The new Japanese restaurant Raku Raku which means ‘ease’ is especially for those who want a quick sushi fix

The name’s a mystery. Which means it’s rather tough to make reservations on the phone. What do you say to the charming lady at the hotel reception? “Um, put me through to, um, like, you know, that new place.” Not really the slickest approach.

A friend insists the name’s ‘Japan Rising’. Which sounds faintly threatening, triggering images of a Samurai invasion. A colleague suggests Yakitori. But who would name their glamorous new restaurant after a skewer of barbequed chicken? (Apparently quite a few people, as it turns out. If Yelp is to be believed.) For some strange reason, I’m convinced it’s called Itsu. It isn’t.

The name’s just stuck in my head because of the drama surrounding a real-life spy poisoning in London about eight years ago. Itsu, a chain of Japanese restaurants, became internationally famous when Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB officer, was poisoned with radioactive element polonium, after he ate at the Itsu in Piccadilly, London. Litvinenko was reportedly a paid agent of the British MI6. Now there’s a scene straight out of a James Bond movie!

Our dinner is considerably less dramatic. We turn up at the Radisson Blu Hotel and are guided to Raku Raku, their new Japanese Restaurant. A ‘Japanese Word Of The Day’ website explains that Raku means ‘ease.’ It also tells me how to use it in a sentence. ‘Sorede zuibun raku ni natta,’ which means ‘I feel very relieved now.’ I’m dying to show off my Japanese. But that’s a tough sentence to work into everyday conversation.

The restaurant’s quiet, done up in restful neutral colours. Not quite minimalistic, but replete with clean lines. More sensible than luxurious. Like the décor, the menu is concise, but not lavish. This is a place for people who want a quick sushi fix. It doesn’t disappoint, as long as you’re not looking to be wowed. A practical choice, economically speaking, considering the fact that ‘special occasion dining’ happens so rarely, while quick dinners are an everyday affair.

Chef Yasuyuki Tsuruyama is friendly but business-like, a perfect match for his restaurant. He pops by to say hello, and then heads back into the kitchen. Our meal begins with Tuna carpaccio. The tuna is pink and juicy, like slices of watermelon. Topped by a tangy dressing, and framed with crunchy lettuce it’s an interesting starter. Small bowls of miso soup follow, warm, nourishing and afloat with silk tofu. Then comes the yakitori — a crowd pleaser, cloaked in the scent of the charcoal grill and glistening with a satisfyingly salty soya sauce. There are luscious Japanese style momos, shallow fried together in a pan till their base is brown and crusty. And vegetarian sushi! Pretty good, by the way, especially with their powerful wasabi. Raku Raku also offers the traditional yellow fin tuna maki rolls. (Rs. 750 for a mixed non-veg platter.) If raw fish makes you nervous, there’s good old prawn tempura.

We decide to be adventurous for the main course. Shabu shabu. It’s a hot pot, and the name reportedly originates from the sound ingredients make as they are stirred in the pot. Charming Rajan, our waiter for the evening, turns up at the table with a portable stove, a tray piled with vegetables and a plate loaded with bacon strips.

As he chats with us, he pours water in the pan, and once it begins to bubble puts in slices of bacon. The result is predictably unappetizing — to look at. White and wrinkled. However, when we follow his directions and dip it in a nutty sesame and olive oil sauce, it’s dangerously addictive. Meanwhile he adds more bacon to the pot, and then stirs in thinly sliced radish and carrots with a pile of fresh spinach and lettuce. Followed by meaty mushrooms. The resulting soup’s fairly bland, strictly for hot pot fans. But don’t kid yourself about this being healthy. There’s enough bacon fat in there to make candles.

Dessert’s from the coffee shop next door. I scan the menu quickly. Yes! They have cheesecake. This is my moment. “Sorede zuibun raku ni natta.”

Raku Raku is at Radisson Blu Hotel on Ethiraj Salai. A meal for two costs roughly Rs. 2000. Call 3040 4440 for details.

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