There are preconceived notions that visitors form about a city even before they truly discover that city, and then there are better-informed opinions that are formed as you keep peeling layers of a city. Chennai is one city that is deceptive. Many visitors (and locals too) are quick to dismiss the city's culinary scene as 'not happening'. They've probably not made the effort to discover the many facets of the city's F&B scene, including a range of options for Japanese cuisine. Not surprising, given that according to unofficial estimates, the city's Japanese expatriate population is only second to Delhi in India. I'm partial to Japanese cuisine and I never run out of options in the city. This list combines standalone restaurants and fine dining restaurants in luxury hotels that serve Japanese cuisine:
One of the best Japanese standalones in the city, Fuji's interiors are minimalist - elegant, not opulent. There's a section that offers traditional Japanese-style low seating. Fuji doesn't skimp on ingredients or sourcing the right ingredients. It's why their sushi and sashimi platters are top class. The menu doesn't end here. You can also choose from a host of Agemono (deep-fried options). Their bento-style lunch plates are a great bet for first time visitors.
Where: Chamiers Road, Nandanam
Hokkaido takes its name from Japan's northern-most island that is also one of the country's most popular culinary hotspots. It's walking distance from Fuji. That's a good thing, given both these restaurants are packed during weekends - the constant stream of Japanese visitors is a testament to the authenticity of this restaurant. It's easy to drive past this tiny restaurant with cramped interiors but their lunch platters more than make up.
Where: Cenotaph Road, Teynampet
Yakiniku, Hyatt Regency
Yakiniku is that rare pop-up restaurant in Chennai - this wasn't originally designed to be a Japanese restaurant. Yakiniku loosely translates to grilled meat cuisine but there's more than just meat on this compact menu. This dinner-only restaurant rounds up popular Japanese dishes from different regions, including a wide selection of sushi and Okonomiyaki - Japanese style savoury pancakes that are popular in and around Hiroshima.
Where: Hyatt Regency, Anna Salai
A2, the Park Chennai
Distress chic is the big design idea for the Park Chennai's newest dining space. A ripped ceiling is one of the many standout design elements in this rooftop restaurant that also offers a selection of Japanese dishes and cocktails with bold Japanese notes. The Sushi rolls are among the best in Chennai and combine classic and new age options - the dynamite maki with jalapeno bits is a wicked twist.
Where: The Park Chennai, Anna Salai
Pan Asian, ITC Grand Chola
Pan Asian is one of the largest restaurants in any luxury hotel in India. My favourite design element is the 'Temptation Walk' that adds an element of intrigue even before you step into the restaurant. The Japanese selection is one of the highlights of the restaurant's Pan Asian menu. You can watch the chefs carve Sashimi rolls with Japanese precision in the display kitchen. The fish flies in from Tokyo's Tsukiji market - there's probably no better fatty tuna anywhere in Chennai.
Where: ITC Grand Chola, Anna Salai, Guindy
Go Go Ramen
It's been about half a decade since India's first Ramen shop debuted in Chennai. The packed interiors might evoke images of a pokey noodle bar in Tokyo. The concise menu features Gyoza - Japanese style pan-fried dumplings - and Yakisoba. But it's their Ramen bowls that are their biggest draw and has helped Go Go Ramen build a cult following with expatriates and local gourmands alike.
Where: TTK Road, Alwarpet
The city's Japanese options also include Sushi in a Box, a casual Japanese eatery, and Sora Jima at Accord Metropolitan hotel that began as a true blue Japanese restaurant a few years ago, but tilts more towards fusion dishes that incorporate Indian flavours into quintessential Japanese dishes (like a chicken tikka sushi). Whether you need a Sushi platter for lunch or a multi-course Japanese meal for dinner, you will find your Japanese fix in Chennai.
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About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.