If you thought a Daikon was the latest sub-compact-car to come out of the SE Asian motor industry, you were close, but no cigar – it’s an oriental marinated vegetable sometimes called “winter radish”, something of a delicacy in Japan and Korea. But you were close – Daikon is also a restaurant that’s high on features, with smart metro styling, and a price somewhere near half what you were expecting this excellent ought to cost.
Parking isn’t a problem – located a couple of blocks up Prospekt Mira from Sukharevskaya Ploschad, on-street parking is easy to find. Step inside the doors and you’re enveloped in a warm atmosphere of a lot of people having a lot of fun – and the fun never stops at Daikon, because they genuinely work around the clock. This doesn’t mean that they stay open “until last guest”… you can really arrive at 3am for supper, and the welcome is just as warm. Come at 6am and they will serve you a choice of five different breakfast menus… Asian if you’d like, or if your sense of culinary adventure’s a little dimmed in the early hours, they have European brekkie too.
The lean, clean lines of contemporary decor dominate the interiors, which spread-out over two floors (via a period staircase they’re obliged to keep for building-preservation reasons). There’s not a single hokum bamboo anything at Daikon, and no attempt to replicate an Emperor’s boudoir – in fact it looks strangely similar business-class lounge of a Scandinavian airport. The genuinely curious can even opt to sit along a window-lined corridor from where you can watch the kitchen activities as a theatrical experience, through large observation windows.
The eclectic menu presents Singaporean, Japanese, Indonesian and Thai dishes side-by-side, without any purist zeal about maintaining their separateness – in fact you’re encouraged to mix-and-match, and have whatever you like. To aid the decision process we lubricated our throats with a big bottle of San Pellegrino mineral water (195 Rbs), and alongside it some of the “house special” asian cocktails. London-Hongkong (190 Rbs) is a stiff slug of delicious gin adorned with some rather less successful blue curacao and a soho lychee.. It packs a punch, but I was looking for a little lusciousness… and got a lot of lusciousness when I moved over to one of their supersize Mojitos, a cracking 500 ml for just 195 Rbs. Mrs Torheit made a similar manoeuvre, lured by the exotic name and appearance of a Tokyo Night (160 Rbs-worth of vodka, sake, curacao and schnapps), but ultimately returning to more familiar ground for the next round for a Strawberry Margarita (170 Rbs).
I was badly in need of something to soak-up all that gin by this point – I could really have used a few rice-crackers or oriental-style nuts, but luckily a mix of appetisers to share practically flew out of the kitchen, and were soon arranged on the table with the delicacy of a feng-shui consultant. Opinion was divided over the Glass Noodle Salad with shrimps (190 Rbs) – Mrs T finding it rather penitential in nature, whilst I thought it was deliciously light and fresh. The Lamb Samosas (180 Rbs) found much more favour on the other side of the table – smaller and more delicate than their Indian cousins, these were Indonesian-style and came with a piquant fruit chutney that partnered their rich flavours perfectly. There are some dishes that just mesmerise my attention whenever I see them on a menu – anything with goat’s cheese is one, and fishcakes is the other, and the Thai Fishcakes (195 Rbs) were perfection on a plate… I found myself muffling the words “only one!” after the offer to “mmm, try one!”. The spectacular range of hot starters – at such pocket-friendly prices – is liable to tempt most diners at Daikon in that direction, but for those who’d prefer, there is an appropriately wide selection of sushi and sashimi. But where, we asked, was the daikon? And out it came, sliced into golden yellow ovals with a delicate flavour vaguely similar to what a brine-marinated persimmon might taste like? Some vegetable-stuffed cabbage rolls stood guard over the golden daikon – but at only 122 Rbs this was a tasty vegan treat you wouldn’t need to steal.
The portion-sizes at Daikon (unusually, not indicated in the menu) are generous, but if you arrive extra-hungry you might like to include a hot appetiser in your meal too. Mrs Torheit did just this, diving vigorously into a thick tomato broth of Seafood Nabe (350 Rbs), teeming with succulent cuts of salmon, prawns and squid. This would easily make a light low-carb main-course on its own, in fact.
In honour of the Lenten Fast (and to prove it was possible), I continued in vegan vein with the Pakchoi Beancurd with sesame oil (255 Rbs) - although I’m not sure the “oyster sauce” would really suit dedicated vegans… but it tasted pretty-much like light soy to me, with no fish taste to it at all. Mrs Torheit’s eagle eye for the best pick on any menu saw her trounce my healthy choice, however. The Unazu Smoked Eel with gohan steamed rice is undoubtedly the most stupendously top-value main course in Moscow this week – 295Rbs for a very generous portion of the most succulent eel fillet yet devised by the mind of man. Any dish which can induce a state of voluntary silence in Mrs Torheit is indeed a remarkable achievement. Once again, the main courses were not only beautifully presented on the plate, but brought to the table with delicacy and care… these are people who are really passionate about what they do, and enjoy offering it to you just as much as you enjoy eating it.
My Sago Melon dessert (130 Rbs) illustrated the art of service perfectly – the bowl is lifted to the table using a special wooden spatula in which the bowl nestles. “Too rich!” muttered Mrs T, but I was already wallowing in an unctuous sago-pudding-nostalgia moment from childhood that would have provided Marcel Proust with enough material for two or three chapters. Creamy-perfect, there is a small amount of chopped melon to garnish it, but you can soon get rid of that and enjoy the sumptuous sago. This was all merely pique from Mrs Torheit’s part, since her classical Asian dessert of Indonesian Pineapple with ice cream (185 Rbs) turned-out to be good-ol’ pineapple fritters, and not the oriental exotica she’d imagined… although it was none the worse for that. A hot shot of Espresso (65 Rbs) for me and Jasmine Pearl tea for the mem’sahib (155 Rbs for a very large pot) brought down the curtain on a very successful evening.
In a city where quality and service so rarely merit the jaw-dropping bill for stylishly-served Asian cuisine, Daikon turns the tables – you get a meal out that probably would have cost double in other restaurants, without any compromise on quality or service. No wonder the place was packed to the gunnels when we went, so unless you really are coming at 3am, booking’s strongly advised.