Fellow blogger and friend Harini and I meet up every couple of months to chat about films, books, and more—and we invariably do so over lunch, followed by coffee and tea. Our usual haunt (we are creatures of habit, as Harini recently remarked) is Delhi’s Khan Market. The coffee or tea is always had at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf; the lunch is something we’ve been trying to experiment with (though our last try—La Bodega—came with its pluses and minuses).
This time, though we’d settled on the café and bakery Au Bon Pain as a possible place for lunch, on our way to Au Bon Pain (the location of which we weren’t absolutely certain about), we passed Side Wok. And, on a whim, decided we may as well try it out. Since we’d both heard good things about it, and since we both like East Asian food. So Side Wok it was.
Up a flight of stairs (no lifts here, sadly, as in much of Khan Market), and we were in a neat and compact space, with a bank of rather stylish-looking lamps with cylindrical lampshades hanging from the ceiling. The furniture, floor and ceiling have a dark wood finish, and the only obvious signs of this being an Asian restaurant are the well-lit niches with artefacts displayed in them (a laughing Buddha in the one opposite me, for example).
The menu at Side Wok is large, covering a vast geographic (and therefore gastronomic) range, all the way from Japan, south to Thailand and east into China. There’s sushi here, and red and green curry. Lots of starters, dimsums, soups, salads (raw papaya salad, anyone?). Stir-fries and one-pot meals, noodles and rice and whatnot.
After much perusing, the two of us decided to share a starter, and order an individual main course each. The starter—which I asked Harini to choose—we agreed on was spicy tofu aniseed. For her main, Harini chose a vegetable green curry with steamed rice; I ordered a pork ramen. Neither of us wanted anything to drink, other than the water which had been poured for us while we looked over the menu.
While we waited for our food to arrive, two types of pickle were brought to our table to whet our appetites. One boat-shaped bowl held batons of cucumber, radish and carrot, pickled in a sweet-sour-salty liquid. The other held diced cabbage in a red chilli and sesame oil flavoured dressing. Both good, though I thought the cucumber-carrot-radish one could have done with being a wee bit less acidic.
Our starter, the spicy tofu aniseed, came on a bed of crispy spinach. I like tofu, and had been intrigued about this dish. It turned out, to my pleasant surprise, to be a winner. The tofu was a firm silken one, dipped in a thin spicy (not too spicy) batter and deep fried, then tossed in what seemed to be a mix of spices, of which the only one I could clearly identify were whole Szechuan peppercorns. No aniseed as far as I could tell, but good, nevertheless. And the contrast of textures—the custard-like tofu, the thin batter, the crisp spinach—was excellent.
Next up were our main courses. These, as soon as they were placed before us, made us remark: “That’s a huge portion!” My bowl of ramen could easily have served two people, and the same went for Harini’s rice and green curry: a very ample portion.
As for taste: Harini said the green curry was good, and as for me, the pork ramen was—well, not exactly what I’d been expecting. This had some of the core elements: the soup, the noodles, the vegetables (bok choy, sliced carrots, some shiitake mushrooms, and baby corn), and the pork, but it wasn’t a Japanese ramen soup. The flavours—the miso, the dashi broth, the things that make pork ramen ramen and not just any pork-and-noodle soup—were missing. The pork, too, instead of being the usual sliced type I’d expect in a bowl of ramen, was shredded. (And, yes: it makes a difference).
Both our main courses were so huge, neither of us could finish our food, no matter how hard we tried. Midway through our meal, too, at least four groups of women—varying in group size from three to about seven—had arrived and sat down in extremely noisy gaggles in the restaurant. By the time Harini and I pushed away our plates, the laughter and chattering all around us was so loud that we could barely hear each other.
So we skipped dessert or tea/coffee, paid up our bill (Rs 1,598, inclusive of all taxes and charges) and left. Not bad, considering this is Khan Market (which is notoriously overpriced), and considering that we’d had a very large meal—larger than we could actually eat—and that the food was, on the whole, not bad. Yes, my ramen wasn’t really a ramen, but it was palatable. I may go back here, but I will probably be careful to time my visit for a non-lunch slot, when I’m less likely to end up surrounded by kitty party groups.
45, Khan Market (Middle Lane)