Everywhere it seems. And Shizusan has it all mapped out for you. Your meal in this fun, new Asian eatery at Pune’s Phoenix Market City, that is. Right from the storybooklike menu (cleverly hand-drawn and very carefully put together) to the vibe, it’s an experience that gives you some seriously heavy-duty chow with a delightful lightness of being.
And upbeat as Shizusan is, there’s something very Zen-like about the entire experience. It even starts with the fortuitous coincidence of me being in the right city at the right time to visit for a sneak preview before it’s officially open! Its location right across from Sephora and opening out onto the Liberty Square seems orchestrated by the universe too. But of course it’s smart positioning by Romil Ratra, who heads Bellona Hospitality (the food and beverage arm of Phoenix Mills Ltd), and is the guy who has conceptualised and executed this restaurant as well as many more along with his friend and comrade-in-arms Chef Paul Kinny.
The décor is cheery, with elements from the various Asian countries it draws its menu from, and the feel very welcoming. I sample an assortment of dimsum inspired by a Beijing street market. The steamed vegetarian crystal dumplings would certainly be the pride of any Chinese vendor – with the most gossamer-like translucent covering bursting with crunchy vegetables. Getting the balance of keeping the integrity of ingredients intact and steaming a dumpling just right is one of the ways I gauge if an Asian restaurant is on the money. Judging by that yardstick, Shizusan certainly comes up tops.
The lovingly made Lattice Chicken Gyoza is also an example of this. Steamed on one side, pan fried on the other, the Japanese delicacy is flavoured with cilantro and comes with a delicate lattice of dosa-like batter fried to a crisp on the griddle. Interesting, to say the least.
Many avant garde Asian restaurants are doing truffle oil dimsum these days, blending Oriental and French flavours quite brilliantly. Shizusan goes a step further, adding Japanese edamame to the mix. This gives a lovely pop of freshness to it, which I like a lot.
Romil is especially proud of the Vietnamese Watermelon Salad, Shizusan’s take on the popular watermelon and feta. He and Chef Paul have gone to great lengths to get the texture and taste exactly the way it has turned out. The freshness of feta, cilantro and mint, the zing of radish, the roasty rasp of almonds and the clinginess of the garlic and soy dressing that doesn’t just pool under the chunky salad but coats it wonderfully. This one is going to be in demand daily… we can tell.
The menu is extensive and has a number of really innovative dishes. The Fish ‘N’ Chips Maki Roll puts skinny fries into a typical maki. In combination with the unique tartare sauce, it’s a fun, fusion dish that kids will love. On my next visit, I’m keen to try the Quinoa Maki roll as well as the Avocado Salad which combines spicy mayo, crunchy tempura flakes and togarashi. People who love a Hot and Sour Soup will be intrigued by the albino version here. And then there’s the Pink Salmon Tartare that I spoon up greedily. It’s jazzed up by the addition of jalapeno, bits of peach offering a hint of sweet and citrus while pine nuts and lotus root chips give the crunch.
That and the baos and the bowls of steaming hot goodness and some great Asian desserts… There are quite a few things that beckon me to pay another call on Shizusan. And soon!
Restaurants in the know these days are all about the story. Everyone and their uncle is doing ‘different’ food. But if they back up a really good meal with a memorable experience, then you’re probably going to visit the restaurant again and again, just to tap into that tale.
That’s where the all-new Shizusan in Pune scores over many of the other Asian casual dining places around. Their #WhoisShizu social media campaign and @ShizusanSays handles have already whetted the imagination of their target clientele – eager yuppies, bearded hipsters and bored expats alike. Who IS Shizusan though?
On opening night, the visibly chuffed Ratra tells me the whole story over the delicate dimsum and innovative maki rolls. Shizusan is young and enthusiastic, with a lot of friends all over the world. He has been poring over maps from when he was a child (earning him the epithet of ‘Shizu’ which means ‘map’ in Japanese) and prides himself on his travel cred. He believes that you haven’t really travelled if you haven’t eaten the local cuisine. He loves food and is happy to go the distance just to try something new and special.
Much like Ratra himself, I point out. The answering smile is as enigmatic and mischievous as I imagine Shizusan’s would be.
(Images courtesy Shizusan)