Restaurant Review: POH, Lower Parel
The first sign was the service plate. Every place mat had half a plate. The other half arrived bearing an amuse bouche. The two parts fit like a yin and yang. Then when the first appetiser arrived, our suspicion was strengthened. Could POH (Progressive Oriental House) be one of those places committed to doing things differently to the point of silliness? The starter was a salad of banana blossom (Rs345). The tasty salad had a Burmese flavour on account of fried onion, peanuts and lemon and the fun, textural quality of bhel. It came perched on a bed of sweet potato mash, which served as an anchor for upright banana flower leaves that encaged the salad. The decoration couldn’t have been more impractical as getting to the salad meant thrusting chopsticks between the leaves or scooping them out from above.
Our suspicion was confirmed when the rest of our meal reached the table. POH, the new South-East Asian joint by the folks who run the Mainland China and Oh! Calcutta chains of restaurants, is indeed high on fuss at the expense of flavour. This is a pity as the place looks inviting. The expansive bar is done up like a Hong Kong watering hole – bottles and glasses are kept in a grid-like rack at the centre of which is a cabinet of drawers that recalls old Chinese medicine chests. A couple of vitrines with seafood behind the counter give the bar the look of a Japanese sushi joint. The overall colour palette is a sophisticated scheme of grey and brown. The only tacky bits were the plastic plants in cloches on every table.
The server summed up the idea behind the food – aside from stuff typically found on South-East Asian menus like dim sum and sushi, the globally-inspired items have been given an Asian twist. It’s not only the food that’s twisted. Even some of the cutlery is warped, like the dessert spoons with hairpin bends that serve no purpose. Some of the culinary twists, on the other hand, are off the wall. Take the case of the lamb ‘foie gras’ gyoza (Rs445). The foie gras was actually a smooth filling of lamb brain. The plate came with a medley of garnishes – leek ash, celery puree, chickpea paste and pearl onions poached in raspberry sauce – that did nothing for the dumplings. In fact the brain, which was delicious, had no business being inside a dumpling shell; it would’ve been better as a tikka.
The corn with miso mole (Rs445) was a set of corn fritters cloaked in a spicy, mildly bitter mole flavoured with miso. It’s hard to believe this fusion – imagine chyavanprash heated with a generous dose of pepper – passed cooking trials. It was no surprise then that the one item that brought us most joy was the tried and tested prawn cheung fun (Rs595). Plump prawns were sheathed in a double layer of crisp and steamed dumpling skin. The juicy parcels were arranged in a pool of dark, sweet soy dipping sauce.
The mains arrived with some needless pomp. Skewers of pork belly (Rs795) were served on dish heated by a candle. But not enough heat had been applied to them in the cooking, or perhaps the pork was naturally tough, for the meat was chewy. The braised tofu (Rs595) had soft chunks of tofu in the kind of pedestrian black bean sauce one would expect at Mainland China, not playful POH. The kimchi fried rice (Rs375) was meek compared to Bastian’s robust version, which is full of fermented flavour.
The kitchen redeemed itself, to a small extent, with dessert. Like the food, the plates were ridiculously busy, full of every texture of which kitchen tools are capable. The deconstructed toffee banana was a banana and buckwheat sponge cake (Rs445) that came festooned with slices of desiccated fruit and was surrounded by banana ice cream, banana puree and banana crumble. Ignore the fripperies and concentrate on the cake, which was a good, old-fashioned tea cake rich with the taste of caramel.
We also tried the Sichuan pepper and poached apples with parmesan crisp and walnut ice cream (Rs445). The individual parts were delectable, especially the walnut ice cream, but the combination was odd. The final dessert we tried was the dessert menu itself. This is POH’s most absurd flourish. The menu, which is separate from the a la carte menu, can be eaten. The waiter sprinkled it with raspberry powder, anointed it with vanilla syrup and encouraged us to have a bite. It tasted the way it looked, like wet paper.
Get: Banana blossom salad (Rs345), prawn cheung fun (Rs595), deconstructed toffee banana (Rs445).
Skip: Corn with miso mole (Rs445), pork belly (Rs795).
This review was conducted anonymously. It is our policy to wait at least a week after an establishment has opened before we review it.
Prices exclude taxes.
Progressive Oriental House, Gate No.4, opposite Bombay Dyeing, Kamala Mills Compound, Pandurang Budhkar Marg, Lower Parel. Tel: 75069 80738. Open daily, from 7pm to 1am. Get directions here.