The header’s a play on Kafka on The Shore by Murakami, an author whose books I seem to be the only person who is yet to read.
So after teasing us for days with the ‘opening shortly’ sign, Kofuku has finally opened in Bandra. Opposite Global Fusion, at the place where Frangipani apparently used to be.
As we chatted over mugs of coffee, standing by the cupcake section at Candies, Protima is the one who told me that Kofuku had opened. That she had gone there and was quite happy with the food. Mid priced even if not spectacular was her verdict. She said that the place was full of Japanese when she went, a good sign. She told me about the enthusiastic Tibetan manager She also told me that the service could get a bit scatty.
I went to Kofuku a few days after that with a couple of Bong friends and then again the next night a couple of other Bong friend. Starting with Tagore and Bose, we Bengalis have a soft spot for the Japanese after all and many Bongs consider Kurosawa to be an honorary Bong.
So how was Kofuku?
Well let’s set expectations right to start with.
Kofuku is not Japanese owned as far as I know and nor are it's chefs Japanese. It’s started by folks who import Japanese food products to India. The manager is extremely friendly and tries to seat you even when crowded but will throw up his hands, smile and say ‘I am very bad at that” if you ask him to recommend something. The produce, specially in the sushi or sashimi is not fresh and is thawed. Could put you off if you are discerning. It’s the French versus Indian wine sort of thing…you need to really know the former to make out that the two are not the same. The thing to see is whether they go completely off or wrong in such places. Didn’t seem like they had to me but then I last was in Japan when I was 5 yrs old and honestly don’t remember the food from then.
The service is rather chaotic right now. The menu cards are photocopies.
On both days we had to wait a bit for our orders. On the plus side we got our first dish reasonably quickly so were not famished. If one was to put a positive spin then this meant spending quality time with friends in Bandra restaurants on weekend nights without being rushed. That’s not that bad eh?
The feel of the place when you enter is ‘Tokyo Japanese’ as defined in my head by Bourdain and No Reservations. Low wooded seating. Crowded. Very crowded. Some floor seating too. Lot of folks with Oriental features, presumably Japanese, in work clothes, formals. They looked very happy and seemed like they were about having a good time. That’s a good sign. Unless you buy my wry conspiracy theory that they were extras who were hired to give the place a Japanese feel…but then folks who know me know they shouldn’t take me too seriously.
On day 1 I did the ‘stick to tandoori chicken and balti chicken in an Indian place’ that foreigners do by ordering only sushi. I didn’t know much of Japanese beyond sushi, sashimi, teppenyaki and Judo and didn’t feel equipped to order. The last two were not on the menu in any case.
We first started with a tuna sushi & sashimi platter (about 1000 Rs/ 20 USD) which served the three of us well. Plated attractively and tasted good too. Kaniska pointed out that the sashimi was thawed and ever since he said that, the texture seemed a bit tired to me. We were fairly happy with the sushi though.
Next on were the temakis which looked like bhel puri rolls. On night 1 we went for prawn tempura ones suggested Kaniska and on night 2, the tuna ones that I suggested. The temaki was a bit dry and I don’t know whether it’s meant to be that way. The prawn tempura ones were nicer as the tuna one was a bit lost in the scenery if you ask me.
We also tried a salmon roe sushi where I did find some of the roe go pop in my mouth.
On day 2 we started with sushi again. This time salmon…some wild fish, roes and avocado thingie. Slightly underwhelming than the ones in the platter the previous night. Our strat was to try a couple of different ones as they plates were priced at about Rs 3-400 (8 USD).
We then decided to move on to ‘hot dishes’ and spotted pork and ordered it. A bit fortuitously as it was the fish loving normally not a big red meat kinda girl amongst us, Ratoola, who pointed the pork out to the two of us pork lovers.
The dish is called Kakuni. Apparently a Nagasaki styled braised pork
When the dish arrived it was nowhere like what I thought it would look. Braised pork evoked visions of dryish small pieces of pork in my head…like a stir fry. The kakuni was 2 large pork belly cubes and a little piece in some stock.
The three of us took our first bites at the same time, waited for a few seconds and then broke into huge smiles…our eyebrows shot up and eyes twinkled with joy. There were expressions of pure salvation and epiphany on our faces.
“Superb’ we broke out in unison. ‘Beautifully’, as they say on Aussie food shows, cooked pork which was cooked to poetic submission…soft, cuddly meat with a cherubic dollop of fat… a big warm sloppy hug of meat.
There was more to it. I took a sip of the stock sauce…a bit sweet at first and then a tiny wallop of wasabi hit you deep down…’cut the meaty flavours of the pork, cleansed you palate and readied you for the next bite of meat.’
Yes, I’ve been watching a bit of Masterchef Australia of late :I I quite like All Stars too. It’s got that happy feel of an alumni meet with one’s fav professors. Yes, it doesn’t have the drama of the real thing but hey it’s just food after all. Bit like the IPL in between serious international cricket.
Anyway coming back to the Kakuni, all three of us were held in it its spell. We even went as far as to say that it’s arguably one of the best, best according to Soumik, pork dishes that we have had in Mumbai. I am quite fond of the double fried pork in the Pan Asian and the belly with bean curd in Ling’s but the Kakuni was quite unique and overwhelmed me, in a nice way, with the its unique flavour pairing of wasabi and sweetness with the incredibly tender meat.
The Kakuni shook up the place with folks at both the tables beside us asking us what the we had ordered and then ordered the same themselves. It was that sort of dish. All of Rs 400 for 8 dollars. The only time I had seen meat cooked so well in Mumbai was probably in a place in South Mumbai which I won’t name out of religious considerations.
We rounded off our ‘hot meal’ on day 2 with what seemed like a Japanese hot pot or nabe. We went for the seafood one. The was another four figure about Rs 1100 dish. Actually on both days our shares when we split the bill came to about Rs 1000 (20 USD). Though on day 2 I felt a bit hungry later at night.
The waiter got the pot on an immersion plate to our table, switched it on and told us to wait for 2 minutes as it cooked. The broth began to bubble and the three of us looked on with studied expressions wondering whether it was over cooked. After a couple of minutes we asked the waiter if it was cooked. We asked for spoons which he got us one by one and then smiled and said “In Japan they use only chopsticks.”
So that’s what I did. Chopstick to navigate the debris of prawns, squids, scallops, fish, cabbage, soft tofu and what have you and then slurped the soup from my bowl. The flavours very delicate with a bit of salt…a bit of sweet…possibly miso and with a very interesting alternating crunch, squish and bite of the solids. The entire pan was too much for the three of us but would have been perfect if there were 5 of us sharing the pot. The dish was alluring in its subtlety but after a while got boring. Specially when you were on your third bowl.
At the end of the meal couple of Bengali ladies from South Mumbai at the table beside us, whom we had co-opted as our photographers, asked us if we would come back again.
We unanimously said yes.
Then I pointed out that I already was on my second visit.
Nice time it’s kakuni with steamed, hopefully, sticky rice and I am not sharing.