In Dharshan Munidasa’s yakitori garden, the sauce has been 18 years in the brewing. As the coals splutter, heating the grill, Dharshan tells us that jaggery, apple and honey go into the signature recipe and traditionally the pot is never allowed to empty – instead every cupful that is taken out is painstakingly replaced. Incidentally, the green and yellow fronds of bamboo rustling above us are also 18 years old. They were planted when Dharshan first opened Nihonbashi and are a marker of the restaurant’s age and success.
For Dharshan, his narrow little yakitori grill is a statement – his intent is to teach people to recognize and love yakitori. (Never call it a satay or a kebab in his hearing. He compares the hypothetical insult to an Indian chef’s naans being referred to as bread.) The word yakitori literarily translates into grilled fowl and the little ‘garden’ wing doesn’t shy away from serving authentic delicacies, some of which are parts of a chicken I have never put in my mouth before.
The Momo Niku, a luscious piece of grilled thigh meat, lightly charred at its edges, is an easy favourite. I conclude though that my first mouth of Bonjiri or tail is likely to be my last. The plump little triangles also dubbed ‘the bishops nose’ come in a pocket of skin and have a firmer nub at the centre. There’s Torikawa, the fatty, melt in your mouth skin on a skewer and Sunagimo or gizzard which has a taut almost bouncy texture. Tori-Reba or liver is soft and creamy in comparison while Nankotsu which goes crunch in your mouth, is a strip of grilled chicken still on the cartilage. Teba is the piece of wing, Hatsu is the heart cleaned and laid open on a skewer and the Tsukune or minced chicken balls are punctuated by pieces of onions. There are also salt grilled prawns still in their shells.
Guests are offered an option of having their yakitori with shio (salt and lemon juice) or tare (sauce) and Dharshan says he has seen Japanese customers spend a minute contemplating which they prefer. He recommends the chicken heart, the soft bone or the cartilage and the gizzard be taken with shio and the others with tare. To get his flavours right, Dharshan says he’s had to pay attention to the details – for instance they use the much denser form of white coal (which takes its name from its colour when heated) and never pour fuel onto the grill, instead placing the coals on a stove to get them burning.
While serving great street food with a sophisticated twist is Dharshan’s USP, his yakitori garden distinguishes itself in part on the decor. He torched many of the individual planks that make up pine wood walls himself, applying his sashimi torch to create a nice, charred pattern. Guests are served on granite countertops or polished cement tables. While Dharshan’s yakitori garden might be at the mercy of the weather, it’s also a peaceful little nook and a welcome addition to the city’s culinary offerings. Prices range from between Rs.180 to Rs.680 (for the river prawns) per skewer. To celebrate their opening, go between 6 – 8 p.m. to enjoy 50% off on your yakitori. Reservations are recommended. Call on 011-232-3847.
Published in the Sunday Times, Sri Lanka on 3 March, 2013. Words by Smriti Daniel. Pix by Indika Handuwala.