It would appear that Connaught Place is the latest address to be getting a makeover. A slew of new restaurants are making their appearance, the latest (and most glitzy) of which is Side Wok, of Khan Market and Malcha Marg fame.
The good news is that the Madras Hotel block is now filled to bursting with some great eating places, the most fancy of which is Side Wok. The bad news is that parking continues to be the nightmare it is. If you are lucky, the kitchen will be presided over by Chef Sarabjit Singh, Executive Chef of the chain. The only known turbaned Sikh to have specialized in Chinese food, he is as good as a chef from China! In spite of that, the menu is not overly exotic and has a huge range of dishes that you and I have enjoyed before.
Seafood Asparagus Dumpling (Rs 295) is great value for money, being filled with whole prawns in a rice flour dumpling, topped by a fresh asparagus spear. Served with two kinds of dips, it is a stylish way to begin your meal. Lumpia (Rs 235) is a pancake where the wrapper is made from egg and the filling is either minced prawns, chicken or lamb. I chose lamb and was quite intrigued with the sliced rolls from Philippines that worked well as a novel dimsum. The finest starter was Paper Chicken (Rs 255). Morsels of boneless chicken, a generous dollop of soy and shiitake mushrooms all wrapped in a sheet of butter paper and steamed, it was flavourful, filling and infinitely healthier than a deep-fried starter would have been.
Mizutaki Soup (Rs 315 for two persons) was the old-fashioned steamboat soup, served the classic way, in a tureen with a central chimney, filled with fuel that kept the soup piping hot for over half an hour. The soup was a simple enough clear stock, to which rice noodles, sliced chicken, broccoli, carrots, fried tofu and bamboo shoot had been added. Only recommended when the rest of your meal is being kept light, it fills you up in no time.
Side Wok meanders through the region of South East Asia, though the accent is on China. Our Kung Chu Chi (Rs 495) was a delicate dish of prawns, with as much coconut cream as Thai red curry paste, flavoured with shreds of kaffir lime leaf. Elsewhere, the same dish has more curry paste, making it spicy rather than sophisticated. In the hands of Chef Sarabjit (he divides his time between the three branches and it was just my luck that he happened to be there on the evening of my visit) each dish has a clearly defined characteristic and not much gravy – just the way it ought to be.
The surprise of the meal was Ca Kho Thom (Rs 395) a Vietnamese preparation that I had never even heard of. It turned out to be a carpaccio-thin slice of fish dipped in rice flour batter and deep-fried till crisp. Wafer thin slices of pineapple were layered on the fish, giving it a delightfully sweet-sour appeal. The one disappointment of the meal was Hunan Chicken (Rs 295). Too spicy to have any other dimension, I would have been better served ordering from the extensive, interesting vegetables section instead.
P-21/90, Outer Circle, Connaught Place
Tel: 43509122, 43509133
Open from 12 noon to 12 midnight
Alcohol served; credit cards accepted
Meal for two: Rs 1700