Ping’s Café Orient in Lower Parel, Mumbai, proves pan-Asian fare can offer comfort — and health.
It’s a miracle noodle. Gluten-free, vegan, keto-friendly, low carb and possessing 97 per cent water. Meet konjac or shirataki noodles. These long, stringy, translucent noodles come with impressive health benefits, the most unusual of which is that a packet contains just three calories.
Shirataki is the healthiest and easily the most interesting thing we eat at Ping’s Café Orient (PCO). The newest venture of Passcode Hospitality in Lower Parel, Mumbai, is part of an impressive structure that also houses their other ventures: the American SAZ Café, the faux speakeasy PCO, and the liquor store Mansionz by Living Liquids (with a tasting room).
We’ve eaten at Ping’s Bia Hoi in Goa and it impressed us with its salads, the way the chef treated meat, and its fun vibe. Ping’s Café Orient in Mumbai doesn’t have the space that Goa offers but, is a cosy place with ten tables. There are conical hat lanterns (the hat is a defining symbol of Vietnam), a vibrant red wall with frames of scenes from lives of people in different Asian countries, old cameras, and even a payphone. To call your waitstaff (maybe), there’s a switch near each table that reads, ‘ping for your server’. Retro English music streaming over the speakers certainly reminds us of Goa.
Ping’s cocktail selection is small but deserving of attention. We order the signatures, which across the menu are helpfully highlighted in red. Carmine is a luscious drink of white rum with the slightest zing of ginger that rounds off the sweetness of plum and hibiscus. Saigon Sour doesn’t just alliterate well but the tequila sour possesses a heavy smokiness that mellows into a tangy drink with spicy afternotes. Ping’s 75 is a tall glass of sparkling wine that overpowers the yuzu and gin it is paired with.
While we sip on our drinks, out come rice crisps, which we dip in a dry beans and chilli mixture.
The standout dishes at the Goan Ping’s were a delicious cold beef salad, pork baos and beef wrapped in betel leaf. We seek the same here. Goa’s Angry Beef Salad becomes Mumbai’s Angry Tenderloin Salad. The flavour is the same: sweet citrus notes on tender slices of beef, with arugula leaves offering fresh crunch and some sweetness from onions. Betel Leaf Wrapped Tenderloin has a distinct smokiness to it. The biggest difference in both these favourites is the meat, of course. Though well-cooked, it’s hard not to notice the slight chewiness of the tenderloin available here.
Our starters come fast and delicious, some requiring dabs of chilli oil. Soft Shell Crab Bao is adequately crunchy with a dense bao (made, we learn later, with a mix of lotus root flour and local flour), but suffers from too much mayonnaise. Butter Garlic Prawn Dimsums are a pretty pocket that shows us how some ‘fusion’ can be good. The Spicy Chicken Dumplings are juicy and coated with chilli. We use the cold beef salad to ease that burn! In contrast, the burn on the Fiery Asian BBQ Chicken is mild. The dish is a good example of how to treat the protein: there’s mild char on the slices, and the meat melts in the mouth. At the end comes a burst of tartness from pickled vegetables.
Our table mats highlight something the sign outside the window also says: this is healthy pan-Asian dining; ‘great food, guilt free’. The emphasis on healthy eating is reinforced by Executive Chef Hanoze Shroff (who looked after Passcode’s Goa restaurants before moving to Mumbai).
Shirataki is the best example of it. Shroff discovered it via a friend who ate it in Dubai. He attempted to make a dessert out of it but didn’t like the result, so he decided to stir fry it. He has ambitious plans of making his own noodles, too. And in the future, these miracles will make their way to other Ping’s in the country.
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For now, Ping’s Mumbai wants its own identity. It’s the second branch to have sushi on its menu, using fish sourced from across India. The substantial vegetarian menu is meant to cater to the restaurant’s 70 per cent vegetarian customers. Shroff insists we return to try the Sobo Fried Rice: which has Goan fat rice paired with fresh vegetables. And there’s the magic noodles.
Our Wok-Tossed Shirataki Noodles come with cabbage, carrot and spring onion. The noodles are reminiscent of glass noodles and have the slightest chew. Shroff sends Krapow Chicken (as an unnecessary accompaniment), which is a little heavy on the salt.
Our meal ends with a pretty plate of dessert. The creaminess of the passionfruit cheesecake finds companionship with tart berry compote, fresh berries, and a caramel-sweet brandy snap.
The red wall behind us has a neon pink sign that could sum up our experience. This is a meal that you will love for a long time after you’ve eaten it.
Ping’s is at NRK House, Next to Kamala Mills, Gate No. 2, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai. Ph: 9920054488. Timings: Noon to 11.30 pm.