Gone are the days in this country when Asian cuisine was represented by two sauces; The Red Schezwan and the Black Manchurian. For long we Indians have relished these two dishes and it's multiple 'Chindian' (Chinese-Indian) variations. The coming of age for this Pan-Asian cuisine has seen a rather long curve with growth of Black Bean based dishes, use of Lemongrass and Shrimp Paste and the burst of Dumpling outlets at very nook and corner. More recently in the first half of this decade, the South East Asian cuisine has brought a wide array of flavours that also somewhere inside of it has shown mild hints of Indian influences. The Burmese Khao Suey / Kaukswe, Thai Papaya Salad, Tempura based appetisers, Sushi and Sashimi are a few dishes that can be now seen on the menu of almost all mainstream Chinese eateries. While many have opted to introduce a few of these iconic dishes into their regular menu, only a few have managed to keep the authenticity intact. Pune is in the middle of a similar Pan-Asian storm where dying eateries are refreshing their menu with new offerings while a handful of start-ups are building a strong base with authentic provincial dishes from almost all of the South East Asia. One such example of a budding startup offering an attempt at South East Asian dishes is 'The Asian Box' located in Koregaon Park, Pune.

Bowl of Seafood Khao Suey 

Bowl of Seafood Khao Suey 

The owner couple - Dheeraj & Priya Mahtani who shifted to Pune from Singapore also brought with them their experience and flavours of the Singapore street food. More importantly they believed in the concept of a humble street food joint where ambiance and decor was secondary while tang was primary, thus came the birth of 'The Asian Box' which offers dishes from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Japan and Burma. In both of our dining experiences at the outlet (a dinner followed by the next day lunch), the food was consistent & uncomplicated with straightforward flavours. Regional favourites like Malaysian Kway Teow, Nasi Goreng and Burmese Khao Suey were ordered along with contemporary dishes like Kung Pao Chicken, Roast Hainese Chicken Rice and Chilly Bean Chicken.

The 'Roast Hainese Chicken Rice' came with a cautionary advice about it being on the bland side of the palate and needed a heavy dousing of the side chilli sauce. Nonetheless, one spoonful mix of the humble rice brightened by the soup, one fork full of Chicken strip dipped in Chilli Mix and you experience the ultimate amalgamation of fundamental Asian flavour. Period !

Our 'Nasi Goreng' bowl of fried rice was topped with a fried egg, crackers and two skewers of Chicken Satay. Yet again a generous dish with heat derived from the chopped Red Chillis and briny flavours from the long grain rice coated in Oyster Sauce. The Singapore and Indonesian favourite had already wooed us and got us confident enough to indulge into a bowl of the pinnacle of Burmese culinary craft - The Khao Suey. Going for a seafood variation was only a matter of trusting the kitchen to deliver an intense Coconut Milk broth deepened by chopped Basa fillets and handful of Prawns. It's a dish not for the voracious eater, but someone who understands how to tackle two large bowls of curry and noodles combined into one and ornamented with fried garlic, onions, chopped spring onion greens and red chili. This Khao Suey could have easily toppled Busago's version had the celery not been missing from the accompaniments. While it is tiny little addition, the celery brings a zing that stops the repeated flushing of palate with coconut and seafood meat flavours. Vastly on all fronts this Khao Suey is a bowl to be reckoned with. 

The Penang favourite 'Kway Teow' flat noodle dish too was deeply enjoyed across the table. A little dry in nature, but was well accompanied by the slightly curried Chili Bean Chicken. The presence of Sambal Paste in the Kway Teow comes out quite distinctly in the dish, though they do offer the dish minus the sambal paste for people who are intolerant to fish sauce or shrimp paste.

Although they offer a few known desserts for the end of a meal, we're lucky to be offered bowls of a unique 'Pandan' flavoured Panna Cotta with a touch of dark sugar syrup on top. The Panna Cotta was a bit firm, though what intrigued us was the simultaneous presence of an interestingly nutty and grassy flavour caused by the infusion of the Pandan leaves. Top marks for simply bringing the leafy flavours into a Panna Cotta.

In conclusion, the hospitality of the owners, their presence and effort to educate the patrons on their order are some of the highlights of this humble eatery. The quality of food and restricted Pan-Asian menu is a conscious yet brainy move that plays to their strength, which has also build its thick set of loyalists. Not only has all of this earned them a top spot in the Pan- Asian list of eateries of Pune but also bagged them a  title of "Best Pan-Asian (Casual Dining)"during the Times Food Guide Awards 2015, held in Pune. It's an appreciable testimonial for honest cooking, humble beginnings and resolute road-map to success.

Location : Ground Floor, Shahinsha Building, Lane no. 6, Koregaon Park, Pune.

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"Oogway: My friend, the panda will never fulfill his destiny, nor you yours until you let go of the illusion of control.

Shifu: Illusion?"

I believe Oogway made a reference to many pandas when he said that. The illusion of control is that i cannot ask the young Panda to serve a precise Cantonese meal or a Chinese meal-in-a-box when it (the Panda) has grown in the suburbs and wants to prepare a Funky Asian Gourmet ! Go Panda is neither Funky nor is it Gourmet; It is just Pan-Asian. The menu features a vast variety of Asian flavours right from Burmese Khau suey to Malay Korma to Thai Pot Rice. One can also find an outlandish amalgamation of Asian fillings inside Panini breads and Tacos. 

Glamour Quotient :

Well, being situated in Lokhandwala and being subtle is a crime in itself. Therefore, Black, White and Red themed interiors and Yellow takeaway boxes with shiny laminated insides to complete the Lokhandwala fashion quotient. 

Expat Flavours :

Overall, the use of ingredients and the generated flavours meet expectations of an informed audience, but may struggle to make it work in an area that is so contrived that it cannot grow beyond Frankies, Tandoori and Barista. 

Some of the well worthy try outs would be the Prawns Nest, Barbeque Fish, Tom Kha Soup, Thai Jungle Curry and the Malaysian Lamb Korma (avoid the roti). The deep fried noodle wrapped Asian Prawns Nest works well as a quick bite with its sweet chili drizzle and so do the fragile pieces of Asian Barbeque Fish. Tom Kha Soup is rendered well in taste and texture, but may get rejection if auditioning for the first time to a desi palate. I sincerely loved its mix of flavours coming from the coconut base and kaffir lime leaves. The Jungle Curry traditionally known as 'Kaeng pa' in Thailand is known to not feature any element of coconut, but the version here is rendered with enough of it which works well to our taste-buds. The slow cooked Malay Lamb Kurma tastes alluring and can easily be consumed without it's dull looking roti. 

Blowout :

The Vietnamese Smoke Chicken sandwich (mind you, it's not a Banh Mi) is only recommended to one with a craving for Wasabi; Overwhelming would be an understatement here. The Fish in Mustard Sauce is equally overwhelmed by it's mustard base so much so that none of the other ingredients could sensitize the palate. Our Chicken Satay came with barely any seasoning, a very inorganic flavour and overcooked meat. The Peanut Sauce supplied along can be best left unsoiled.

Climax :

Wholesome portions, mostly well altered Asian flavours and a glamourous brand; 'Go Panda' has it all in order to break into the Lokhandwala food culture. It's a valiant effort by a bunch of young entrepreneurs that reflects their thought of bringing cuisines from various parts of this subcontinent under one roof. Moreover it's the only option in that part of the suburb which serves all these delicacies and for a reasonable amount.

My verdict - Go for their Signature Meals, Pot Meals and Appetizers.

Location : Shop 7, Grenville Building, Near Mala Tower, Andheri Lokhandwala

 

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From being known as 'Pot Pourri' to going 'Lemon Grass' and now rechristened as 'Lemon Leaf', This eatery has held that spot at the corner of Turner Road & Ambedkar Road for many years now.

So in the last week on one humid night went here for dinner with a few close friends. As usual, The place was packed for dinner but we 3 got a table just as we entered and i guess that was the only one that was empty. The AC enclosure was filled too so we didn't have much options. The outside was in fact not bad. The coolers at the either ends did a good job.

So food was ordered - Assorted Veg Dumpling Basket, Chicken Stir Fry with Sticky Rice & Thai Style Rice with Chicken. Mind you, out of these 3 orders only the Basket was listed on the menu and the other two were one offs made to order since i myself requested for a portion of rice and gravy in one dish which no restaurant is interested to serve. So if you're picky with the price while ordering customized dish you will be left guessing till the bill arrives. So the restaurant should make it clear that either we do not have such customization or come up with some kind of meal combos. Thus everyone is happy.

The outside dinning area at Lemon Leaf.

The outside dinning area at Lemon Leaf.

The order arrived. First one was the 2 tier Veg Dumpling Basket. Hard to decipher what was what, but the Spinach & Garlic filled one was my pick of the lot. Dumplings although freshly steamed did not pack much flavours. Very average fair. The Dips were the saving grace. So to be true, at 625 bucks this basket is steeply priced and not worth the money. Next was the my plate of Sticky Rice and Chicken Stir Fry gravy. It was served with a below average tasting salad. For some reason that salad was garnished with chopped coriander. That just kills the whole point of having a near authentic meal. The rice was great in texture and so was the stir fry on my plate. Portion size is quite neat too. Tasted a few spoons of the other rice dish which was more or less bland. Lightly stir fried rice with Chicken and chunks of Cabbage and few more veggies. It tasted well but not nothing i can rave and recommend others.

Overall this place is a miss in my books for now. It could well be that we went for just the average run-of-the-mill dishes from the menu. May be if the person in-charge was attentive to us and recommended us something worthy of trying from the mains this wouldn't be the story.

These 3 orders made up for 1789/- including taxes. Not bad but definitely i've had better Pan Asian cuisine at that price point.