Pan Asian in ITC Grand Chola, Chennai exemplifies a culinary wanderlust, which, if you pause to think about it, is a perfect embodiment of the spirit of adventure you would associate with avid bikers – which is what the restaurant’s Chef and Sous Chef are.
Chef Vikramjit Roy and Sous Chef Lambert Chiang, ride captain and ride lieutenant (to borrow biker jargon) of this gastronomic adventure are gearheads, as passionate about food as they are about their machines.
And as much as riding is about exploration, daring, discoveries and attitude, so is the dining experience at Pan Asian – a gastronomic smorgasbord of gourmet South East Asian fare.
Pan Asian’s ‘progression of food’ across borders, its line (intended path of travel) – or the journey – begins in the fiery Sichuan Province of China, continues through the remote swathes of Mongolia, wends its way through the Land of the Morning Calm (aka Korea), into the Land of the Rising Sun (aka Japan), traverses the Land of Dragons (aka Indonesia) and progresses through Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand to conclude in Chennai, in this southernmost tip of India.
Which, in this restaurant, translates into live kitchens, dressed display counters, sushi and sashimi bars, a duck kitchen and table-top BBQ pits : Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Malaysian dishes … regional favourites and fusion surprises that mine not just popular cuisines but also the lesser known ones from the region.
Concept, team, ambiance and food interact within a dynamic setting. Each meal is a new experience; the ingredients are fresh, the preparation on-the-spot, and the connect between chef and diner moulded by personal preference.
There is theatre here, in the buzz and action, in the ritual and presentation, in the surprises and the pairings. A soup is not just a soup; the broth and ingredients are served separately and there in involvement in its creation, in its garnish. The flaming crackle and sizzle of hot oil on grilled fish is an example of the many ways in which dishes are completed at the table. Mixologists concoct a variety of classic, favourite and house cocktails with dash and verve, food and drink are served with style, at variance with its informal ambiance and Asian ethos of interconnectedness and separation. There are cul de sacs and dining spaces, sections and wooden partitions, brick finishes, empty frames and glimpses into different worlds, cultures and cuisines, all Asian.
So what can a diner expect ?
Variety. Surprises. Discoveries.
The Walk of Temptation (aptly named) at the entrance opens up to a 800 bottle wine cellar. Café Edo sources its fish for sushi and sashimi from Tsukijji Market (the world’s largest fish market) and supplies are flown in every fortnight from Tokyo. Herbs, vegetables and other ingredients are imported directly from China and Thailand. Diners can expect to sample mirakuru (a ‘miracle’ fruit) and yamamomo (a variety of mountain peach), both palate enhancers. At the Indian Ocean, fresh seafood is selected, weighed and prepared according to a diner’s preference. The Dessert Counter intersperses regional surprises (including tofu cheesecake and wasabi crème bruleè) amidst international favourites.
A diner can also opt for the metaphoric highway, for an omakase meal – a blind tasting of small portions of multiple courses in the bespoke Chef’s Studio. This is a meal invested with daring and challenge: a diner cedes completely to the chef, he trusts and samples. Dishes upon dishes created within the ambit of a client’s preferences and/or restrictions are the measure of a Chef’s skill and creativity, and this is what Pan Asian is renowned for.
Expect the unexpected, from banana flower salads, pork loins in tamari balanced by a peach infusion, a dash of fruit roe or even chocolate dust roasted with ground tapioca to offset a fragrant sprig of spearmint rooted in a chocolate base.
It is to trust in a journey that is daily being crafted by two men – bikers and artists – who believe that the vitality of ‘sunshine on chrome’ can be brought into the kitchen and your table; whose belief in a ‘system of concepts’ can be traced directly to a philosophy embraced in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig.
Photographs borrowed from online sources including http://www.chennaifoodie.com.