Print Edition - 2019-04-12  |  Food & Travel

Vivanta’s crown jewel needs quite a bit of polishing


Apr 12, 2019-

It has well-dressed, polite staff; a well-stocked bar with some of the best spirits the city has to offer; it has the tenth floor, with billion rupee views. But it didn’t have its promised teriyaki salmon nor the beef bulgogi or sake-marinated chicken wings. It had laboured apologies, but its staff did not have the foresight to say anything earlier. Akari, the restaurant at the newly-opened Vivanta, has the start of something promising, but it doesn’t have the finish.

What this Jhamsikhel restaurant has, it lacks in equal amounts. Conceived within Taj Hotels’ stables, Akari should unequivocally be the city’s best high-end restaurant. The hotel group boasts the Michelin-starred restaurant Quilon, and Wasabi By Morimoto, which was part of the 2018 Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. While it seems the hotel juggernaut left its pedigree in London and Mumbai, it still kept its premium pricing, in a seemingly vain attempt to pull the wool over Kathmandu’s eyes.

Vivanta’s pedigree should inform everything—its shimmering bar, contemporary furniture and incredible views do—but there are salient points that have been missed. This “pan-Asian” restaurant offers Korean, Burmese, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine, while shamefully panning past the country it sits in. It offers sushi, curry, tempura, robata-grilled items, and a litany of other buzzword dishes associated with these world famous cuisines. But with its pan-Asian saturation comes symptoms of LMS—large menu syndrome—something the Taj should have vaccinated this restaurant against.

Ordering around the menu, forgiving its omissions, out come tepid spring rolls of shitake and water chestnut. Dropped into shot glasses, with small pools of sauce, the cigar-like fried rolls lack the size to achieve balance. The wrapper, rather, overcomes its luscious notes, leaving the mouth overwhelmed by the stodgy pastry. The sauce is more like Mexican salsa, upstaging the nuanced filling.

The cosmopolitan, Moscow mule and plum-mint spritz refresh the palate between bites. But even the cosmo lacks punch, and the mule is spiked with ginger ale instead of ginger beer. The plum spritz, however, is refreshing and delivers what was promised: plum and mint.

What comes next is easily the highlight of the entire evening. A mixture of burnt corn and spinach, contained in near-translucent wrappers, the dumplings are sweet, earthy and moorish. No need for sauce, but the sauce is included—a tray of ramekins is placed in front of the diner: a thick coconut-turmeric substance, a restrained Nepali momo sauce and a crispy garlic-chilli concoction among them. If the dumplings were not exceptional in their own right, these would be noteworthy additions. If the servers said all they had were these dumplings, this review would have boded better.

It did have more, so it is all downhill from here. Out come more and more dishes from around the Asian continent: red curry prawns, pad thai with chicken, and miso-charred vegetables. Some Japanese sticky rice, too. The vegetables must be mentioned first, given they are the most forgettable. Limp and lifeless vegetables are stir-fried to death, rather than licked with flame. Despite miso being the drawcard for the dish, it is not dealt.

The red curry of prawns is nice. It’s decidedly creamy, the prawns are sweet and nicely cooked. The gravy is what one would expect from such a dish, a slow-burning ember that eventually sets the palate alight. Within the realms of the valley’s Thai cuisine, it sits comfortably in the middle.

The pad thai is peanutty, sweet and nicely arranged with appropriate amounts of both chicken and egg, ample servings of flat rice noodles, and the added touch of baby mung beans. It’s an average dish, lacking the crucial citric injection of lime.

Finally, the mythical beef bulgogi comes out, a dish said to be unavailable earlier, but somehow conjured by the restaurant staff. It’s sweet, savoury and salty, informed by its typical soy-sugar marinade and sauce. The rich Korean wash coating slithers of beef does little to help diners’ jaws—better meat or finer slices would fix this. But the small side of radish, pounded into a paste, is a wonderful palate cleanser. The Japanese rice was sticky—which is good, given the sushi offerings the restaurant has.

The problem with Akari is that the food doesn’t match. The curry and pad thai overwhelm the bulgogi and already-forgettable vegetables, their spices and heat burning through the others’ subtleties. Some might argue that people should order dishes that should go with each other, but that defeats the inherent idea of this shared-plate pan-Asian restaurant. The flavour clash is the restaurant’s fault because they are the ones cramming them all onto the menu. Pan-Asian is not an excuse to create a cover-all menu without consideration for harmony, especially in a restaurant that apparently endorses shared dining.

Following the confusing main course, out come a selection of desserts: date pancakes, sweet Chinese darsaan noodles, and ‘very berry’ cheesecake. The dates are stuffed in less of a pancake, more of a wonton, but the flavours are what one would expect. The date paste is rich and spiced with typical Chinese flavours, and the pastry case is crisp in the right places. The darsaan noodles are fine, wide and fried, with honey and sesame waved over them. The crispy noodles are a good match for ice cream. Not this ice cream, though, which is less than vanilla in flavour and icier than creamy. Bought at a store? Most likely.

Finally, cheesecake. It tastes fine in its own right, forgiving its lack of crust. However, given the dish’s trite name, one would infer it is laden with berries. Instead, there’s nothing ‘very’ nor ‘berry’ about this plain vanilla wodge. The vapid pink goo drizzled over the white cake is nothing but an insult to its already clichéd name.

Akari has everything going for it: money to burn, supreme location, superb views and an elegant fit-out. But the thought behind this restaurant seems lazy, with lack of attention and finish. Despite having such promise and premium prices, the restaurant does not stick to its vow of luxury fine dining.

Akari lacks the required attention to detail to deliver premium dining, which lets down the entire experience. The food would have been fine for half the price, but it places itself on a pedestal that demands perfection.

Published: 12-04-2019 11:50

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