The Japanese have a word for the beautiful clouds that rise up in miso soup when it’s stirred after being allowed to sit for a while: moya moya. Add gossamer ribbons of egg white, as Tatami does to its tamago miso, and it becomes even prettier — all the rich flavour compounds of fermented soybean paste swirling with texture from tofu and albumen.
Tatami replaces Kofuku in the grimy Kenilworth Mall, but you couldn’t tell if you didn’t look at the new nameplate outside. (Kofuku fans, fret not; it’s just moved across the street.) While the room looks pretty much the same — down to large groups of Japanese men having sake-soaked lunches — what has changed are the management and menu.
There’s a new sushi chef, from Chennai, a city known for its large Japanese expat population and many Japanese restaurants. Tatami’s owner, an energetic woman with a big smile, works the room enthusiastically.
Tamago miso is one of Tatami’s lovelier dishes: savoury, light, warming. Citrus salmon tataki its worthy cool contrast; delicately seared slices of pink are dressed minimally to let the fish’s flavour shine. What didn’t work in our meal, strangely enough, was the sushi. We tried the austere red snapper nigiri and the decidedly elaborate yellowtail uramaki with chilli, ponzu, cucumber, avocado and cilantro. The nigiri’s vinegared sticky rice was artfully composed, but the white fish was mushy and not chilled. With the uramaki, there was a little of everything, but not enough of anything. Perhaps we picked poorly.
Even if you skip past the sushi menu, Tatami has enough to keep you engaged for multiple visits. There is so much crunch in the okonomiyaki that a meal of the zesty sauce-glazed pancake wouldn’t feel monotonous, perhaps with a little help from shichimi togarashi (Japanese spice mix). A little bowl of teppanyaki fried rice, perfectly firm and flavourful, with nuggets of texture from diced onions and peppers, is fine enough to eat by itself.
We preferred the kakuni when this space was still Kofuku, but not for the way the meat was cooked — it still only needs a mere nudge with a chopstick to fall apart — but because the braising liquid could paint the pork belly more thickly. Rock corn tempura, originally simple izakaya (pub) grub, typically over-sauced by restaurants in India, gains a smidgeon of sophistication if it’s had alongside the stark, un-sweet, and uber-fresh Back to Base with sake, basil, lime and cucumber juice.
Tatami has that glorious dessert of ice-cream wrapped in mochi or glutinous rice flour, but best to book one as soon as you get in. We had to settle for a spiced chocolate cake that was both flourless and flavourless. None of the promised poached pears it was paired with showed up on our plate. The energetic owner overheard us missing the mochi and got us matcha ice cream to make up.
TATAMI – JAPANESE KITCHEN AND SAKE BAR
Where: Second Floor, Kenilworth Mall, 33rd Road, off Linking Road, Bandra (West)
When: Noon to 3.30 pm, 6.30 pm to midnight
Cost: Rs 3,000 for a meal for two with one drink each