Wednesday, July 22, 2009

BM Review: Asean

Another review for Bangalore Mirror, this time featuring Asean on Castle Street, off Brigade road. Read the review here. My 2 cents (should we rephrase it to "my 2 paise"?) of extra info is at the end, after the snaps. Since I'm not too sure if I can publish the review written for the paper here, I've only provided a link, and it isn't too long, so do read it to 'know' how the place is. And since I was doing an official review, I had to actually critique the place and couldn't ignore stuff that I'd have otherwise not given too much thought about during the course of a normal visit.

Below are snaps of what we ate. No P and VP this time - I went global! My guests were Chung Gien, his older brother Chung Wah, and their friend David Leong, all third generation Chinese (actual Chinese), born and brought up in Bangalore.

L-R: Chung Wah, David Leong, Chung Gien

Chicken laksa

Ikan Asam-Fish with tamarind sauce

Crispy spinach prawns

Kambling Bali-Balinese lamb with sprouts

Chicken satay

Kambling Mekuah-Sliced lamb

Thai prawn red curry

Opor Ayam-Chicken

Spicy Saigon veg noodles

Rum 'n' raisin mousse flan

Sticky date and walnut cake

Service: Not bad, but the wait staff could be more proficient with the items on the menu
$$$: Not as expensive as an Aromas of China or Mainland China, but not as low as a Chung's. Our meal cost us Rs. 1920, which I thought was decent (4 people plus the photographer, who after relentless insistence from my side, complied and had a soup and a lime soda - he wasn't planning to eat anything otherwise!)
Food:I won't go so far as to say it's totally authentic, especially after the disappointment with the satay (read the review to know more about what I'm talking about), but the taste of the food is good, but again, not so much that you'll remember the meal specifically again with a smile on your face (except the desserts - that you'll remember for sure). Don't go entirely on the review I wrote because there I had to critique the place with a fine toothed comb.
Verdict: Worth a visit at least once, and then you make up your mind if you like it or not.
Extra Info: The street it's on, Castle St., is a one way, and you can't enter from Brigade road, so you'll have to enter the next street, Wood street, and then take a left and enter Castle St. Parking on Castle St. may be an issue, so try finding parking elsewhere and walk it up.

Asean, No. 45, Castle Street, Ashok Nagar, Off Brigade Road, Bangalore. Phone: 41126381

The full review is here:

Ever visited a place, or read a book, or eaten a dish, which you wanted to be good because of the little you’d heard about it? Nestled in Castle Street off Brigade Road, Asean is one such place that you want to like, and want to be good. Maybe it’s the charm of the old colonial named streets from the Raj era - I don’t know, but I immediately began wanting this place to be good.

My visit to Asean was with Chung Gien, his older brother Chung Wah, and their friend David Leong, all third generation Chinese (yes, Chinese Chinese, not from the north-east), born and brought up in Bangalore. And before your mind runs away with these names, this isn’t a review of a John Woo action flick; it’s still a restaurant review. The Chungs have the distinction of belonging to the family that opened Bangalore’s second Chinese restaurant, Nanking, on Vittal Mallya road (no connection to the one in Sigma Mall). The older Chung - Chung Wah, and David, foodies in every sense, had toured Malaysia with the sole intention of indulging themselves in Malay and south-east Asian street food, and the experience was sure to come in handy here, since Asean dishes out Chinese and south-east Asian food.

A serene, 71 year old Jimmy Palkhivala, owner of Asean, greets you as you enter the quaint and moderately picturesque restaurant. Settling into our cushioned seats amidst light music wafting around, we started off with a chicken laksa, a thick, slightly spicy, traditional Malay noodle soup, which tasted good and set the tone for the evening (or so we hoped). Hoping to get a sample of the entire region, we ordered a variety of dishes - Javanese chicken satay, ikan asam (Malaysian dish of fish with a tamarind sauce), kambling bali (Balinese lamb) and crispy spinach prawns (from the Chinese section of the menu). While the ikan asam stole the show with the tamarind sauce nicely complimenting the perfectly cooked fish, the kambling bali came in second with the lamb cooked with the right amount of spices, mixed with herbs and sprouts making for an interesting combination.

The satay was a big disappointment - it wasn't chicken skewered and cooked on an open flame; it seemed like the chicken was deep-fried and then skewered and served with the peanut sauce, the traditional accompaniment for satay. Lacking any discernable flavour, the chicken’s taste was masked completely when eaten with the peanut sauce. The crispy, spinach prawn had some kind of "eerie red colouring", to quote David, and the prawns didn't have any great taste to speak of, with the sweet, crispy spinach being the only thing that was good.

Our main course was slightly better. We ordered an opor ayam - Malaysian chicken with chilly and coriander, a kambling mekuah - thin slices of lamb in a flavourful gravy, and a Thai prawn red curry, along with steamed white rice and a spicy Saigon noodles. Our waiter specifically recommended the Saigon noodles, saying it would go well with the Thai red curry. Sadly, there wasn’t anything great about the noodles-curry combo, and even the Thai curry wasn't anything to rave about. Strangely, we also found pieces of mushroom and baby corn in it, and they certainly don’t gel well with prawns. The chicken and lamb dishes though, were good, and I loved the combination of the opor ayam (chicken) with the steamed rice.

Desserts are probably the crown jewel of Asean. The rum 'n' raisin flavoured mousse and the sticky date walnut cake were simply fabulous – FA-BU-LOUS. The unique flavor of the mousse was refreshing and the date and walnuts blended perfectly with a wonderfully textured cake. The desserts are made in-house by Mr. Palkhivala’s wife and son. Sigh! If only the same kind of attention and love that went into the desserts would go into the food.

All things considered, there wasn't anything 'bad' or 'terrible', but it didn't seem as if there was sufficient attention to detail (fear of the devil perhaps?), although, going by the dishes on the menu - they weren’t masquerading Indianised Chinese food as SE Asian food - you'd have thought otherwise. So no points for guessing the reasoning behind the caption for this review, because there's a lot of potential that I see, which sadly hasn't been tapped, or for reasons unknown, has been neglected.

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