I think there is an element of peace in being able to dine outside alone. It gives you the ability to focus on the food without the otherwise welcome distractions of a good conversation or a couple of laughs.
While Yuuka is a great place to bring people for a good Japanese inspired meal, my solitary visit confirmed that it is just as comforting to take yourself out on a date here and relish the culinary prowess of Chef Swapnil Doiphode and his competent team at this gem of a place.
Eating alone is a practice not followed in many South and South-East Asian countries, to the extent where many countries do not offer reservations for one person in restaurants. It has even led to the rise of “Mukbangs” in countries like South Korea, where people dining alone have the option of visiting streaming channels online that host eating shows by people, with options to comment on the livestream and start a conversation during the meal.
I honestly do believe there is a certain touch of tranquility associated with dining alone however and recommend everyone give it a try, especially if they have a good restaurant they want to put to the test.
Yuuka has been on my radar for quite a while, because of its fabulous menu and proximity to work. But I’m not usually surrounded by people who enjoy Japanese food as much as I do. Going here with people who aren’t keen to sample their fare and having to pay a hefty bill at the end of it seemed pointless, so I decided to go alone. Best decision I’ve made in a while.
Situated on the 37th Floor of the St. Regis, Yuuka exudes an opulent yet modern feel. Dark tables and comfy beige chairs are complemented by a host of black and gold accented cutlery- understated, yet elegant. The servers are quick and polite, offering a complimentary orange and lemongrass flavoured drink as I was seated along with their menu and a lunch special- a variety of bento boxes that you could go for instead.
To the unaware, bento boxes are set meals you find every where in Japan- from supermarkets to restaurants. Usually housing 4-5 dishes and a cup of steamed rice, they offer variety, albeit in small portions to satisfy the hunger pangs of thousands of employees who pick them up for lunch between work.
A classic bento would include donkatsu (pork cutlet), karaage (deep fried crispy chicken) or grilled fish with rice, and a few sides like tamago (Japanese rolled egg), a couple of nigiri, a fresh vegetable salad and a Japanese potato salad.
Yuuka’s lunch specials offer four different Bento boxes- two for vegetarians and two for non-vegetarians. I settled for Bento Box 1 and a bottle of Asahi (Japanese dry beer), the details of which are given below:
The side dishes included:
Sakura Salad: A simple avocado, bellpepper and lettuce salad with the famed Sakura style dressing. The vegetables are crisp, the avocado offers creaminess. But what stood out was the dressing- tangy, nutty and perfectly balanced. If only they had recipe books on sale too.
Nori and takuan- The salad (not dried) variety of sea weed and pickled radishes. The texture of the sea weed is not for everyone, but it refreshes the palate between bites with the delicate sea flavour its known for, The Takuan (daikon) was crunchy and slightly sweet, as expected. The sea weed could have done with a touch of seasoning however.
Steamed Rice: Warm and perfectly fluffy with a sprinking of black sesame seeds atop, they weren’t stingy with the portions and there was just enough rice to mop up the katsu gravy.
The main dishes in the bento were:
Enoki Mushroom Broth: Young, springy enoki mushrooms in a simple shiitake mushroom broth. The soup itself is mild, flavourful and steaming hot and the mushrooms were the perfect texture, encouraging me to shamelessly prod out every last bit from the bowl.
Chicken Katsu: I’m personally more a fan of its pork counterpart, but the Katsu delivered regardless. A Japanese rendition of a schnitzel, chicken breast fillets are beaten till thin and coated in a mixture of egg and panko breadcrumbs, then deep fried. The thin, crispy pieces were coated in a sweet and savoury onion based donkatsu sauce and a fried egg. The donkatsu sauce was noticeably more modern in its potrayal, when compared to the rich, sticky donkatsu sauce, usually bereft of vegetables. But the caramelised onions and finely julienned carrot were enjoyable and paired really well with the rice and the runny yolk from the egg added a distinct creaminess to the sauce when eaten. Delicious.
“Route 66” Maki: A Yuuka special, this roll contains salmon, crabstick and avocado topped with white sesame and tobiko. The roll was lovely, with the saltiness from the tiny beads of tobiko that burst in the mouth and the fattiness from the salmon and the avocado. The crabstick within was however a miss for me, tasting slightly more fishy and not fresh like the other ingredients on the palate.
Sashimi: I believe I was given a piece of their salmon and tuna to sample and this is without a shred of doubt the best part of my meal and the main reason I will want to visit the restaurant again. The tuna melts in the mouth and has a distinct sweetness, pairing exceptionally well with the fresh ground wasabi that packs a real punch in comparison to the horseradish counterparts in most sushi spots. And even thinking of the salmon renders me speechless. Fatty, with the right amount of chewiness, I was in food heaven. Though I prepped it with a little wasabi and some soy, I am certain that piece of fish was a beauty on its own and didn’t need anything to shine. Absolutely gorgeous and a guaranteed foodgasm for sashimi lovers.
All in all, one of the most calm and enjoyable lunches I’ve had the pleasure to indulge in and I hope to be back very soon, more than willing to shed a few more bucks for food that in every essence of the term nails contemporary Japanese cuisine in Mumbai.