The Bandra branch of Sassy Spoon has always been a restaurant close to this writer’s belly, a five-minute walk from home and purveyor of reliably good cocktails and butterscotch cupcakes. We were therefore in equal parts surprised and curious when we heard the management was shutting doors to take on an Oriental avatar.
We walk into House Of Mandarin for a busy weekend brunch to find the formerly cheerful space replaced by a sombre dining room complete with subtle lamps, wooden furniture and a customary geisha and cherry blossom inspired mural (strange considering the emphasis here is more on China than Japan).
On being told that the chef is a former Royal China man and spotting a lot of old favourites on the menu, we decided to focus on dim sum and small plates (they have an extensive sushi menu as well), and began with delicious Prawn Har Gau, with a delicate wrapper hugging perfectly al-dente shellfish.
Unfortunately, our next four dishes suffered from the one cardinal sin of all Oriental cuisine, especially Chinese – a lack of balance. Both seafood dumplings with ginger & chilli oil and Sichuan pepper chicken dumplings were doused in acidity; the kitchen needs to go easy on the Chinese vinegar or cooking wine. Lamb with raw mango tasted much like any other crispy chilli/ Konjee lamb, thanks to a lack of that sour punch of raw mango. Ultimately, the addition of the ingredient seemed more like a garnish than a backbone flavour of the dish. Lastly, salt & pepper silken tofu read like a great a reinvention of our beloved corn cream (also on the menu), but only in theory: the perfectly golden-fried tofu cubes ended up being woefully bland.
Even our cocktails were a mixed batch. A round of Triphal (a Konkani version of the Sichuan Pepper) infused Mandarin Mary was delicious, perfectly balancing the tingling spice of pepper with the tartness of tomato and lime. Unfortunately, the Moli-Lin that followed tasted just like a Jasmine Bomb, with gin, star anise and galangal completely overshadowed by a sugary jasmine tea base.
Sensing our meal going from bad to worse, we sent a Hail Mary to the food gods and ordered half a duck, because it’s the one thing that’s always kept us going back to Royal China. And, boy, did our bet pay off! The bird was crispy just like the best of pork belly roasts, but with that added dimension of rich meaty-gamey-ness.
Stuffed like an Xmas Goose after multiple rolls/ hits of duck, hoisin, scallions and cucumber, we decided to skip dessert. As we walked out, we were satiated, but having shelled out a whopping Rs 6,500 for a rather uneven meal, couldn’t help but feel like we had just funded the restaurant’s food trial.
Getting there: Classic Corner Building, Next to Holy Family Hospital, Hill Road, Bandra (W). Call: 022 33126774. A meal for two with a cocktail each cost will cost about INR 5,000.
bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals.
This review was conducted by Auroni Mookerjee, a freelance writer and chef.
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