I’m not normally this decisive in deciding where to eat, and nor are the the avant garde mobile unit of the Gobblegangers. But this weekend past, Axl Rose would be very disappointed to hear that we weren’t singing, “where do we go, sweet child of mine?”. That’s because we were men and women on a mission. We were like a stallion with blinkers. Like a dog with a bone. Like a rebel without a cause.
Wait, that’s not right. That last one didn’t fit. Allow me to rewind.
We were like a stallion with blinkers. Like a dog with a bone. Like epicurean explorers without pause. And the reason for that was three simple words. One actually, which for some reason has been made into a troika of syllables. Pa Pa Ya. Those 3 words were enough to send a frisson through the who’s who of mumbai’s culinary circuit and beyond, and the consistently rave-worthy reviews of those whose opinions I actually give a damn about were enough to push me over the edge and saying “oh yeah yeah yeah” to the idea of pillaging Pa Pa Ya’s pantry like a viking would villages.
A massive restaurant this might not be, but Massive Restaurants has grown in size and stature like you wouldn’t believe, and on the back of the success of Masala Library and Farzi Cafe, it’s hard not to expect great things from its sibling. Perhaps more tellingly, while the former two took Indian cuisine and made it sexy and desirable, Pa Pa Ya steps out beyond our shores and strives to put up Asia on a plate. It doesn’t so much dip its toes in new waters as it runs kicking, screaming, naked towards and jumps in head first. Pa Pa Ya charts new waters boldly, effortlessly and in a style that has come to epitomize this group.
With the hexagonal molecules dotting the walls and bright crimson catching the eye, Pa Pa ya makes quite the first impression with its slick design, but it’s the pair of staid black bars that grabs me by the eyeballs and doesn’t let go. The first bar sees the bartender mix cocktails with a flourish that oozes practiced insouciance and masterful wizardry all at once, churning out molecular mixes that were a big hit with those that like their tipple. The other bar dished out some of the best sushi you’ll get in the city and at prices that won’t leave a gaping hole where your wallet once was.
It’s clear as day that a bunch of artists ran the kitchen, for almost everything that made its way to our table was edible art and the few dishes that weren’t…well, I never said I get art, did I? The only two misses for me were dished out early on in the meal, with the Duck Confit and the Laksa Curry not wowing me much. I like the gaminess of duck as a protein, and by drying it out to resemble something like dessicated vegetables or mushrooms is to just badly disrespect it. The duck had lost its characteristic and I had lost interest in it. The addition of some orange yuzu dressing and edible flowers were not enough to save this dish for me, and it just wasn’t my thing.
The Laksa Curry that followed was also missable in my books. While the curry was aromatic and creamy, it just lacked the punch of spiciness I love in a good Laksa. It was perhaps watered down keeping most palates in mind, but this was a second dish in a row that didn’t exactly have me eating out of the palm of its hand. And mind you, these were the first 2 dishes I sampled. I wasn’t wrong to question whether the place was all hype, whether I was out of luck-sa. But it’s like the food gods smiled from up above in Candyland and simply said, “Oh ye of little faith…” These were to be the only two aberrations on a day that was otherwise faultless.
Given that we had Yatin with us today, he who is the scourge of aquatic life and nemesis of Aquaman, it was only natural we called for a boatload of only the finest sushi on offer. The sushi boat packed 25 sushi soldiers laid out prettily across its bow and stern, and there was a wide assortment of Tempura Rolls, Rainbow Rolls, California Rolls and much more that we tried, such as an invention of the restaurant called Carbon Sushi. I’m sure Yatin would have preferred the sushi on offer at 55 East since it’s unlimited, but we were ordering enough sushi to feed a small army. The temptation to eschew the mains entirely and binge only the dizzying array of dimsums, sushi and tapas was strong, and driven primarily by the Slayer of Fish, but one we resisted for the most part.
Even so, we couldn’t resist ordering some more sushi, fishy as we were. The Ebi Tempura featured perfectly crispy prawns in a batter that was light and airy, with the simplicity of the prawn tempura offset by the spicy aioli. Better still was the Seafood XO Roll, sporting mildly spicy and garlicky XO sauce with bits of fish thrown in for good measure and crispy tempura as well. The pair of these were easily a win in my eyes, and each dish was rolling off what seemed a cavalcade of awesomeness.
The Marinated Scallops, however, drew a thumbs down from me. The beautiful texture and demure flavour of scallops was hidden away in a sheath of cucumber, and the cucumber infused every bite with its particularly odious flavour. It was a bit like having Priyanka Chopra as your date, except she came wrapped up in a snuggy; the cucumber detracted from the central premise of what makes this dish great, and it was inventive, but not to my taste.
From surf to turf, it was time we made a transition. And so we went for Chorizo Takoyaki, savory dumplings stuffed with some octopus and chorizo and livened up with some mayonnaise. A handful of what was once a parmesan tuille decorated the plate and certainly livened things up a bit, although I’d recommend the Butayakitori over this is you’re fond of pigging out whenever you choose to eat out.
With skewers of tender pork served atop a porcine posterior, the Butayakitori was a smoky delight with flavors mildly enhanced by some togarashi & apple betel nut coleslaw. While I liked the flavors I was getting off this little piggy, I preferred the burst of flavors I got from the Char Siu Bao at Fatty Bao or the delectable Ribs at Indigo. The pork was neither as tender as it is at both aforementioned places, nor did it have the glazing Indigo’s pork boasts of. Good as it was, this little piggy would not be my number one choice if I were to head to the market.
By this time, our bellies were straining under the considerable weight of all the food we had shoved down our pie hole, and we knew it was time for something from the mains, but not too plain. Not like there’s a chance of that happening here. The Yuzu sorbet infused with Wasabi that was meant to act as a palate cleanser proved that. With the Yuzu’s tartness exploding on the palate followed by a mild hit of wasabi, this sorbet was good enough to have as a dessert by itself and whetted our appetite for things to come.
Sarvesh Talreja had insisted from the time we set our bottoms down that we had to go for the Lamb Rendang, and I’m glad he made campaigning for Mary’s little lamb his life’s mission. The gravy was peppery, but not too much, allowing the meat to be the star of the show. Tender and falling off the bone, just the way I like it, we lapped up the lemongrass-infused gravy with some small kori-roti style flatbread and enjoyed the gravy almost as much as we did the protein itself, which is saying something. I think, looking back, that we looked like a bunch of guys that hadn’t seen food in yonks, this despite us coming off a big round of appetizers to begin with. If that isn’t praise for this dish, I don’t know what is.
Ruhi is the kind of gal that goes to a fancy oriental joint and wishes she were served Chicken Lollipops. True story. Anyways, my little lady asked me to get her a simple fish dish and rice for the mains, and her wish is my command. And so it was that a Kimchi Rice and a Peanut Crusted Ikan Bakar made its way was plated up for my slightly worse half.
Fragrant and mildly spiced, the rice was good enough to have by itself, but the beautifully nutty and spicy-sweet sambal was a wonderful complement to it nonetheless. Everyone at the table appreciated the beautifully done fish (red snapper, no less) and we ended our meal on a great note with this. The only thing better than the curry itself was its price tag; priced at a mere Rs. 525, this red snapper curry was insanely good value for money and we’d have gone for seconds were we not stuffed tighter than a piñata at a party.
We did, however, have just enough space for the only ‘i’ creation not made by Apple that is a huge hit everywhere; iScream. And so it came to pass that we called for an ice cream sampler boasting wild flavours such as vanilla infused with truffle oil, white peppercorn, mango basil and chilli coconut in addition to some plain jane vanilla and strawberry. Of the lot, the white peppercorn with its ticklish spiciness and the mango basil with its savory sweet nature appealed most to me, although your mileage might vary!
Special shout out to Manish, our attendant for the day, whose impeccable knowledge of the dishes, enthusiasm and eveready recommendations underpinned what was a great experience at Pa Pa Ya. With its nuanced dishes that use highly refined ingredients, Pa Pa Ya is very well priced, and I honestly don’t know how much longer these low prices will last. The food is a dazzling, dramatic display of show and tell that will wow your palate, but Pa Pa Ya’s greatest trick lies in plating up astounding food at an astonishingly good price point. That’s a magic trick I can truly sink my teeth into.
Get: Lamb Rendang, Sushi Boat/Matrix, Yin Yang, Peanut Crusted Ikan Bakar
Forget: Duck Confit Salad