Nestled in South-East Delhi’s posh locality, at The Manor Hotel in Friends Colony West, Atelier House Hospitality debuts in India with the restaurant INJA. A seamless integration of Japan and India is not only visible on the plate but also in the interiors. Inja is the brand’s debut restaurant in India, and the experience is unique. The menu boasts of a variety of options from Alaskan Crab Raj Kachori to Shisu leaf Tuna, Pomelo Chaat and Gobi 65 Maki. INJA opened doors to the public on March 17, and we highly recommend making a reservation in advance!
The interiors of the space has been designed by internationally acclaimed designer, Samar Zakhem. Zakhem designed the space using natural elements, especially stone and wood, to evoke feelings of comfort and relaxation while also staying true to the luxurious persona of the brand. The restaurant is divided into five sections – three dining spaces, a bar and a private room. Characterised by an earthy colour palette and minimalistic interiors, the space instantly immerses you into the culture of India and Japan. A standout feature is a bar made using the same grey stone sourced from Japan as the reception area. The adjacent wall is in a beige tone with carved niches decorated with abstract Indian handicrafts. Adding an authentic Japanese touch to the space is the wallpaper in the private dining room that depicts a village from Japan, while the cutlery and crockery are carefully sourced from homegrown brands using local artisanal crafts. Shibuya artists have been flown down to create artworks that are displayed on the walls, and a special cabinet with Japanese liquor graces the bar.
“Cuisine is an art form that can transcend cultural boundaries, and at INJA, we aim to do just that by bringing together the bold and vibrant flavours of India and the delicate and nuanced techniques of Japan,” said Panchali Mahendra, President of Atelier House Hospitality.
Taking the same ethos to the plate and the palate, INJA ties together the essence of two cultures and gives diners the opportunity to embark on a culinary journey bridging the flavours of India and Japan together.
INJA was the brainchild of Chef Adwait Anantwar while living in Dubai, and bringing a Dubai-based chef to India meant a revelation in the food scene. Anantwar had been mesmerized and captivated by Japanese cuisine during his culinary development and wanted to explore bringing together the flavours and techniques of his home country with the nuances of Japanese cuisine. He imagined boldly amalgamating and creating a beautiful marriage between the complexities of robust Indian ingredients and the delicate nature of Japanese techniques.
With an intriguing menu, the masterfully created and plated dishes are a congruent combination of bold flavours, spices and vivid colours of Indian cuisine with the subtlety, raw essence, and precise techniques of Japanese cuisine. Traditional Delhi street food dishes like Raj Kachori, Palak Chaat, Gajjar Ka Halwa, Rasam and Papad are reinvented with a Japanese flair. The menu presents an iteration of the Raj Kachori in the form of Alaskan Crab Raj Kachori, where yoghurt is replaced with avocado espuma, the stuffing of aloo and chana is replaced with Alaskan king crab, ito togarashi and ikura, and mango and furikake chutney add some sweetness to the dish. Retaining the Indian touch, the outer shell is kept the same. The dish is a delight with its aesthetic and upon breaking the shell one gets a view of the vibrancy of colours incorporated within. Similarly, the Shisu leaf, Tuna and Pomelo Chaat are a take on palak chaat. The dish is presented with shisu leaf tempura placed on black rice and the tuna & pomelo chaat with tamarind ponzu and jhakiya seeds is plated separately. On biting into it you get a burst of flavours, the crispness from the leaf, the creaminess from the tuna and pomelo flavours bringing the two cuisines, that of Japan and India together. Another dish infused with flavour ( and something I’ve never tried before) was the Lobster Rasam Chawanmushi. The dish featured a silky-smooth savoury egg custard and butter-poached lobster tail tossed in rasam masala and drumstick marrow.
India meets Japan
Traditional Japanese dishes like sushi get an Indian touch, for instance, the Gobi 65 maki uses cauliflower tempura, 65 mayo and crispy curry leaf tanuki. Japan’s traditional Teriyaki sauce also features on the menu namely, Kushiy Aki. For this dish, chicken wings are glazed with the chef’s house-made tamarind and jaggery teriyaki and smoked Kashmiri chilli adding the punch of spice. Finally, a dish that stood out for me was the Udon Khasi Curry. Unconventional in appearance and flavour, the dish was presented in the form of an abstract mountain of noodles coloured red, green, orange, yellow and black. The udon noodles were tossed in a khasi black sesame curry and topped off with crispy zucchini and carrot. It was crunchy, not too spicy and enriched with subtle yet striking flavours. To finish off, I indulged in the Nikuman Halwa, a spin on the winter staple black gajar halwa. The fusion dish featured Japanese steamed buns stuffed with black gajar halwa.
Cocktails and mocktails
But what’s a fine dining experience with the side of tipples Mixologist, Kumar Mangalam, has crafted cocktails that offer unique intriguing drinks like the Inja Secret Tea, that can be paired with individual dishes on the menu. Kumar has done a divine job blending unique Japanese ingredients like Umeshu with Indian lemons like gondhoraj peel. A favourite for me was the Ume Highball with Umeshu, fresh homemade soda with gondhoraj sacaram and Indian pomelo. Served with a Japanese rice cracker, which serves as a palate cleanser, it is supposed to be eaten before the drink. Another cocktail for those who like a spicy hit is Lychee Gondhoraaj Martini a delicious blend of lychee and mangosteen juice with Japanese chili and gondhoraj peel and leaf mixed with vodka. It is served with dehydrated cranberries for those who find the spiciness too much.
The verdict? INJA is pushing the culinary boundaries offering unusual flavour pairings while introducing the country to a new culture. Ahead we spoke to Panchali Mahendra, President at Atelier House Hospitality.
What is the inspiration and ethos behind INJA? How was INJA born?
INJA is potentially the world’s first restaurant to seamlessly merge Indian and Japanese cuisines. These two culinary styles have their own unique features, and the concept of blending them piqued our interest when our Chef Partner, Adwait Anantwar, proposed a tandoor omakase concept he wanted to develop. The idea progressed through comprehensive research and experimentation, leading to the discovery of a thrilling harmony of flavors that enhanced one another rather than dominating. This captivated us, and thus, INJA came into existence.
What was the biggest challenge while putting together a new brand in a city like Delhi and why did you debut in the national capital?
I believe the F&B industry in India is swiftly evolving. The country’s local produce is incredibly rich and valuable, but sourcing international ingredients used to be a major challenge. However, with improved accessibility, this issue is no longer prevalent. Another challenge has been locating the right talent. While India is known for its large workforce, finding skilled professionals took more time than anticipated. Nonetheless, we now have an exceptional team in place, and we are confident that INJA will make a significant impact in the industry. When developing the concept, we hadn’t yet determined a city or specific location. Our India partner, Manav Thadani, recommended considering an available space at the Manor. We soon discovered that it was the former location of Indian Accent. Upon visiting the site, we found that it aligned perfectly with the concept, as its subtle and welcoming ambience complemented the cuisine’s core principles. After conducting further research on the restaurant’s positioning, we confirmed that it met all our requirements.
A unique concept of marrying Indian and Japanese food, it’s unlike anything we’ve come across in the array of fusion food, what are your plans for the future, do you plan to expand within India?
Japanese food is very delicate in nature with clean and subtle flavor profiles and a high emphasis on techniques. In Indian cuisine, there is a strong influence of diverse ingredients, giving it a very complex flavor profile. To get Combining Japanese and Indian cuisines is a challenging endeavour, as Japanese food is characterized by its delicate nature, clean and subtle flavors, and a strong emphasis on technique. Conversely, Indian cuisine boasts a diverse range of ingredients, resulting in a complex flavor profile. Achieving a balance between these culinary styles has required extensive research and a strategic approach to ensure the perfect harmony of textures and flavors that enhance one another rather than overpower or dominate.
Interestingly, we discovered several similarities between the two cuisines. For instance, Japanese Yakitori resembles Indian tandoor, Takoyaki is akin to paniyaram, and Gyozas share similarities with northeastern momos. We have made a conscious effort to avoid turning the fusion into a gimmicky concept, focusing instead on delivering a genuinely remarkable dining experience.
INJA represents our debut venture in India as Atelier House Hospitality. We perceive it to be a destination dining experience, and as of now, we are not considering the expansion of this brand. Besides owning restaurants, Atelier House Hospitality also provide advisory, consulting, and operational services. The Indian market presents a substantial and expanding opportunity for the restaurant business. While extending our services to India was always part of our plan, we believed that launching with a unique concept like INJA, owned and operated by Atelier House Hospitality, would create a more powerful impression, demonstrating our commitment and confidence in our ideas. We certainly plan to introduce additional concepts in India and extend our advisory services to the industry.
The process to open a new restaurant in a country can be tiresome. How do you plan to carve your niche with a slew of new restaurants opening across the country?
With more than two decades of experience, I have been involved in over 70 restaurant openings. Although it can be exhausting, we have a deep understanding of the process, and a strong team to support it, which makes it easier.The concept of INJA is distinctive and is further enhanced by an outstanding service team, ensuring a memorable dining experience for our guests. The market has a substantial appetite, providing ample opportunity for exceptional restaurants to coexist and thrive. I firmly believe in supporting and promoting emerging talents, as it contributes to a healthier industry overall.
The interiors reflect a coming together of Indian and Japanese cultures beautifully. From the Shibori framework and wallpaper in the dining hall to artefacts sourced from Japan and the middle east with a special focus on Indian handicrafts with crockery and cutlery. How was the executed?
Our goal was to design a dining space that complements the unique concept of INJA. The carefully curated design by acclaimed international designer, Samar Zakhem, considers both local and international influences, featuring artefacts and curios that reflect a harmonious blend of colors and a sense of exploration. We invested considerable time and resources into researching the fusion of the two cultures.
The interior design incorporates Japanese elements such as neutral clean wooden surfaces, natural stone, wood colors, wallpaper, lamp lighting, and bonsai, which serve as a canvas for simplicity and minimalism. We then added pops of color, Mughal trinkets, peacock-colored fabric, and lime wash materials to symbolize Indian culture. The result is a subtly vibrant space with a comfortable flow and an organic feeling of perfect balance.
INJA’s design engages our guests, encouraging them to explore every intriguing corner of the restaurant. Notable features include the Itajime Shibori framework in 100% Indian Silk, the private room door and interior, the copper-toned ceiling, malt cabinets, and floating artefact shelves. The overall design showcases a seamless and captivating integration of Indian and Japanese cultures.
An eye-catching feature was the bar and the use of a special stone. Tell us about this. How it was sourced and created.
Our goal was to incorporate a natural element that would complement the overall design tone, so we chose to include a stone effect. The faux stone counter for the bar and reception was created from scratch by a local artist. My passion for art and design led me to take a hands-on approach, and I personally painted the grooves on the counter to add a striking emphasis to its appearance.
To keep the flavours authentic, ingredients are sourced from Japan, what are some of your favourite dishes from the menu and why.
Yes, we source ingredients straight from Japan twice a week. Some of my favourite dishes are the Lobster Rasam Chawanmushi, Papad & Achaar ‘Okinamasu’ and the Seabass Donabe Pot.
The UME Highball drink that focuses on whiskey liquor is a delight to the palate, how did you execute the entire process of sourcing such fine ingredients?
The objective was to craft a beverage that was both easy to drink and infused with an Indian touch. Indian pomelo expertly balances the drink with its sweet citrus notes, enhancing the sweetness of the Umeshu. We developed a house soda inspired by Banta, found on the streets of Delhi, using fresh pomelo, and maintaining a simplified approach. This resulted in a refreshing and soulful cocktail
Is Atelier House Hospitality’s India debut going to be the same as the one in Dubai or will there be tweaks?
Atelier House Hospitality was founded in Dubai with the aim of owning, operating, and providing advisory services to the restaurant industry in the region. The company has now expanded operations to India by opening INJA. Soon, we will also offer advisory services in India through a dedicated entity and a satellite office in Delhi.
From Dubai to the States, and India, you have worked across the globe, how has each experience been different?
Each region indeed has distinct challenges and benefits when it comes to the restaurant industry. In India, the remarkable diversity of cultures, landscapes, trends, and preferences adds complexity to the process of establishing and managing a successful restaurant. Sourcing specific ingredients and finding skilled personnel with the right expertise can pose considerable challenges. However, having a deep understanding of the Indian market is crucial in addressing these issues more effectively.
Chef Adwait Anatwar, head chef at INJA also shares some insight about his creations.
It was a delight to savour dishes that not only looked like Indian street food-inspired dishes but could also link the tastes back to Indian origin. How did you think of such a unique concept?
The idea of INJA started brewing during the lockdown and due to the hunger of wanting to do something completely out of the blue in the culinary field. I have always been inclined towards Japanese culture and food and professionally I have only worked with Indian cuisine, so it came almost naturally to me to bring these two cuisines together. (The food is not Indian street food inspired). The food at INJA is all about keeping intact, the simplicity and minimalistic approach of Japanese food but at the same time presenting robust Indian flavors without one dominating the other.
Each dish at INJA tells a story. What was your thought process when curating the menu?
The first time I thought of a dish which gave me the confidence to believe that these two cuisines could be brought together was when I was having rasam while watching a documentary on Japanese food. That moment just sparked something in me. The food at INJA may look Japanese but the flavors are familiar to the Indian palate.
The beauty of the food is not just visual, it’s an experience that combines flavour, crunch, creaminess and culture. How do you ensure the freshness of the carefully sourced ingredient?
We make sure we only use fresh ingredients. We source a lot of local seafood which is brought from West Bengal, Vizag and the Andamans and we also use seasonal ingredients. The Japanese ingredients are found at a local source that imports the produce from Japan.
The dishes are an artistic masterpiece and almost too pretty to eat, how did you conceptualise the plating of each dish?
Whenever we create dishes for them to look pretty it is very important that you visualize them. A few aspects that are very important are the height, the placement, the focal point, colors, the different elements and the kind of plates you use even. In India, we are blessed with very artistic potters who are doing some amazing work and we have custom-made our plates to make sure we stand out. It always starts with a rough sketch and then the rest depends on how you visualize it in your brain. It is an artistic process which is kind of difficult for me to put into words.
Tell us about your journey in the culinary world. When did all begin for you?
It all began at a very early age when I dint even realize that cooking could be turned into a profession. Growing up I have always seen my mum cooking and treating the guests with the best hospitality possible. If I have to explain it in a simpler way it is very similar to how kids at a young age pick up some kind of musical instrument or start singing just by observing their parents. But in terms of my professional journey, I started working in a very small restaurant/café in Nagpur, something my father was very against, while I was pursuing my bachelor’s in computer application. This was just to test the waters, after which I decided on a switch and enrolled myself in culinary arts at the Culinary Academy of India, Hyderabad. After passing out there, I got an opportunity to move to Dubai and work as Chef. Sujan. While it was a very short stint it left a high impact on me. After working under Chef Sujan I was presented with the opportunity to work with Chef Himanshu. After working for 3.5 years with him I understood that there are no shortcuts to success. It’s only and only hard work that perseveres and Chef Himanshu is a living example of exactly that. Grinding in the kitchen for 13-14 hours, he set an example for everyone. During my time with him at Trèsind, I got to learn the most important aspect of developing a creative perspective towards food. After almost 4 years at Trèsind, I had an opportunity to work with Atelier House Hospitality for an upscale Indian restaurant called MOHALLA. It was the first restaurant AHH started in the middle east hence the association with AHH is very special to me. We later expanded to Saudi Arabia with 7 outlets planned over the coming years. It’s been a long road, from being a head chef to being a Chef-Partner at INJA and it feels very special.
Timings: 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM – Dinner | 7:00 PM to 1:00 AM – Bar | Closed on Tuesdays
Address: The Manor Hotel, 77, Mathura Rd, Friends Colony West, New Friends Colony, New Delhi, Delhi, 110065, India