What It Is: A casual Indian restaurant located on Beijing Lu, KLAY is the new project from Hardeep Soma, who, besides being the former chef at Bull & Claw, has made a name for himself cooking excellent Indian food at various food festivals around town. The restaurant is currently in “soft-opening” but has been busy ever since it opened its doors a few weeks ago, presumably a response from the large WeChat contact list of the owners and some (partly questionable) hype on local review sites. KLAY labels itself as a contemporary Indian restaurant, which translates into tapas-style Indian fusion dishes, like a butter chicken taco or a lamb burger – all bite-sized portions. There’s a shortlist of home-made infused highball drinks by Geo Valdivieso known from The Broken Dagger.
Area: One block behind Plaza 66 and next door to Italian pizzeria Sofia, where Roadhouse used to be. There’s currently no sign on the door.
Atmosphere: Spare, simple interior, that according to Klay’s management, isn’t finished yet. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was a closed-down canteen, given the room's bare setup and lack of decor. As you enter, the open kitchen is on the left, allowing everyone the chance to watch the chefs' work. There's a small bar located at the end.
What makes up for the missing decoration is at least made up by the sometimes overwhelming energy of the customers, who fill every seat from opening to closing (i.e. the acoustic of the space is designed in such a way that it can get really loud, really fast).
The Food & Drinks: Currently, the small menu is made up of about 10 mains (five meats, five fish dishes, no vegetarian options) and a few sides. Portions are small and are meant to be shared. It’s Indian cuisine for the Instagram generation, folks who don't like traditional Indian food and prefer the flavors inside something more photogenic. While some of the dishes like the Tandoori Mailai Broccoli (38rmb) were tasty and within the normal Shanghai-range of “expensive”, other dishes, such as the Lobster masala (198rmb), seemed outrageous. Charging almost 200rmb for three small bites of a crustacean seems either dishonest or like rookie soft-opening pricing that still needs to be adjusted. Restaurant pricing is always subjective, but ultimately, customers are either paying for the atmosphere (take the Bund view as an example), the high level of cooking, or the amount of food served. In KLAY's case, we couldn’t see which of the 3 arguments made sense to justify the pricing.
The drink list is a work-in-progress, and is rather disappointing for a restaurant bringing a big-name bartender on board. Besides a small wine list, there are only four infused highballs on the list (highballs are currently a thing in Shanghai). These too are priced on the higher side of what is basically the end of a drink with lots of soda water in it.
Dishes We Tried: Dishes are on the smaller side, meant to be eaten family-style. If you are looking for a filling dinner, head to Vedas or Masala Art for bigger portions and a little more choice. Currently on offer at KLAY is a handful of smaller well-cooked dishes using imported ingredients.
The big dish of the restaurant is the Lobster Masala. Indian Ocean lobster served with a traditional masala sauce. It is not a proper curry dish, but there are a fair few bites of meat and some sauce to eat with naan or some rice.
If you like meat, the Anghaar Paslia Lamb Chops with french trim and ginger mash is a go-to. Imported from New Zealand, the meat was cooked to a medium-pink and soft enough to cut into with little effort. The Indian flavor comes from the sweet and spicy green chutney that's drizzled over the lamb. You get two chops per order, so have it as a starter to share or as a main to yourself.
The Tandoori Salmon, also imported from New Zealand, was served with beetroot hummus, slaw and a crispy poppadum - a very thin Indian cracker. This dish works well as a starter.
For sides, you have saffron rice and three different naans: garlic, truffle cheese, and chili cheese. The chili cheese naan works well with the saucier dishes like the lobster and dal, adding an extra kick of spice.
Of the desserts, there is the Saffron Yoghurt Panna Cotta with cashew and almond crumble and rosewater dressing. It carries the taste of kulfi icecream. The creaminess and crunchiness match well, without being too sweet.
The menu is a work-in-progress too, with new items being added every day. In addition to dishes like octopus and crab, some more traditional curries will also be included when the restaurant officially opens. There are plans to expand beyond dinner, with talk of a lunchtime menu deal to make good use of Beijing Xi Lu’s foot traffic during the week. KLAY has considered adding brunch, offering Mumbai-style street food, something different from the weekday lunch and dinner menus.
Damage: Average spend is 300-400rmb per person.
Who's Going: Lots of friends of the owners. People that are into new restaurants; Shanghai does have a large enough high spending crowd that love to chase down new restaurant openings. It’s been difficult to get a table, with a few people reporting that they had to wait a long time to even get a seat, despite having a reservation.
First Thoughts: The doorstep of KLAY quotes, “Every journey begins with a single step”. Based on our first visits, KLAY should either hurry up in taking those next steps before their journey ends sooner than they think. What are they going to do after their stream of friends and WeChat followers moves on the next “new, hot thing”.
This article is a written collaboration between the SmartShanghai editorial team and a freelancer. It is a reflection of both party's perspectives.
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