Welcome to our newly introduced section on Food. Whether you like it or not, the dining experience is inextricably linked to fashion. The food, the people, their attire, the décor, the presentation, the service and timing all have to adhere to a fashionable standard.
Zal Bahadurji our young taster with an eye for fashionable eateries will guide you through what’s in store and will even give you a tip or two on places to avoid.
It’s difficult to think about how to write a review for this new restaurant. Literary practices dictate that you must find balance; one must give both sides of the story – the good and the bad; and must let the readers garner their own opinions. With Chao Ban though, that is difficult to follow; simply because after having thought long and hard about a silver lining, I just cant seem to find one. Chao Ban is that disappointing.
It was so promising. A seemingly authentic Dim Sum/Chinese restaurant in the heart of the office district; prime location and cuisine for the office-going lunch crowd. But how does Chao Ban get it so wrong?
You get the impression that the management was trying something upscale and authentic with this place. The high prices, the traditional Chinese phrases in the menu, and the pseudo-fancy interiors make you expect something of adequate quality to come out of the kitchen. Yet almost immediately something feels very off.
When going through the menu while being splashed by the over-ambitious and ill-conceived water feature, one sporadically comes across out of place items such as Tom Yum Soup (Thai), Hakka Noodles (no region of China has Hakka noodles as part of it’s cuisine), and General Tso’s Chicken (more of the same). And while you wait for your food, you notice a few things: On the table in front of you there are 4 pots of sauces, in addition to 3 jars of condiments plus salt and pepper. It makes you wonder if it really needed all that. Do they lack even a morsel of confidence about their food?
Well, it definitely needed something to mask its inherent flavors at least. Of the three dumplings, a blind taste-test would have zero distinguishable flavors. And here’s why. Nothing was fresh. Each bite revealed something new about this restaurant’s practices. The slimy, dripping wet Prawn & Chive dumplings were the first indicator of something being defrosted in the steamer, yet served ignorant of the fact. The filling – an unhealthy seafood flavor that might have been the cause of the nausea felt later. Or was it the overly pink Pork & Chicken Siu Mai? More worrying were the two slimy strips of denatured protein hanging off the side of one of the dumplings – the clearest evidence yet that this was not made-to-order. Or even made on the same day for that matter.
There is a reason so much emphasis is placed on freezing. It is because freshness and flavor are directly linked to each other. It is one thing refrigerating or freezing ingredients, but another to pre-make and glaciate all the properties out of a dish. We were told we couldn’t order the Duck Rolls because the dim sum chef was off. Off at lunchtime? Isn’t that what dim sum is? Lunch?
Dishes came, and dishes were sent back. But the biggest issue of all was that the food: the taste, the texture, the inventiveness was just so far below the level of acceptability. I believe the official culinary term to describe the food would be: ‘shit.’ The Char Siu bun was shit. The Chicken Shanghai dumplings were shit. The ‘signature item,’ a lamb-something-I-didn’t-pay-attention-to-because-I-was-so-sick-of-everything was shit. It’s easy to forgive and compromise on décor, comfort, hygiene, and even improper kitchen procedures if the first bite lights up your eyes and leads you to nod approvingly at the spectacular medley of flavors and textures. What is not easy to forgive is unimaginative food, with no care placed on execution, quality, health or culinary prowess.
Chao Ban seems to have gotten the formula wrong. You can’t claim authenticity while being generic. You can’t be upscale while serving mediocre. You can’t be original if you’re mainstream. Which leads to the thought: what is the point of Chao Ban? If you want good, upscale Dim Sum, you go to Royal China. If you want commonplace Indo-Chinese, you go to Mainland China, or even Café Leopold. You do not go to Chao Ban. There is no point in Chao Ban.
Which brings me to the next, contradictory, point. Maybe they are geniuses. The owners have been in this business a long time. And to survive in this business you have to know what you are doing and know what the customer wants. Maybe they know what the people want, and how to give it to them. Maybe they laugh smugly in the faces of the truly great and go out there and show that you don’t need to spend money on quality ingredients and knowledgeable chefs; this is what succeeds. Customers want what they are comfortable with and what they know about, and are willing to pay the price for it. We shall soon find out though. And in the event that Chao Ban is full every night and lasts for years to come, then kudos to Global Kitchens; you do know what you are doing.
30, K. Dubash Marg, Near Chetana Restaurant
Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai
Tel: 022 4915 0055/50