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Restaurant Review: Flavours of the EAST

By Matthew Schneeberger
Last updated on: May 16, 2007 15:47 IST
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If you're looking for a delicious meal and a delightful atmosphere at an affordable price, try EAST: Pan Asia. Located in Kemp's Corner, Mumbai (close to Cumballa Hill Hospital), EAST opened to great applause on January 1 this year.

I had the pleasure of dining at the restaurant last Saturday night with my girlfriend. We met up with a few acquaintances to share dinner and drinks, and celebrate Cinco de Mayo -- May 5, a Mexican holiday that commemorates Mexico's victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla (1862) .

Though EAST specialises in bringing together an assortment of Asian flavours, on this special occasion it had no problem throwing some Mexican essence into the mix. Salsa music danced forth from the overhead speakers, the bar churned out margaritas and imported Corona beers at Rs 200 each, and the menu boasted quesadillas and other Mexican snacks.

The decor can be described as post-modern with Buddhist overtones: dark-coloured furniture featuring right angles and assorted accessories derived from Eastern culture.

The general ambience evokes comfort and relaxation. EAST features subdued lighting and multi-coloured satin pillows adorning wooden benches. Compared to the majority of Mumbai eateries, the interior is spacious, yet intimate; it lacks pretension and is pleasing to the senses.

Let's move on to the crux of my review -- the food. The menu is clean and precise. It offers a handful of appetisers and about ten vegetarian and non-vegetarian main dishes. Accompanying these options are noodle and rice preparations, from Pad Thai to Basmati rice. For once, I wasn't confused; I didn't feel as if I was flipping through endless pages in a telephone book.

Ranging from Indian curries to Indonesian meat preparations, the food is a unique amalgamation of Asian cuisines, save Japanese. When asked what inspired him to offer this assortment of Asian delights, Head Chef Nachiket Shetye replied, "I've been working on the menu for over three months. I just make the kind of food my friends love!"

Nachiket went on to explain why his menu offers comparatively fewer options than most restaurants, saying "I'd rather focus on a few dishes and do them right. That way, I know everything we serve is top-notch and sure to leave a good impression."

Scanning the highly functional menu, two items immediately caught my eye -- Roti Canai and  Lamb Rendang. Apparently, I have excellent taste -- we soon learned that both are signature dishes of EAST. At the behest of our eager friends, we complimented these two dishes with the Chilli Potatoes and a Thai Vegetarian Curry. For our foundation, we selected the immortal steamed Basmati rice (Rs 120).

Our 'friends' (I use this term lightly!), circled the table like hawks, waiting for any perceived weakness and ready to gobble up what they could at the first opportunity. Naturally protective of my food, I took to devouring the whole range of tasty treats as soon as they arrived.

As per time-honoured tradition, the appetisers came first.

The Roti Canai (Rs 170) featured a large crispy roti, folded and presented like a standing napkin. Accompanying the roti was a bowl of warm chicken curry with perfectly blended masalas, making the pair an exquisite combo. The roti was buttery and crisp; the curry was rich without assaulting the palate; I declared it a 'subtle masterpiece' between mouthfuls.

The Chilli Potatoes (Rs 160), piping hot and enticingly crispy, were coated with a delicious mix of spices ranging from sweet to tikkha. The heaping, somewhat excessive portions left me thoroughly stuffed; I pushed the remainder of the appetisers away in anticipation of the main course.

My friends, sensing my retreat, eagerly stepped in and polished off the balance. My limited survey of four diners yielded the following sentiments -- "The Chilli Potatoes are unbeatable!" and "I've never tasted such goodness."

Clubbed with my first Corona, the appetisers were the ideal beginning to a meal that managed to improve as it progressed.

Corona Number Two and the main dishes arrived simultaneously, all handled by our dexterous and charming waiter.

The Lamb Rendang (Rs 260), a Malaysian/ Indonesian lamb preparation, left the crowd of onlookers besotted. Our waiter expertly served the lamb from an enormous vessel; my hand was shaking as I took the first bite.

Nirvana! Sweet sublime bliss invaded my mouth and engaged my senses. Any notion of 'being full' or 'not having room' vanished; I was concerned that my quarter pound serving was not enough!

Ah, to describe heaven, where does one begin? The lamb, finely shredded and marinated in sultry spices, was the single best dish I've eaten in six months. Unfortunately for the bystanders, I needed no assistance with the Lamb Rendang -- my poor girlfriend hardly managed to snatch a few morsels!

The Thai Green Vegetarian Curry (Rs 220), though not an item I would typically pick, wowed me at once. Tofu, something I'd never consider eating in a million years, somehow slipped down my gullet without complaint. My girlfriend said, "It's the best Thai I've had in Bombay!"

Describing individual flavours to such an extent seems futile; taste is so very subjective. Needless to say, all four items far surpassed what I expected, and lifted me to a higher plane of existence.

Though my mind and taste buds soared skywards, my overstuffed belly kept me secured to my seat. Taking the 'lounge' intimations a bit too literally, I sprawled across four pillows and let digestion begin.

Dessert was categorically impossible.

The merriment continued until 1 am, time I spent enjoying two more Coronas and dancing off some of the massive feast.

All said, the meal was fantastic and I'll be certain to visit regularly in the future. This restaurant is highly recommended for romantic dates and formal celebrations!

Atmosphere/ Setting: The ambience was inviting and relaxed. Given the cacophony that is Mumbai, this respite was much appreciated and preferred over a crowded, noisy venue (like other Mumbai eateries). 5/5

Service: The greeting staff was gracious and warm; the servers were attentive and helpful; the food was served expediently and piping hot! I have zero complaints! 5/5

Food: All items were fantastic! I overhead a concern that the food was "too coconut milk based", but I completely disagree. The varied options should accommodate the most particular of palates. Try the Lamb Rendang! 5/5

Value: Let's be realistic; when a meal combines amazing service with gourmet food, you're not going to escape for less than Rs 500 a couple. Still, for less than Rs 1000 rupees, our two appetisers and two entrees were superfluous for my girlfriend and me. Two scavengers handled the leftovers -- no one left hungry! Compared to other 'fine dining' options in the city, I'd say EAST is a relative bargain. 4/5

Kemp's Corner has experienced a range of visiting restaurants, but it seems as though EAST: Pan Asia is here to stay!

EAST: Pan Asia Cuisine and Lounge Bar
76, Kranti Marg off
Kemp's Corner,
Corner of Forjett Street,
Mumbai -- 400 036

Phone: +91 (022) 2381 1010 / 2382 1010

Photo: Matthew Schneeberger

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Matthew Schneeberger