Frankly, ‘Republic of Noodles’ sounds too kitschy a name to me to expect anything other than an Indian Chinese eatery, offering the usual suspects: the vegetable Manchurian, the Hakka noodles, the sweet and sour chicken. Stuff I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole, to be honest. Fortunately, though, Lemon Tree Premier’s Oriental restaurant is just badly named, not a bad restaurant. This is a Pan Asian one (as one would expect), on Level M, open daily for lunch from 11.30 to 3, and for dinner from 7 to 11.45.
We went to Republic of Noodles for dinner: it’s fairly dimly lit, but from what I could see, the décor is a blend of very ‘traditional’ motifs (Buddhas, bamboo, monks etc) from South East Asia, and illustrations—all poster-size, sometimes larger—of revolutionaries, all in a deep crimson that’s echoed in the crockery, against a backdrop of black and grey. Stylish but not suffocatingly upscale.
The menu offers a range of dishes from all across South East Asia: from Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Myanmar. We trawled through the menu, wanting to try everything from the popeah to the Thai curries, and finally settled on a shared starter and a shared main course. As a starter, we ordered the spare ribs; as a main course, we ordered the Vietnamese pho. (This, the waitress asked us slightly hesitantly, in chicken? Probably because we look too obviously North Indian and not beef-eaters. We put her straight: no, please. We wanted the authentic pho, with beef).
Within a few minutes, our waitress brought us a little complimentary bowl of pickled vegetables: sticks of crunchy carrots and cucumbers, all steeped in a mild sweet-sour marinade that somehow made them seem even fresher than fresh. We munched on these until our starter—five pieces of spare ribs—arrived. The ribs were well-seasoned (with a lovely sweetish glaze and a sprinkle of sesame seeds) and well-cooked, tender and juicy. As a serving for one person, these might have been too much for me to handle, but since we shared it, it was perfect.
Next up was the pho, which we’d asked to be split and served in two bowls. While I’d heard of pho, I’d never eaten it before. The Republic of Noodles’s version was simple, fragrant, and very good. A large bowl of meaty, delicately flavoured broth, with flat noodles, a few sliced onions, and lots of shredded beef (which, traditionally, cooks in the heat of the broth). With this came, on the side, three little square bowls with the toppings: crisp beansprouts, basil leaves, and mint leaves.
Since we both love herbs, we asked for another set of these and heaped them on to the pho. The result was a very warming, delicious, gentle meal. Even though my husband had requested for some sauces (and we’d been brought a selection of three—two types of fiery chilli-based sauces and a peanutty satay sauce), I ended up adding only a smidgen of chilli sauce to the last of my pho, just to see what difference it would make. Some, but not of any great consequence; this was a soup that was the perfect comfort food in itself.
We’d planned our meal based on the thought that both of us would also have dessert. And we’d decided, mentally, which dessert we wanted: the five star spiced chocolate mousse. Sadly, this was unavailable, so—after skipping over apple fritters and the like, we both ordered the star anise flavoured hot pineapple with dried apricots and ice cream. We could choose our ice cream, and both of us opted for honey nut crunch.
The dessert, we’d been warned, would take 15 to 20 minutes. It arrived within about 15, a row of six small slices of pineapple, covered in a star anise-steeped caramel sauce and dotted with stewed dried apricots. On the side, in a small bowl of its own, was a scoop of ice cream. Pretty, and appetising enough.
In fact, the first couple of spoonsful were nice: fruity, mildly spicy because of the star anise, and well complemented by the creaminess of the ice cream. Then, as we ate further, we discovered that the ice cream wasn’t honey nut crunch after all, but lychee (we didn’t point it out and decided to continue with it, since the dessert was anyway so overpoweringly sweet that one could barely taste the ice cream). And, of course, we realised that the pineapple was swimming in rapidly hardening caramel sauce. There was far too much sugar in this dish, and finishing it took some effort. By the time we ended, we could hardly talk because our teeth were threaded through with pineapple fibres and coated with sticky caramel! Not a happy situation to be in.
Still, we liked Republic of Noodles. The food, other than the dessert, was good; the ambience was pleasant, and the bill—Rs 1,595 for the two of us, for a full meal—was reasonable enough.
Republic of Noodles
Lemon Tree Premier
Plot No. 2, Survey No. 64