A LAVISH ASIAN INVASION | Koji, Poona
Conrad Pune’s flagship restaurant unfurls an intriguing feast for sight, soul… and stomach
My eyes lie transfixed. Above me, perfect cocoons of firefly-like, hand blown glasses are aglow, each cluster dangling delicately from the sky. Their radiance descends upon rich shades of reds and maroons, resulting in an Asian décor experience that though still wrapped in traditional hues, eschew cliché for a little thing called class.
Ever since Conrad made its enormous, granite-laden appearance in the city, Poona’s luxury quotient has risen a fair few notches higher. The property revels in the kind of extravagance that refuses to shout out from the rooftops but would much rather whisper into the ears of a discreet, discerning audience. And Koji appears to be an encapsulation of that philosophy.
Stonework's resonance, the warmth of the aforementioned textures, and the dignity of dark wood afford this vast space a sense of quiet complexity. The tables, divans, and private dining reserves are well spaced out, giving you the freedom to indulge in Koji’s Oriental accents without being accosted by neighbourly chitchat.
Japanese, Chinese, and Thai specialties make up Koji’s oeuvre, complemented by a rolling parade of exotic Asian cocktails and a selection of sake rice wines. The Vegetable Crystal Dumplings – a crunchy collage of water chestnut, celery, and carrot, and Chef Tenzin’s Signature Truffle Edamame Dumplings – a piquant merging of two affluent flavours, are excellent places to start and solid proof of Koji’s mastery over the humble dumpling.
While I’m well open to its Thai and Chinese offerings as crafted by Head Chef Hitesh Rai, it’s Koji’s Japanese that’s on my mind, even as I relish the feisty crunch of wok tossed chicken, cashew nuts, onions, and bell peppers in the Koji Chicken. I opt straight for the Koji Experience Platter. This ravishing collection of Sashimi, Nigiri and Chef’s Signature Rolls is sushi at its best – simple yet profound, minimal yet layered, elegant yet prone to pieces of individual flash – in other words, excellent.
Traversing red tuna Maguro, salmon Sake, yellowtail Hamachi, and barbecued eel Unagi, amongst other fine variants, the platter delivers on every which level. Within the Signature Rolls, the smoked salmon and secret sauce assemblage of the Signature Koji and the reassuring fluidity of Prawn Tempura with Creamy Salmon leave me with no room for complaint, or conversation.
My experience this evening has been accompanied by moody, cosmopolitan tunes and the crisp aromas of Smoke Apple Wood Infused Old Fashion, prepared with much drama and plumes at my table. Koji falters slightly with its sparse dessert offerings, and while my Dark Chocolate Pocket escorted by lemongrass ice cream is perfectly pleasant, I can’t help but think that the address needs more creativity in bidding its clientele goodbye on the perfect note.
Another glass of Smoked Apple Wood in hand, watching Koji’s stylish black cutlery, excellent staff, and inherent warmth blend in harmony, it occurs to me that though it might fail to hit the high notes on a few odd occasions, Koji is an Asian symphony well worth savouring.
A larger version of this story first appeared in Eat Stay Love (July, 2017)