonderfully refreshing dish of Chilled ramen noodle topped with prawn, crab stick, fresh cucumber, wakame seaweed, served with sesame flavoured vinegar, soy broth, perfect for the summer. The best part of the dish was definitely the sweet fragrant layer of fresh Alphonso mangoes that perfectly complemented with the complex, tangy broth that lightly coated the perfectly cooked noodles. Genius!
(There was an interesting comment on Instagram questioning the veracity of the claim regarding any actual crab in the crab stick and have to admit I don’t know enough to comment. All I can say is that it tasted yummy)
Chicken Katsu curry rice. Panko fried succulent chicken, served with Japanese curry and steam rice. While I loved the perfectly cooked chicken, both Atul and I found this dish to be a tad disappointingly bland and unidimentional. Fair disclosure though – I’ve never been a fan of the Japanese interpretations of curry.
The desserts, while not particularly Japanese, were both stellar. The Warm Apple and Prune Pie (served with a raspberry coulis) had an incredibly buttery crumbly crust that was grgeous by itself – the mark of a seriously good pastry maker. The hidden layer of scattered mixed nuts under the crust lent a fantastic nutty crunch to the filling of apple cooked such that it still had just a bit of cinnamony chew in it. Even better when contrasted with the creamy coconut sorbet that accompanied it.
I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from this Fresh mango with five pepper sansho dust and coconut sorbet but it was oh so unexpectedly delicious. The coconut sorbet was ridiculously good – brilliantly light and refreshing and far more creamy than one expects from a sorbet.
Cost for 2: 3500
The Ambience: It maybe a matter of personal taste but I feel that the ambience at the restaurant does not do justice to the experience that the food offers. The space feels light, chipper and happy – reminiscent of the end of Japanese pop culture that features anime, hello kitty and cutesy drawings. The food on the other hand, is pegged as fine dining and strives to evolve beyond the every day to the space of modern, mature Japanese fare. Atul didn’t seem to mind it though and I have to admit that being able to peep out the windows at the horses munching straw in the adjoining stable has a charm that totally won me over.
The Verdict: At Rs3500 for 2 this is definitely not your everyday fare but sparks of brilliance in the food and the fantastic Japanese beer, Asahi, will certainly have us going back for another lazy Sunday afternoon whiled away over good food, far from the madding crowd. That they have a lot of dairy-free dishes on the menu was a definite plus and a welcome change. I do wish that the menu displayed a bit more of the depth and simple yet complex character of traditional Japanese cooking but then I am unfairly comparing this to the life-changing food we had in Kyoto and I do tend to have a preference for the traditional. But it’s not easy to replicate food from another country in a different climate/geography/social context and this here is a bold attempt at reinterpreting Japanese food with a modern international take. Definitely a welcome addition to Mumbai’s food scene that is starting to open up to the unfamiliar but boundary challenging space of world cuisine. If you love Japanese food or want to experience the fantastic and unique range of flavours it has to offer this is definitely a place to start that journey. The service was very warm and friendly without being overly so, but then we were there at an invite.
Why I will go back:
- Sakura Wood Smoked Pumpkin Soup (v) (250)
- Prawn Gyoza 600
- Futomaki Sushi Roll 1200
- Signature Pork Belly 950
- Hiyashi Chukka Ramen Noodles 850
- Coconut Sorbet 350
- Warm apple and prune pie 400
What I wouldn’t order next time:
- Chicken Katsu Curry Rice 950
- Cold Smoke Kampachi Sashimi 1400
- Seaweed and Mesclun Salad (v) 450
- Beetroot and plump avocado tartar (v) 550
- Exotic Mushroom Gyoza 450
Love Japanese food?
- Read my post on experiencing the soul changing world of Japan
- Share your favourite ways to experience Japan even while far away