Review: Nirvanam

Food & Drink - June 21st, 2012

South Indian speciality food in Tokyo is easier to find than it used to be; if you know at which restaurant to look.

Nirvanam, Toranomon

To get the appam – the slightly sweet, wok shaped pancake made from rice and coconut milk – just right, took countless back-and-forths on the phone between India and Tokyo.

Many trials in the kitchen – the not quite perfect results scrapped and started again and again by Anil Raj, the owner of Nirvanam, who was trying to replicate his grandmother’s perfect Keralan style – meant perfection was, finally, achieved and ready to go on the menu in his restaurant.

Not as oily as other Indian cuisine, and with rice-based breads replacing the “standard” naan of many Indian places in Tokyo, the southern Indian cuisine that is served both here and at Nirvanam’s Kamiyacho venue, is going from strength to strength – it consistantly tops the rankings of Tokyo’s food web-bible, “Tabelog”.

Handpicking the dishes from his favourite areas of South India – literally, Raj makes regular trips to scout restaurants and current food trends back in India – means most dishes available are named after the regions they came from. The menu offers fully vegan courses but Weekender started with the Malabar Shrimp.

Even knowing just a little of its typically Keralan roots, it was immediately clear we were in for an authentic treat. Spice that tickled the back of my throat was a pleasure often missing in what Raj calls “Japanized” Indian food at other restaurants. His chefs are all hired directly from southern India and he wills them to “bring their taste buds – and their instinct” with them to his kitchens.

Chettinad Chicken came next. A Nirvanam favourite, this coconut based dish from the Tamil Nadu region brought more heat and along with a huge dosa, which when dipped in yoghurt and cucumber based side dishes brought balance to the table and something to mop up the flavours, we had a feast on our hands. When the Mutton Biriyani arrived, though, with the meat and curry leaves infusing flavour through beautifully light rice, we could not resist. We will be back for lunch.

Price: Lunch Buffet ¥1,200, Dinner ¥2,000 – ¥2,900

Have a look at the website, which even shares some recipes, here.

Tel: 03-5510-7875

Address: B1F, Toranomon Jitsugyou Kaikan, 1-1-20, Minato-ku, Tokyo

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