If you have sent the king back home and have collected the ransom then the Pan Asian at ITC Maratha at Mumbai’s Andheri (E) is a great place to go to satisfy your Asian cravings.
This was my second trip there and the bill, without alcohol and with one dish on the house, was almost as much as a night’s stay at the hotel. But if you make an allowance for the fact that it is a five star and the prices will be high, then one can definitely say that Pan Asian offers one of the best Asian food experiences one has had in town. And they do say that price of a ticket to Tokyo or Beijing or Seoul is slightly more than the cost of petrol in driving down to Pan Asian and the time required definitely more than what you would spend on a trip to Andheri E unless you hit Saki Naka.
The layout at Pan Asian reminds me of the Chinese restaurants at Penang and even KL which has counters within the restaurant that serve different dishes…you have a laksa counter, a curry place, roasts, taufu or fried tofu, the noodle or mee stations…you place your order and sit at the central area.
It’s a bit like that here at the Pan Asian with individual open kitchen…Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian and so on. This was my second visit here and the food once again was spectacular…the sort you would expect when big bucks are spent and yet you don’t always get that.
This time I started off with the sushi…delectable favoured rice, very fresh fish. As a dish sushi is not something I will spend sleepless nights on or travel miles for. Fish, raw or cooked, excites me only up to a point. I do like to try it occasionally and was happy with the quality of what I got in the mixed sushi plate here.
It was good catching up with Chef Liang who was back in town after sorting his visas. Refreshed and inspired after a trip back home to China. I mentioned his double cooked pork from last time with big hunts and the affable chef very quickly got us a plate of this dish…steamed sliced pork, which is then tossed in a wok with black beans, onions, peppers. The quality of the pork, which is imported, is immaculate…sheer porcine poetry which rests blissfully on your palate. A very silken experience. I can very confidently say that this is the best pork dish that I have had at Mumbai. Chef Liang told me, that the focus is entirely on the pork here. “Lot less pork in the dish in Beijing” said the chef.
‘No dimsum?” asked Chef Liang as I had my sushi.
Obviously the Sino Nipponese rivalry is still alive even in the same kitchen.
While we had our pork Chef Liang got Chef Wong to us. The latest import from China at Pan Asian. Chef Wong’s speciality is that he makes hand pulled noodles. I remember watching a programme on TLC which said that there are very few places at Beijing that made had pulled noodles these days. I looked in awe as Wong did a P C Sircar with a dough of flour and suddenly pulled apart strands of noodles before you could say ‘gili gili gili’…would love to taste it someday.
We decided to go Japanese for lunch and went for yakitoris for our starters. We chose prawns and soon got our prawn skewers on a stick…large prawns…juicier than a gossip rag and beautifully flavoured with teriyaki…a slightly sweet and yet savoury ballet of tastes. Very different from what one is used. Memories that were rekindled a few days later when I saw Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation episode shot at Hokkaido and the unending yakitori skewers there.
For the mains K suggested trying teppenyaki The staff did try to dissuade us saying it would be sweet. I was equivocal as I had had a teppenyaki at Sydney’s Darling Harbour which was unimpressive.
Still teppenyaki it was and we moved to the teppenyaki counter and sat at the bar stools there.
Manning the teppenyaki counter was the very serene Ms Tsering who looked calmer and more at peace than a monk in an Oriental monastery.
We chose a tenderloin teppenyaki.
Tsering sliced some mushrooms, onions and bell peppers and placed them on the flat grill. She next took some tenderloin and placed it on the grill. Encrusted it with pepper, seasoned it, cubed it. We wanted it medium rare…so Tsering tossed it around for a bit…then put a blob of butter…added the meat on to the butter…some more pepper, a dash of teriyaki…added the sides of vegetables and it was ready.
The steak was out of the world with the sort of bounce and spring which I have only come across steaks in Australia so far.
We complimented Tsering on the quality of the beef. She then said in her calm and quiet voice, “this is local meat and according to Indian laws we have to declare it as buffalo tenderloin…it’s not beef”.
A few days later my friend Sue told me that apparently India is one of the largest exporters of buffalo meat in the world and that in Europe folks don’t have to declare whether it’s buffalo or beef. Nathan then chipped in saying “chances are that if you buy a finished dish such as a pie in UK, the ‘beef’ could be Indian buffalo.
Hmm and you thought we only exported coders!
I had a teppenyaki rice too. One with prawns.
Tsering laid out the vegetables on the flat grill, sliced them. Then she added the prawns followed by the rice. She cracked an egg on it and then like a pao bhaji tava pulao guy finely chopped the mixture till it was one amorphous mass. At the end she garnished it with tiny bits of green which offered a beautiful contrast to the rice and prawns.
“It’s all about a balance of colours” said Tsering in the manner of Master Shifu in Kung Fu Panda.
Once one got used to the texture of the sticky rice which was the antithesis of long grained basmati rice fried rices here, you awoke to the intricate flavours of the rice and the juiciness of the prawn. Tsering told us that the rice was sushi rice. Thai explained the slight tanginess to it I guess. I just loved the reverence with which the prawns were treated. So fresh and juicy. Cooked in the manner of those who love their shrimp and are proud of it.
The teppenyaki at Pan Asian was way better than what I had at Sydney and renewed my faith in Japanese cooking. Adds to my belief that the food scene at Sydney is more about breadth than intensity.
We ate at the Dum Puktht at ITC Maratha the precious night. A great rendition of Lucknowi food and with a very detailed commentary by Nikhil who was manning our table and head chef Noronha. Apart from the fairly authentic, though not colourful, Lucknowi biryani that Chef Noronha served us we had great kakori, made legendary by Dum Puktht, with shirmal (no orange colour here), a delectable roti with poppy seeds and a green moong daal based version of daal bukhara.
The food at Dum Puktht was a nuanced version of food one is familiar taken to elevated levels no doubt but the Pan Asian experience was other worldly…and cost twice as much! More dishes of course to be fair at Pan Asian.
Must point out that the folks at ITC knew we were there and treated us very hospitably. As I wryly said, we got the whole ‘Rude Food’ special treatment except that we were footing our own bills. Still the cakes, the upgrades, the double cooked pork at Pan Asian and the biryani earlier at Dum Puktht, the great hospitality overall…all very appreciated.