There are some restaurants that attract patrons by trying to grab the limelight in different ways. And there are others who quietly go about their business, providing excellence and excitement but in a muted manner that's evident to those in the know but not bandied about by everyone and their social-climbing friends. Mumbai's Shiro has been around for almost a decade and is a success story by any standard.
For a guest, it ticks all the boxes even after all this time. The eyes still can't get enough of the beautiful and timeless interiors -- high ceilings, towering statues and a cascade of stunning red droplets here and there, subtly yet dramatically lit. The ears like the fact that there's such a variety of music played. The feet are happy, tapping or twirling to Latin, retro, house or commercial beats, depending on the day. But most often, it's the taste buds that are rejoicing when we visit each time, waiting to enjoy elements from Japanese, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese and Thai cuisine.
Right from the early days and those bounteous dim sum lunches with colleagues, to dance nights with friends where sushi provided the sustenance, to salsa or romantic dinner dates in the week when a tasting menu tantalised the senses, the food at Shiro has essayed an important role in our lives. So when we're called upon to come and experience some changes in the menu, we comply with a mixture of trepidation and curiosity.
We needn't have worried. Chef Vinayak, who is heading the kitchen that night, rewards the enthusiasm with a superbly executed menu. There's a host of skewers on offer, both vegetarian and non. We start off with some sensational teriyaki potato skewers that wear the sweetish tinge of yakitori sauce and the smokiness of the charcoal very gracefully. Similarly well matched is the honey and black bean on the prawn skewers that follow, also served on a handy table grill. We're certainly going to go back for more, as these, along with the velvety smooth Asian-style scallops in a chilli-bean sauce with enoki mushrooms, can totally transform your evening if you're a seafood lover!
We've always loved their sushi and are happy to see the innovative miso aubergine variant, redolent with sesame, for vegetarians. We also try the spicy prawn and avocado maki and are impressed by the unique pairing that does a little dance on the tongue... the daringly sexy sequence of the spicy prawn segueing into the warm and comfortable embrace of the creamy avocado and Boursin sauce.
Spicy prawn and avocado maki
What else is new on the menu? Vietnamese summer rolls, delicately wrapped in the thinnest of rice paper, with various yum fillings. Plump dumplings with some adventurous flavours -- spicy broccoli and water chestnut, three kinds of mushrooms and garlic oil, chicken and Sichuan peppercorn, crabmeat with ginger and lemongrass, and more. We relish the steamed crystal dumplings filled with shiitake mushroom, carrot, zucchini and Chinese cabbage. And love the chicken pearl dumplings, rolled in sticky rice and steamed, that demonstrate the perfect balance of five spice powder and oyster sauce.
There are so many new dishes to choose from for the mains that we actually take some time off to allow our senses to soak in the splendour of our surroundings, talk to Chef Vinayak and generally allow the appetisers to work their charm.
Then we feast our eyes (and palates) on the simply spectacular seared Chilean sea bass that's been simmered in a spicy-citrusy reduction and served with garlicky mashed sweet potato. It's an excellent juxtaposition of flavours that are so diverse that they complement each other very compellingly.
Chilean sea bass with chilli-lime reduction
That staple of every Japanese restaurant in the world after Nobu made it popular -- the miso black cod -- does its job, livened up even more by the bite of the raw papaya salad served with it.
Miso black cod
While we have no more room to sample the New Zealand lamb chops (apparently they're marinated in a miso orange reduction) or the seven-spiced pork belly, we make a mental note in our must-have list for the next time.
We decide to go veg for the next course, enjoying the flavourful and aromatic coconut-based massaman curry with mixed vegetables with rice and also some of those glass noodles they're famous for.
Massaman curry with mixed vegetables
The dessert selection is a revelation, with some really wonderful and new treats on offer. While everything we try is delicious and decadent, there are two that win hands-down. One is the chocolate and sour cherry dome, which encloses piquant cherries inside a curve of really rich chocolate. The other is the flourless mandarin chocolate velvet cake, which melds almond meal with hints of orange and chocolate mousse. Technically not strictly Asian desserts, but who's complaining when your meal ends on this note?
Mandarin chocolate velvet cake
What we gather after sampling all these dishes is simple. The chefs at Shiro have decided to up the ante and add some flourishes to the menu to keep it interesting. The good part is that it's done with sincerity, without resorting to drama for the sake of it. It's all in the little details... in the plating and presentation, the combination of flavour profiles, the contrasts in the temperatures of various ingredients. All of this helps to modernise the menu enough to make it intriguing yet familiar for insiders and a must-visit for those who haven't discovered this destination restaurant for almost a decade!
Address: Bombay Dyeing Mill Compound, Pandurang Budhkar Marg, Worli, Mumbai
Tel: 022 66511207.
Twitter and Instagram: @experienceshiro
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