Restaurant Review: Koko, Lower Parel

KokoMainThe Tham siblings, Keenan and Ryan, are in the business of cloning restaurants, their own to be clear. The second-generation restaurateurs have inherited the hospitality gene from their father Henry Tham, who ran a successful lounge by the same name in Colaba for four years until 2009 and the long-running Chinese restaurant Mandarin. Taking after him, the brothers launched Trilogy, the nightclub in Juhu and set up The Good Wife restaurant and bar in Bandra Kurla Complex. Their new venture Koko in Lower Parel has the look and feel of a branch of these properties.

Koko, inside the Kamala Mills compound, has shades of both Henry Tham and The Good Wife. Like its predecessors, Koko is on the cusp of restaurant and bar. Here, the two identities are proportional. They’ve channeled Henry Tham through warm lighting and a cocktail-focused bar that is the focal point of the 3,500 square feet room. They’re also resurrecting memories of the lounge in the food, which is primarily modern Chinese, while the commercial house playlist is what you might hear at The Good Wife and Trilogy after sundown.

While Tham senior was something of a trendsetter – in 2005 he was among the first to run a thriving lounge-restaurant in the city – the junior Thams have perfected being populist. As repetitive as all of it is, Koko is likely to outlive some of the more experimental restaurants in Kamala Mills. The food is satisfying, the music has wide appeal and the decor, a combination of mood lighting, pretty tiles and plush upholstery, is inoffensively generic. When we visited, Koko, which will complete a month this week, was overbooked forcing walk-ins like us to dine at the bar.

Despite a full house, the bar service was impeccable. UK-based celebrity mixologist Dimitri Lezinska, who co-hosted the TV show Cocktail Kings on the Discovery Channel, is Koko’s bar consultant. He’s not always around but has put together a competent team of enthusiastic and attentive bartenders. A lot of Lezinska’s tipples are tart such as the pucker-packed Twisted Mule (Rs550), a tasty brine-like blend of vodka, lime, ginger, jasmine and bitters poured over a hill of crushed ice, and the off-menu Jamun Club (Rs550), a sour jamun-coloured lime, gin and egg white concoction that was just as easy to imbibe.

In comparison, the table service was awful, as the dining staff pretty much neglected the bar area, the narrowness of which compounded our woes. It’s built for cosying over cocktails but was unfit for a cluster of plates. The menu echoes those of Joss, Royal China and Yauatcha, leading with a page of sushi followed by dim sum, a large selection of small plates and as many mains. If you can’t score a table, eating appetisers with chopsticks is more convenient than ordering dishes that necessitate the use of extra plates and cutlery.

The sweet peas, water chestnut and truffle dumpling (Rs330), inspired perhaps by Yauatcha’s famed edamame and truffle dumpling, was also faithful to the BKC dim sum house’s version in flavour. Under thin skin was a green mush fragrant with truffle oil. However, truffle oil-spiked butter could not elevate the portobello and asparagus (Rs450) in which the mushrooms were shrivelled and the stalks skinny. In contrast, each slice of the authentic crispy pork belly (Rs525) had a sliver of crackling skin and the meat was simultaneously tender and crisp. The roasted pork was served with a sweet plum dipping sauce but was left undressed and unseasoned and that’s how we relished the flawless meat.

The chicken with peppercorns and scallions (Rs385) was not overwhelmed by either the spice or the onions. The meat lacquered with pungent chilli oil was succulent. The broccoli with creamy Planta (a brand of multi-purpose margarine) and bird’s eye chilli (Rs325) was a snack fit for a gymkhana according to our co-diners. Pedestrian though it was, the sweet, spicy and Planta-cloaked florets were addictive. The edamame black rice with burnt garlic (Rs425) was nutty, al dente and boasted a lot more character than the average fried rice. Four out of their five desserts are non-Asian. The multi-layered Texture of Caramel (Rs375) combined crowd favourites such as hazelnut praline, buttery caramel sauce, sea salt, cream and milk chocolate and was consequently demolished. The hazelnut praline crunch cake (Rs375), however, was disappointingly flat as opposed to the nuanced treat that preceded it.

Get: Sweet peas, water chestnut and truffle dumpling (Rs330); authentic crispy pork belly (Rs525); chicken with peppercorns and scallions (Rs385); edamame black rice with burnt garlic (Rs425).

Skip: Portobello with truffle butter and asparagus (Rs450); hazelnut praline crunch cake (Rs375).

Prices exclude taxes. This review was conducted anonymously. 

It is our policy to wait at least a week after an establishment has opened before we review it.

Koko, near AnnCensored and The Bombay Canteen, Kamala Mills Compound, Lower Parel. Tel: 022 6105 3999. Open daily, from 7pm to 1am. Get directions here

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