PA PA YA Revisited….Love at Second Sight

It was slightly over a year ago when I went to Pa Pa Ya for the first time and let’s just say my experience then was.…umm….well…. underwhelming. So when I got an invite to revisit it, quite obviously, I was not exactly over the moon. But as the saying goes (and James Bond said it too), never say never and, therefore, I landed up in Pa Pa Ya on the appointed day…..and thanked myself for it.

On my previous visit, the first thing that had hit me was the blaring music and then the dim lighting. This time around, I was glad to note that the lighting has much improved and the pitch of music has gone down. Well begun is half done so this definitely looked like a promising start to the evening.

The other thing which had got my goat then was the rather tepid service but I was pleasantly surprised on this count this evening. The servers I have always felt are the face of the restaurant – they play a very intrinsic part by being an important link between what the restaurateurs wants to showcase, the kitchen has to offer and whether the customer can have a bad or a wow experience. On this occasion, the servers were definitely well versed with the menu and could parrot off verbally all the ingredients in each dish. They patiently explain each dish as it comes to your table.

As soon as you enter, what catches your eye is a huge seventy feet dome that extends from the fourth floor (where the restaurant is situated in the Select Citywalk Mall) to the seventh floor (top most floor) of the mall. The ceiling on the top of the dome has a glass roof to smartly capture the natural light during the day. The whole restaurant seems to be built around the 360 degree bar right in the heart of the restaurant with concentric circular seating around it at three different levels. The first level is the bar itself, second being the seating below the bar and then lower still, seating in small private dining areas around the periphery of the restaurant. Wood has been luxuriously used in the décor be it some circular and crisscross designs on the wall, as partitions in PDR or on the walls.

Before my friend and I are served the dishes chosen for us in the pre planned menu, we are served an amuse bouche served in oyster shells which looks as if it’s coming straight out of the ocean bed. The amuse bouche is a basil compressed watermelon topped with lemon grass and soya foam served in an oyster shell. It leaves you looking forward to the other surprises in store for us.

Avocado and Corn Tartare came next. The server pours a stock of soya and water over it mashing all the layers together and mixing in the dotted spicy and regular mayonnaise from the sides too. To add a crispy textural contrast to this delightful creamy dish is crispy rice cracker balls sitting smugly on top of this tartare. Sweetness from the boiled, crushed corn, creaminess from the avocado, crunchy Japanese rice balls and a spicy tinge from the spicy mayo leaves the palate with a subtle delight.

Hargao Green Curry Prawn Farce was an absolutely welcome burst of flavors in the mouth. A gentle prawn dim sum served on a bed of robust spicy green curry as a dipping sauce. A beautiful contrast of flavors happily complimenting each other. If I may add, the bold green curry was as if transported straight from Thailand.

Penang Style Grilled Snapper was coated with Malaysian spices, grilled and served inside a banana leaf on a bed of dehydrated coriander leaves. An absolute delight for the palate with a burst of Malaysian Penang flavors of coconut, peanuts, lime leaves, dehydrated coriander, galangal, lemon grass and shallots. It is difficult to put the chopsticks down once you start eating till you finish.

Chicken Gyoza was another flavour bomb. Steamed chicken dim sums were coated with a hoi sin sauce and togarashi powder. The sauce tasted like tamarind chutney with jaggery and chili, a taste not alien to the Indian palate and very smartly incorporated here.

A Non-Veg Sushi Tree which was served on a custom made miniature tree came next. It had four different types of sushi each placed in a little cluster at different levels on the miniature tree – California sushi (crabstick, avocado and cucumber dotted with mayonnaise), Carbon sushi (rice infused with squid ink, crabstick, avocado, cucumber dotted with spicy mayonnaise), Spicy Tuna (where the rice was rolled in a spicy powder) and Yellow Tail sushi (topped with a mustard mayonnaise). All these fusion sushis were the inside out rolls rolled in toasted sesame seeds, tobiko or puffed Japanese rice. We enjoyed them with soya sauce (for flavor and aroma), gari (for digestion) and wasabi (it actually makes raw fish safe).

Hamachi Carpaccio where the knife skills are absolutely imperative. The thinly sliced raw fish was served with the citric ponzu jelly paired with each piece of fish. The dressing was soya sauce, minutely chopped gherkins, ginger, dried kelp and spring onion. Each bite of the delicate fish in the salty, ginger dressing along with the citric jelly was surprisingly, a burst of flavor for the palate as Carpaccio is generally subtly flavored.

Truffle Imitation Oakwood was one of the most artistic baos I’ve ever seen. The top of the bao was painted with coconut powder to imitate oakwood and stuffed with mildly curried mushroom, Singapore noodles on the side, black bean sauce, mustard mayonnaise, on a bed of green colored bread crumbs (imitating grass). Though a distinct truffle flavour was coming across, the mushroom flavor would have been more pronounced if the mushrooms had not been mushy because of the curry.

Buta Yakitorion – literal translation means grilled pork skewers. A pork lover would agree that what Pa Pa Ya does to pork is simply beyond comparison. Perfect fat is to meat ratio, crispy pork belly with a juicy inside and a crackling exterior where the fat had melted and become crunchy, ample sweetness and togarashi spiced sauce.

Xinjang Lamb was another dish where the knife skills are really important. Paper thin sliced lamb tossed in cumin, chili, coriander and spring onion with a side of pearl mushroom and mustard mayo and a circular ring shaped lavash. The succulent, soft lamb which melted in the mouth, paired really well with the crisp lavash.

Singaporean Chili Crab (soft shell) with mantao bun was another beauty and I was surprised to check its price in the menu. My friend and I were quoting almost double of what we read. A soft shell crab means that the entire crab can be eaten rather than having to deshell the crab to reach the meat. A crispy, tempura fried soft shell crab is served in a dish and a chili, tomato based sauce is poured over the crab by the server. The surprise element is the sweet crabmeat balls in the gravy. Each bite is a heavenly delight when you douse the mantao buns in the sauce and take a bite of the still crunchy crab enveloped by the spicy, tangy sauce.

Shanghainese Style Pork Belly made me feel that I’m meeting a loved one. It had a thick sweet, spicy and sour sauce covering it that creates an absolute celebration in the mouth.

For desserts, we tried Mochi ice cream. The assorted flavors of mocha were strawberry banana, mango basil, salted caramel and vanilla truffle. All were unique flavors and I must confess that this is the first time I liked salted caramel as I’m not into salted desserts.

If the experience I had on this day vis-à-vis the service and the food can be maintained consistently, there is no stopping me from going back there again for one of the finest Pan Asian meal in town.

Ratings (Out of 5)

Food: 4.5 | Ambience: 4.5 | Service: 4.5| Overall: 4.5
Meal for Two: Rs 2000 ++ | Wheel Chair Friendly: Yes | Credit Card: Yes | Alcohol: Yes
Address: Pa PaYa, Dome level 4, Select Citywalk, A-3, District Centre, Saket, New Delhi.

Disclaimer: This review was done on an invitation from the restaurant. Due judgement and care has been applied by the author to remain objective and unbiased in the review, but readers need to consider this review keeping this fact in mind.

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