OKO- Pan Asian, The Lalit New Delhi
A fine dining restaurant, especially the ones located in a five star hotel, come with the promise of good interiors, trained chefs, polite staff and extras of more spacious seating, ambient music. When tripping up to The Lalit New Delhi for a lunch at their newly opened pan Asian restaurant OKO, I got served a few more pleasant surprises. The unexpected has the power to blow you away, and we were too.
It is actually quite breathtaking. The planners of OKO have made the most of the high perch on the 28th floor, replacing brick walls with glass windows. It is the highest in all Delhi, beating its closest competition, the revolving restaurant Parikrama, located on 24th floor. Not only that, OKO’s wide windows all around give a nearly 360° view of central Delhi’s skyline. It is blissful to sit by a window soaking in the sun, getting a bird’s eye view, and try to guess which building is that one over there. Pick another view at the South window, or move on westward, to the section demarcated for a large private dining area, where the window stretches all along. Usually, in other restaurants, this is a cramped corner boxed in by wooden doors to keep the noise in. The layout of OKO, which occupies the entire 28th floor, has the live kitchen and service area in the center, and the seating plan all around offering different options according to the mood and company. It doesn’t stop there. The large glass windows framing the Delhi’s skyline are also fitted in the washrooms, include a table with a bright red Anthurium in a vase and a cozy chair to sit out the dinner chatter for a bit. Yes, ditto with the men’s washroom I am told.
The cheery, large red Chesterfield sofa with a very high back is a signature seating zone at all the OKO restaurants at The Lalit in other cities like Chandigarh, Bangalore.It is here too, with special lighting above, immediately stepping up the party mode.
Oko is perhaps the first in India to incorporate a conscious policy to involve the weaker segments of society. The service staff here is all-women and transgender persons. The all-inclusive agenda also takes into account the differently abled as well. On select nights, Kitty Su’s star performer DJ Amish, one of differently abled artists, will perform here.
The Authentic + The Experimental
As a pan Asian destination, OKO serves authentic cuisines from Japan, China, Thailand, Korea, and Vietnam. Naturally, the menu offerings are extensive and exhaustive. And with the kitchens being manned by such as Executive Chef Tamang and Sous Chef Suriya Phusirimong khonchai from Thailand, there is no scope for error or doubt. The three live kitchens for Sushi, Teppanyaki, Robata, add more. I interacted with Sous Chef Shekhar Kiroula, who specialises in Japanese cuisine. In the course of his career, he was the head Chef at Benihana of Tokyo in USA. He informed me that all sushi is with fresh fish, such as the Yellow Tail specially imported from Japan, salmon, Scottish tuna, sardine, mackerel, eel. The Lalit already has a policy of ‘We serve what we grow’ across all its hotels. The vegetables are mostly sourced from the Suri farms on the outskirts of Delhi. Freshness is the key ingredient for the delicate flavors of Pan Asian cuisines. The talented Chefs have also experimented with fusion Japanese cuisine, more palatable to the Indian taste buds.
Vegetarian in Japan
I had no idea that Japanese cuisine had such happy versions for the Vegetarians too. And some are just the innovations of the Chef’s at OKO. In the Nigiri Sushi for the vegetarians, the raw fish is replace with asparagus, shitake and all kinds of vegetables. The spicy Tofu patty is a version of the Katsu that is traditionally made of fish or meat, and is served with authentic Katsu sauce. The Chef favors the classic tofu paste Shira-ae in veg recipes, salads. I got to know that Shira-ae was an innovation of the sophisticated vegetarian Zen Buddhist cuisine ‘Shojin Ryouri’, from the 13th Century. Also on the menu is the succulent vegan sushi, the Inari Sushi or Inarizushi. This is a stuffed sushi, made using Aburaage to wrap the Inari Zushi. Aburaage is deep fried tofu skin.
The Pairings + the Must-Haves
The very talented Donnadieu Charles, the Lalit’s Corporate Sommelier has created some very interesting pairings. The one at OKO, ‘Sushiri’,‘Flight Delhi Hiroshima’ is an absolute must. Here he has paired five varieties of Sushi with90 ml of white wines and sparkling wine, and 30 ml sake for the ‘Short Flight’ and double the quantities for the ‘Long Flight’. A minimalist presentation, the Sushi platter offers five varieties each, for the veg and non-veg versions. The vegetarian platters’ Red Velvet sushi is paired with AOC Bordeaux chateau Lamo the from France. The Kagi Agi roll is with a 2016 Marlborough New Zealand white, Durvillea Sauvignon Blanc. With the Yassai Futomaki, he served the sparkling wine from Sula vineyards to clean the palate before launching into the stronger flavors of sushi that are now paired with Japanese Sake, which is a fuller flavor.The Rainbow roll is served with Kiku-Masamune Sake ‘Junmai Dai-Ginjo’ and the fifth sushi Crunchy booster roll is served with ENTER.SAKE BLACK DOT ‘Honjozo’.
For the Baluchi restaurants at Lalit in Delhi, London etc, Charles has paired Naans, and served as ‘Naanery’.
The Pomello salad was fresh. Healthy and fat free and not too spicy cuisines – make a meal of the assorted salads. Recommend the Robata starters, veg and non-veg. Let me know what you thought of the Cream Edamame Soup. Need to make several trips to the restaurant over the months to try every dish on the menu for every cuisine. Get started with Japanese first.
It is helpful that the staff that waits at the table is well informed about what is being served. Upasana was a mine of information, and knew all about the ingredients used, the history, the process of each dish. The OKO happily carries forth the memory of its earlier avatars – Silk Orchid and Blue Elephant, and the ‘five nobles’ of the Noble House are sitting in special alcoves around the restaurant, along with other memorabilia, adding to the character of the venue. Huge as OKO is, do make reservations.