The Hot Pot makes a sizzling entrance

Andheri's newly opened Pan-Asian restaurant, Trikaya, introduces food lovers to the age-old Southeast Asian staple of the Hot Pot found all over the streets of Singapore and China and in restaurants as a popular communal dining experience

With a vivid memory of watching legendary gourmand Anthony Bourdain on TV, devouring meat dipped in a fiery red broth -- the Hot Pot -- with towel in hand, furiously wiping his spicy meat sweats, we walked into Trikaya not knowing what to expect from this traditional Asian recipe.

The Hot Pot is an experience in itself. The meat and vegetables sizzle
and cook in a stock at your table, before your very eyes

Bathed in chic and minimal contemporary d �cor, an al fresco section and a stylish indoor bar, Trikaya's interiors fall into the new-age, fuss-free group of restaurants where it's okay to come wearing your Friday best or your Sunday flip-flops. The dramatically carved-out wooden ceiling that extends from the floor to the ceiling shrouds the whole restaurant in a cosy calmness, and we were instantly at ease about our meal ahead.

This is Trikaya's second outpost in the country; the first one opened in Pune in 2009 and includes a mix of Asian and Indian cuisines. The Mumbai menu is entirely Pan-Asian, with a dominance of Thai and Indonesian specialties and an assortment from Singapore, Cambodia, Japan, China and Malaysia. Apart from the Hot Pot, the Hainan Chicken Rice, another Singapore classic, and Oysters, are signature dishes at Trikaya rarely found in other restaurants.

Make way for the Hot Pot
Nothing but steaming hot chicken or vegetable stock served with an assortment of half-steamed thinly-sliced meat and seafood, veggies or a salad, noodles and rice, and a spread of different sauces such as sesame oil, oyster sauce, chilli sauce, chilli vinegar and soya sauce, among other options, the Hot Pot is available for Rs 800 and restricted to one person.

The story goes that the Hot Pot was created by Mongolians. Apparently, during war in the desert, they turned their shield upside down like a wok and cooked whatever wild animals they hunted in the desert. They ate it piping hot to protect themselves from the harsh winter in the desert. But slowly, most regions in Asia adapted the Mongolian Hot Pot in their culture and the popular varieties include the Chinese, Korean and Japanese versions.

After much argument over how it is meant to be a shared dining experience and that one can serve two-four patrons, Trikaya staff let us share one portion without charging each patron separately. Apart from this initial hindrance, the Hot Pot experience was as authentic as it's known to be.

"The Hot Pot is a very healthy and complete meal by itself, starting with the stock, which is eaten like a soup first, followed by the salad and then the meats with the rice or noodles," says Joy Bhattacharya, executive chef at Trident Nariman Point, that has been conducting a Hot Pot or Steam Boat festival every year since two years in the month of May.

At Trikaya, the Hot Pot vessel came packed with steaming chicken stock mildly flavoured with onion, garlic, leeks and peppercorns, and was served with lamb, chicken, fish, prawn and crab meats, and veggies such as pakchoy, Chinese cabbage, asparagus, and mushrooms. "The flavour of the meats is what gives flavour to the stock, and then you can add whatever sauces you want," says chef Nilesh Limaye of Trikaya.

We enjoyed the interactivity of the Hot Pot and the exploration of spice and flavour with the different sauces. "Everything is very much cooked on the table, it's a very interactive, engrossing experience and hence a very intimate family affair for Asians," adds Bhattacharya.

Asian cuisine redux
Apart from traditional classics, what also differentiates Trikaya from other Pan-Asian restaurants in the city are its original recipes by chef Nilesh Limaye, that cover about 30 per cent of the menu. But mind you, they are not fusion dishes -- they are purely new recipes created using Asian ingredients.

"I have always been fascinated by how a lot of Asian cooking involves the use of commonly eaten Indian veggies like brinjal, pumpkin, sesame seed and sweet potatoes � but they are cooked so differently. So I decided to construct new dishes using these common ingredients in both cultures," says Limaye. Red Pumpkin and Green Peas Drops, Chicken with Cashew Nuts and Coriander and Sweet Potato and Tofu Fritters, Sliced Lamb with Bean Sprouts and Fish Edamame in Citrus Ponzu are some of Limaye's creations on the Trikaya menu.

The variety of Asian cuisine at Trikaya is refreshingly different from most of its Asian counterparts in the city. We decided to go on a culinary tour of Southeast Asia with the different small plates and curries, before retiring home.

We sampled the small plate of Aubergine with Peanuts and Coriander from among Limaye's original recipes -- fried, thin slices of aubergine tossed with onion bulbs and crushed roasted peanuts. A beautiful balance of flavours and a perfect way to whet your appetite. The Roast Lamb Rolls and Chicken Yakitori from Japan were delectable and very well proportioned. The Chicken Kauswe from Burma was as creamy and rich as we remembered it to be and the Sichuan Pepper Chicken from the Sichuan region of China with a portion of small-grained Jasmine burnt garlic rice was an explosion of punchy flavours. The meal was packed with fresh and aromatic ingredients, lightly cooked to maintain the crunch in all veggies and the sauces were perfectly balanced, with each spice and herb holding its own.

The dessert menu was the only element that wasn't in sync with this perfect Asian adventure. While the Red Velvet Cake was a complete let-down, the Wicked Chocolate Blob and Cinnamon Kulfi managed to salvage the meal.

The restaurant was reviewed anonymously, the meal was paid for, and the Trikaya staff didn't know we were there until after the meal.

At: 7/11 Meera Apartments, Juhu-Versova Link Road, 7 Bungalows, Andheri (W)
Call: 65021389 / 65047177

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