When Mainland China’s first ever branch, in Sakinaka, Mumbai, shuttered doors earlier this year, no one really mourned; it came on the heels of declining food quality and unjustifiably high prices for Chinjabi food. In its place now, we have Asia Kitchen & Bar, not to be confused with Asia Kitchen by Mainland China, all incidentally by the same chain. Asia Kitchen & Bar is a stand-alone restaurant that’s looking to update Mainland China’s pan-Asian menu to well, 2014, with baos, ramen and truffle oil in everything.
The good stuff
The “Bar” in the restaurant’s name has been tacked on with good reason; the pride of the restaurant is the dramatic cocktail menu, where drinks are turned into Broadway productions, complete with stage smoke. We would complain loudly, if the cocktails weren’t so damn tasty. Before we can sneer at the Cambodian Cooler (Rs425), a frothing dry-ice concoction in a Tiki mug, we’re lulled by its balanced watermelon and passion fruit notes. We want to scoff at the Absinthe Pine Driver (Rs495), served in a miniature pewter cauldron, to the accompaniment of caramelized pineapple smoked in Kaffir lime leaves. But we’re pleasantly surprised by the aniseed hit of the absinthe, foiled by the tartness of the pineapple juice. The bar snacks are a thoughtful touch—the Chilli and Shallot Cashewnuts (Rs150) are the Asian chakhna we didn’t know we were missing.
The food holds no surprises for the palate, but what it does it does well. There’s a glutinous satisfaction to the dim sum, in the earthy Edamame Dumplings with Truffle Oil (Rs260) and the familiar Steamed Basil Chicken Dumplings (Rs240). The Shengjian baos, pan-fried flour parcels stuffed with mock meat (Rs220) and chicken (Rs240), are gratifyingly crispy and chewy. But the one thing on the menu we would keep returning for is the Truffle Miso Soup (Rs240)—the deeply umami comfort is the equivalent of a bear hug.
In trying to spread itself across Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Burmese, Korean, Malaysian and Vietnamese cuisine, the menu lets a lot of dishes fall through the cracks. The Cream Cheese Sushi Roll (Rs295) and the Californian Roll (Rs325) make no impression. A flavourful sauce can’t hide characterless basa in the Java Grilled Fish (Rs375). And a Korean Pot Rice (Rs295) is rendered inedible by pungent chilli paste that hasn’t been well-cooked. There’s also a lack of imagination in the desserts; while the rest of the world has moved on to Japanese raindrop cakes and Malaysian pandan cheesecakes, we’re still being subjected to Honey Noodles with ice cream (Rs195) and Chocolate Cigars (Rs225).
But small quibbles aside, Asia Kitchen & Bar is a worthy successor to Mainland China, one that retains the comfort of the latter’s food with, thankfully, none of the inflated prices.
A meal for two, with two cocktails, two starters, two small plates, two mains and a dessert cost us Rs3,250
Asia Kitchen & Bar, Sakinaka Junction, Andheri Kurla Road, Sakinaka, Mumbai (33956002). Open 12.30 pm-3.30pm and 7pm-11pm.