Roger Hong, director, IndoChine, has a mission: He wants to teach Dilliwallas how to appreciate his homeland’s food. “They complain it’s too bland.” “Why don’t they eat chicken skin?” “You cannot find any pork of good quality here!” “They don’t want to dip the dishes too many times in sauces.” “They always want the food to be hot.” “They don’t know how to make good rice rolls.” “We can’t change the menu. Then we would be India-China, not IndoChine!”
Laos-born Hong, who lives in Sydney, Australia, has arrived in New Delhi to oversee the opening of the latest IndoChine restaurant, Forbidden City. The Singabore-based chain has found success with restaurants in Germany, Thailand, Indonesia and the UAE with its menu, which is a fresh, healthy mix of recipes from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. But whether they can find success in India remains to be seen.
Eastern flavour: Madame Butterfly is a fine dining space.
The good stuff
The space that once housed the former restobar Climax has been beautifully opened up to create Forbidden City, IndoChine’s three-venue space. The broadened balcony, overlooking the Lado Sarai Golf Course, is now an IndoChine AlFresco café. Half of the downstairs has been converted into the sleek Bar SaVanh. And the upstairs has been remade into the fine dining restaurant Madame Butterfly. The space is beautiful, especially the upstairs, with Asian-funk décor and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the greens. The outdoor patios, both upstairs and down, are great spots for winter lunches.
The menus at each venue offer somewhat different items, ranging from spring rolls to tenderloin, but Hong recommends the platters, a sampling of four to six starters for four to six people. “That’s how we eat everything in Laos.” The starters are fresh, interesting combinations of flavours, definitely unique in New Delhi. The Aloe Vera and Pomelo Salad (a combination of green field baby spinach, aloe vera, pomelo and cashew nut, tossed in traditional IndoChine sauce) was crisp and sweet with a hint of mint. The Chicken Soup of Hanoi (a spicy and sour soup with pickled vegetables, bamboo shoots, black mushrooms and black vinegar topped with shredded chicken) was refreshingly different from the Hot and Sour variety available around the city.
The fish bites that were a part of the Nude Platter (a great concept if you want to have a selection of appetizers with your drinks) was an ever-changing taste with each bite. First a citrus blast, then a miso syrup, next a crunchy wafer. The small size of each starter made it easy to share; a fun option for a large group.
The food was either a complete success or a total waste of time. The cheese wontons, a favourite, were completely flavourless. When you bite into the duck roll (Summer Palace Duck—classic house duck served with pancake wraps, cucumber, iceberg, spring onion and served with black sweet peanut sauce), you can taste only the thin pancake. The fried chicken with skin, part of the Nude Platter, tasted just like KFC—not exactly a compliment. The staff, while wonderfully (surprisingly) adept at tips on how to eat certain menu items, was a bit too dishevelled and loitering to be worthy of a fine dining spot.
The prices seemed wildly exorbitant. The ambience scored, the food sometimes surprised, but overall it was not worth the Rs4,800 we spent on a lunch for two.