Dinner at Saizen

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food at Saizen which opened late last year in place of The Pier in Colaba. In fact, I’d happily rate as one of the better stand-alone Japanese restaurants in the city. Of course, there’d be little hope of success if it wasn’t – Mumbai’s finest Japanese restaurant, Wasabi by Morimoto at the Taj Mahal, is so close by, you’d could get there before you said, ‘Mercedes-Benz S Class’.

Saizen is the third restaurant to open in this property since it was opened as a commercial space. Originally, the entire complex owned by Shapoorji Pallonji was Rawal Tiles and Marbles.

The first restaurant to open in this quiet, sea-facing lane behind Radio Club was Athena Champagne and Cigar Lounge and Restaurant in 1999. Funded by the wine-maker Indage, with Moshe Shek as a partner, it was the second high-end, stand-alone, fine dining restaurant to be fronted by a chef-owner in the city (Rahul Akerkar’s Indigo had opened a few months before). It was also perhaps the first restaurant to open with an attached lounge-bar that had a member’s only section. Its opening reinforced Colaba’s position as the most important dining destination in Mumbai. In 2000, AD Singh opened Olive Kitchen and Bar in Union Park, the northern edge of Bandra, and the city had three stand-alone restaurants that were comparable with any five-star restaurant in terms of food, interiors and service.

Athena finally shut down in 2006, but the early success of the three restaurants marked a turning point in the city’s restaurant business. Five-stars were no more the only option for a fine-dining experience; it marked the ascendancy of the chef-proprietor and the rise of Bandra as a dining destination.

Athena was replaced by Tetsuma, a pan Asian fine dining restuarant which was run by Indage’s Vickrant Chougule and his partner Aditya Kilachand. The menu devised by food consultant James Biaka attempted to offer some of the dishes at Wasabi, but at a more modest price. They even did a pretty decent version of Nobu’s globally popular Black Cod Miso.

By the time Tetsuma shuttered in 2013 and was replaced by The Pier, a Mediterranean restaurant, I had lost interest in the space. So when Saizen opened in September 2014 I didn’t pay much attention.

As it turns out I should have because we had a very enjoyable meal when we went there. Biaka is back again as consultant and this time the food is definitely better than before. Well, at least the sushi.

Spinach Salad, Saizen, Colaba
Spinach Salad

We started with a spinach salad in a sesame dressing. Tightly packed in a cylindrical shape the spinach lacks the unpleasant soapy taste of boiled spinach. The dressing has an endearing sweet nuttiness but it is a bit mildly flavoured. The fried lotus stems add a crunchy touch.

The fish in all the traditional sushi was very fresh and of a very good quality; the rice had been cooked perfectly and was perfectly dressed and the nori was chewy but not tough. I didn’t feel the need to add any additional wasabi or soy. (Rs 650 for 2 pieces of hamachi and Rs 280 for shrimp nigiri; Rs 600 for the salmon maki)

Spider Roll Saizen, Colaba
Spider Roll

Our Spider Roll (Rs 950), a popular fusion sushi was quite a treat. The crispness of the tempura soft-shell crab, the crunch of the tonkatsu batter crumb coating, the sweetness of the crab meat melded together beautifully. For a change, the wasabi mayo was not overpoweringly pungent and added a refreshing touch of heat to the sushi.

Where Saizen faltered was in the main course. The Katsu Donburi (Rs 650) had a pork cutlet on a soggy egg fried rice. It seemed to have been tossed in the donburi sauce which should ideally be served separately. Beautifully presented, the chunky pieces of pork belly in the Kakuni Pork (Rs 700), though perfectly cooked, proved to be rather unwieldy and had way too much fat. The Nagasaki stew with an undertone of horseradish mustard was also unmanageably sweet. We braved our way through as much as we could, but left most uneaten.

We’d happily return to Saizen but we’d stick to the sushi and skip the main course. Saizen is not cheap – our bill came to Rs 6000 for two without alcohol.

1/42 Minoo Desai Marg
behind Radio Club
Tel: 65081100

Invited by PR company No
Guest of the chef/ restaurant No
Restaurant knew I’m a food writer No
Meal comped by the restaurant No


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