Masaharu Morimoto is probably the best-known Japanese chief in India, even among those who have never eaten his food. Morimoto owes his fame to two pioneering restaurants, both called Wasabi by Morimoto. The original opened at the Mumbai Taj, and a second (better) restaurant followed at the Taj Mansingh in Delhi.
When the first Wasabi opened, Morimoto had only a stint as Japan’s Iron Chef (a TV show that most Indians have not heard of) and one restaurant in Philadelphia to his name, but the Taj put its faith in him. Apparently, Raymond Bickson who then ran the Taj’s luxury hotels wanted to open a branch of Nobu but negotiations failed. Bickson knew that Morimoto had been Executive Chef of the first New York Nobu, before striking out on his own. So, he asked him to open a Nobu-style restaurant in Mumbai.
The first Wasabi was very clearly derived from Nobu, but its success spurred Morimoto to develop his own voice. He opened a large and successful place in New York and then took his empire global; there are now 17 Morimoto restaurants around the world and at least another four in the planning stages.
I ate at the New York Morimoto shortly after it opened and was struck by how different it was from Nobu. For instance, the Toro Tartare (toro is fatty tuna belly) was not the small bowl that Nobu served (and the Mumbai Wasabi still serves) but an elaborate, colourful mosaic of tuna, cream, sauces, caviar and other ingredients.
The Delhi Wasabi menu includes many of Morimoto’s newer dishes. But I suspect that most people who go to both Wasabis want sushi rolls, black cod in miso and whitefish carpaccio and don’t really care what else is on the menu.
The definition of modern Japanese cuisine is so broad that it allows Morimoto and chefs like him to do virtually anything they like
Many years ago, I was eating at the Mumbai Wasabi when Morimoto was in the hotel and he very kindly offered to cook for us himself. We ate omakase (a Japanese term that translates very roughly as “I am leaving it up to the chef”) and the food was outstanding.
Last fortnight, Morimoto was in Delhi and offered once again to do an omakase meal for us. This was a treat because a) celebrity chefs don’t actually do much cooking themselves but here, Morimoto cooked the food in front of us and b) because it allowed me to see how far his food had travelled from the Nobu-era dishes that the Mumbai Wasabi still serves.
Much of the food was sensational and while some