Restaurant Review: Side Wok

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.

Inside Side Wok.

Inside Side Wok.

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.

Pickled vegetables: a mixed lot, and cabbage with chilli and sesame oil.

Inside Side Wok.

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.

Spicy tofu aniseed at Side Wok: delicious stuff.

Spicy tofu aniseed at Side Wok: delicious stuff.

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).

The pork ramen at Side Wok: not really ramen, but not bad.

The pork ramen at Side Wok: not really ramen, but not bad.

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.

Side Wok
45, Khan Market (Middle Lane)
New Delhi
Tel: 011-43587122

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16 thoughts on “Restaurant Review: Side Wok

    • Thank you, Namita. Yes, I didn’t find it great; just okay. Not horrible, not fantastic, either. And from what you say, I have a sneaking suspicion that this is one of those places where what you order makes a difference – some dishes are good, some aren’t. Which is often the case with eateries that try to do too many dishes.

  1. Tofu used to be a staple in my Singapore days. Still miss the wide variety you could get, and yes, Silken was a favourite. Somehow Ramen is something I’ve not had much of (Top Ramen apart, that is). But I can guess how shredded pork makes a difference. And Ramen broth sans Dashi does come across as ersatz.

    And the noise! One of my pet peeves, one thing I hate, simply detest, abou eating out in Delhi. Invariably you’ll have a group of fat aunties or, worse, youngsters who cannot hold their liquor, who think talking at the top of their voices to friends six inches away is just what’s needed to jazz up the place a little. Seriously, noise aside, their total obliviousness and indifference to fellow-diners makes me wonder at times where they get so much inner tranquility from.

    One notable exception to this is Cafe Rosang, where I went on your recommendation. And just one of the many nice things about it is that the atmosphere is so intimate nobody feels like talking loudly.

    • It just occurred to me, unless the Ramen soup contains the right ingredients – Kombu, tuna flakes etc. – it simply doesn’t cut any dashi as far as I’m concerned. And that makes miso pissed!

    • Basically, I’m of the opinion that far too many Delhiites treat public spaces (and restaurants are no exception) like their own homes. As if they were lord and master. They talk and laugh as if they were the only ones around; they order service staff about as if they were their servants (though why people should treat even domestic servants with such disdain is beyond me); they let their children loose, to run about and scream all they want…

      Tamura, by the way, used to do a magnificent tofu side dish in their bento boxes: cubes of silken tofu, covered in the thinnest of batters, deep fried, and soaked in a sweet-sour liquid, then garnished with chopped spring onions. It was so good that every time we ordered bento boxes from them, my husband would specially request for the tofu to be included among the sides.

      • As if they were lord and master . . . they order service staff about as if they were their servants (though why people should treat even domestic servants with such disdain is beyond me)

        Parvenu mindset, do you think? But then again, I’ve encountered wince-inducing coarseness in those claiming established, even aristocratic lineages. I don’t know, really. All I can say is, my parents made doubly and triply sure I never stooped to such behaviour (particularly misbehaving with those who worked in the house), and I am most thankful they did so.

        • I think it’s all a question of how one’s been brought up, fancy lineage or not.

          I remember, a few years back, on a road trip through MP, my husband and I spent a couple of days in a lovely heritage hotel in Gwalior. They only had one restaurant, so all our breakfasts and dinners ended up being there. On the last day, just before we checked out, the hostess came to us to wish us goodbye, and to say thank you. “Because you are the only people I’ve ever met who thank someone for doing something so simple as pouring water or bringing you the menu,” she said.

          Which is quite a sad reflection on how most Indians behave. They notice service staff only when something goes wrong.

  2. Ya, I know how the kitty party crowd can disturb a nice meal. As for large portions I always get irritated with too large portions because it leads to wastage of food and I think most of us are not comfortable doing that. In the good old days, that is back in the sixties restaurants in Bombay had half plates. Kamling that has been around for decades continues with the practice.

    • Very true about the portion sizes, Shilpi. I like it when portion sizes are restrained (or, better still, if you have the option of ordering smaller portions) – that way, one can get to try out more dishes. That’s one reason I like going out dining with my sister and her family: with six or more people around, it’s easier to order a wider range of dishes from which one can share.

  3. “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.”

    Sad state of affairs indeed! Far from being considerate to down-right disrepectful. I don’t know why we have to deal with this, in this day and age where no one should infringe on other’s right to a peaceful ambiance, especially during a meal. I think loudness comes from those insecure people who think that by doing so they will be the shiniest object in their respective group. Others feel compelled to give their two cents trying to outshine each other. This viscious circle doesn’t end.

    Fortunately I don’t see any of this in my part of the world but I can imagine how it can ruin an otherwise perfect meal.

    Spicy tofu (with my favorite spinach) distracted me from my pedestrian lunch today. Thank you (not!)

    :)

    • Also, perhaps, that the average Delhiite is rather loud by nature. :-( They tend to talk at the tops of their voices, and they don’t see any reason to lower their volume just because they happen to be in public.

      I love crispy spinach. I remember, years ago, my husband and I used to frequently order in from a Chinese restaurant that did the most brilliant double-fried crackling spinach: just shredded spinach, fried crisp with garlic, red chillies and salt. Very simple and absolutely fabulous – I would happily have finished off an entire portion by myself!

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