During our stay at the JW Marriott Delhi, India, we were fed until we cried mercy by Chef Girish and his team at K3. We were pleased, therefore, to be invited to dine at Akira Back. We heard Japanese, and assumed a lighter meal would be offered. After all, I never feel stuffed when walking away from a dinner in Japan.
Having come off our trip in Emilia Romagna, Italy, where were wined and dined for four days straight, India was meant to be our detox. We figured, it’s not traditionally a big drinking culture, and we won’t be tempted by by high quality, cheap local wine.
That was, until we met Ankur Chawla, the food and beverage manager at the JW Delhi, and it’s Korean and Japanese fusion restaurant, Akira Back.
Why I Didn’t Want to Eat at Akira Back
We were hesitant walking into our Akira Back dinner. We had only been in India about five days, I was certainly not tired of Indian food. Don’t get me wrong, I love Japanese food, and am learning to love Korean food. But, I had come to India to eat Indian, not sushi.
Also, we were a little tired. I could have eaten a quick bite at the buffet and happily climbed into bed. Instead, the hotel suggested we meet their beverage manager during our meal.
This is one of the occupational hazards of being a food travel blogger. Sometimes we don’t get to experience a property like normal tourists or travelers, who often dine on their own schedule, and spend the evening with just the people they are traveling with.
Often, the hotel or restaurant wants us to meet their management team or other staff. We end up eating a lot of our meals with staff, or guides, or drivers. I’m usually up for meeting new people. And, any time Eric and I aren’t stuck talking with just each other, that’s a positive.
Sometimes, though, it can be an added drain to our energy level. In these situations, we feel like we need to be “on,” or to entertain our hosts or dinner companions.
This was just one of those nights. We were just plain tired. I would have been happy enough to eat with Eric, maybe send out some Tweets during our meal, and call it a night. To top things off it was a Saturday night, and I did not think the beverage manager would want to spend his Saturday night with a couple of food travel bloggers.
Dining, Not Alone, at Akira Back New Delhi
We arrived at Akira Back, and I was impressed with the contemporary design, and open kitchen. The Akira Back manager offered us a comfy table and a cocktail to start our meal. So much for not drinking, but one cocktail won’t set us too far off course. Besides, this cocktail had lemongrass and ginger, two of my favorite things.
Within the first few minutes Ankur joined the table. He helped walk us through the tasting menu offerings, and even suggested how we could split the two tasting menus to allow us to try the most dishes possible.
The dishes started to arrive, and the conversation moved on. Perhaps the first few minutes were a little awkward, as is normally the case when on a food blind date. That was, until we mentioned to Ankur that we had just been touring wine regions in Europe, starting with the Emporda wine region, and then the Douro Valley, Porto, and Emilia Romagna. He smiled, and suddenly seemed a lot more interested in spending his Saturday night meeting with us.
As we continued to swap wine stories, we learned about Ankur’s background. He is one of the few Indian trained sommeliers, and is passionate about wine. He shared stories of meeting Portuguese winemakers, proud of their blends, and about his collection of wine at home.
Ankur spoke of the struggles he faces because of the taxation of wines in India, sometimes making them a hard sell to tourists. I commiserated with some of the social media consulting I did for a Balinese wine company that faced similar struggles in a Muslim country.
Drinking Indian Wine at Akira Back
We also tried samples of local, Indian produced wines. First, my jaw dropped when I heard there was such a thing as Indian winemakers. I imagined something similar to the Hawaiian wines we tried over a decade ago – sweet white wines better made for mixing mimosas than easy drinking.
Ankur works with a local Indian winery, Fratelli Wines. The company was started by two Indian brothers, and two Italian brothers, hence the name fratelli, or brothers, in Italian. He’s developed a good relationship with the winemaker, who trusts Ankur’s palate. Fratelli sent over two sample wines to Ankur to taste, so he shared them with us to get our feedback. These wines were so new and unfinished that there were no labels on the bottles. They were just naked bottles of wine. I felt very cool for moment, like we were in a speakeasy.
We tasted a grenache, which to our unsophisticated palate tasted remarkably similar to some of the grenache we drank in Catalunya. It was not too bad at all. We also tasted a white blend, which, although not as sweet as I would have anticipated, felt a little flat, like it was missing an acidity or a fruit flavor. Ankur told us he would report our views back to the winemaker. For a second there, I felt we were a combination of chemists and market researchers. I was happy to be the guinea pig. The most interesting thing – the red wine was a lot more drinkable than anticipated.
So, on a Saturday night, during the week we said we were detoxing, we suddenly found ourselves at a table with a couple of cocktails, a mess of wine glasses, and a few bottles of wine. How does stuff like this keep happening to us?
A Surprising Evening at Akira Back
After our Indian wine, Ankur offered us a French wine, to better accompany the meal. We each ordered a glass, and next thing we knew, the server delivered the entire bottle, which we pretty much finished. Okay, so maybe being a food travel blogger is not so bad.
And, the food was pretty good too. The sushi rolls were fresh, and inventive. The signature yellowtail sashimi was flavored with jalapeños – always a win in my book. The filet tobanyaki arrived sizzling table side. And our three desserts (yes, three desserts) were all sweet and tasty.
But, what really struck me about the meal was our conversation with Ankur. At the end of the meal, he finally admitted that he didn’t really want to meet us either that night. He suggested to the marketing manager that we might want to eat our meal alone, rather than sit with a stranger. I admitted our similar feeling. But, then, the wine tasting.
I am so happy, though, that we had the chance to meet him. We enjoyed ourselves so much, that I kind of did a bad job of taking photos that night. We hit it off famously, and learned so much about Indian wines, when I didn’t even know Indian wines existed. It was a memorable evening at Akira Back in New Delhi, and we didn’t even have to leave the hotel.
We were hosted by Akira Back, and the JW Marriott New Delhi Aerocity, but my opinions are as always, my own. Dishes at Akira Back start at around $15.
For more information about India, see our India Travel Guide, for information on accommodations, what to eat, and tours to book.