Look for the red paper lantern on Perry Cross Road. It's an aka-chōchin, and on the streets of Japan it's an advertisement calling to people hungry for food. The red lantern indicates that an izakaya, or tavern, is inside the building.
The marker holds true on this quiet Bandra lane as much as it does on the streets of Gion in Kyoto's geisha district, or Omoide Yokocho alley in Tokyo. Much like the minuscule izakaya of these places, Izumi is tiny, but full of beautiful things and conversation starters. Above its 15 seats are dangling lamps that look like floating, shimmering soap bubbles. Hovering over the sushi bar is a suspended shelving system with delicate potted plants, a Japanese doll, a filigreed dark fan, and more functionally, flatware. Cushions on wooden benches and onsen-style seats have black and white kogin embroidery or floral patterns in indigo katazome.
The menu, a tight selection of ramen, sushi, sashimi, salad, kozara or small plates, dessert, and beverages, is as much a point of discussion. Unlike most Japanese restaurants in Mumbai that have us flipping through a Sukh Sagar-style list of Japanese food, this is true to the izakaya format – bite-sized food to share, portions calibrated so we can sample a variety of dishes, and larger carb-heavy bowls based in noodles or rice. There is little bit of something for every kind of appetite.
At Izumi, the ramen is right up front, and with good reason.
At Izumi, the ramen is right up front, and with good reason. Earlier this year, owner Nooresha Kably (who also runs Sushi Koi) studied at Yokohoma's International Ramen School and cooked for paying customers at its affiliated ramen shop. Her vegetarian miso tantanmein, a milky broth, is as lush as the shoyu chintaan is lucid – both are profoundly savoury, and textural through their various toppings of spinach, nori, bamboo shoots, garlic fries, ribbons of kikurage (black fungus), and more.
Pork tonkotsu is a traditional ten-hour bone broth, but it feels lighter than it should. Even so, what makes it fun is half a marinated boiled egg with a custardy, jellied yolk, and a slice of marbled, velvety pork charshu that you'll immediately want (and can get) extra of. If we could choose the firmness of our in-house noodles (offered by many ramen shops around the world) we'd be thrilled.
Our sushi does thrill us. An urumaki of large panko-coated tempura prawns is blanketed in seared yuzu mayo and drizzled with tobiko; don't look at the soy and wasabi, this roll doesn't need anything else. The “half salmon / half tuna” seared sashimi is nothing like it sounds. We expect individual pieces of each fish, but in fact they're both snuggled up and sheathed in nori, glistening, delicate, and delicious. The panko-fried veg is none of the above, not quite tempura, and our only regret of the meal.
We're loosening our belts now, but we can't stop eating. Nooresha comes by and says that if we are even thinking about the hamachi truffle ponzu with wasabi jelly we should try it. We have been, and we do. It takes the small in small plates seriously, but it's enormous on flavour, bite, acidity and texture, and it clears our palates for dessert. Izumi has a Japanese riff on Israeli malabi – layered with green tea and jewel-like parmentiers of peaches. It's light and lovely.
A few days later, we chat with Nooresha, and she tells us about how she asks customers who don't find chopsticks easy to use their fingers to eat sushi. Indeed, nigiri was traditionally designed to be eaten this way, to truly appreciate its temperature and texture. In a few days, she says, she'll hand out oshibori, hot wet sanitising towels given before meals at izakayas.
We're rubbing our hands already.
Getting there: Shop 4, Ground Floor, Sunbeam Apartments, Perry Cross Road, Carter Road, Bandra West; Call 98212 18003; Open all day from noon to 10.30pm.
bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals.
Roshni Bajaj Sanghvi, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in NYC, lives in Mumbai and writes mostly about food and travel for many a publication. She’s a contributing editor at Vogue magazine, and her words have also been found in Conde Nast Traveller, Mint Lounge, Scroll.in, The Hindu, Saveur, The Guardian, and Travel + Leisure, among others. She's crazy about obscure ingredients, and she always knows where to go back for seconds. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @roshnibajaj.
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