Atmosphere: Look, it's in a mall. They're trying hard with the stylish, muted colours, all bronze, blue and dove-grey, but it's still in a mall.
More specifically, Khan ChaCha is up on the 5th floor of thee Westgate Mall off West Nanjers, with a clean, shiny, chrome-filled kitchen that you can see into through a large window, and an entirely open front which makes every seat feel exposed. It's hard to get the lighting and atmosphere right in a space like this.
This is a shame, though, because it feels like the owners are working hard to make this place a success. In terms of feet through the door, they seemed to be succeeding when we visited on a Friday evening. It was packed out - every seat was full, from the lang tables in the middle to the bar-style seating in the corner. Everyone seemed to be having a great time; it must've looked lovely to all the people walking past and gazing blankly in.
Food: Starting with the good: the Chennai Express chicken thigh curry was comforting and decadent as hell. I was tempted to ask if I could buy a few tubs to freeze for bad days, but - joy - they say that they deliver! I struggled to find them on Elema when I looked, but their website promises they do, so perhaps I'm just not looking hard enough.
Also, curries come with a naan bread included. They're not at all bad - it looks like they've got professional tandoor ovens in their kitchen, so the breads come out with those classic crispy bubbles. They're perhaps a little on the thin side, though.
Having said all this, we were unimpressed by the other things we tried. They serve a saag paneer, one of my favourite dishes, but it's too cream-heavy and under-spiced for me. We also tried one of their signature appetisers: a sesame-encrusted potato log stuffed with paneer, cashews, almonds and raisins. I know - the description sounds incredible. The dish just didn't live up to it, though: the seedy coating needed longer to toast and the filling needed... excitement? A night out on the town? Something fun, anyway.
Service: I feel bad writing this, though, because the staff are super keen to please. It really feels like a new restaurant right now, and that's partly down to the behaviour of the servers and the owner. I have no complaints - it was good service - but it was good in an unpolished and slightly stumbling way, as if they really wanted to help but hadn't quite worked out how to work best together as a team yet.
They're good people, though, and they're working hard. I hope it works out for them. I'd go back if I was in the area, but they need to nail every dish if they're going to draw customers from the big hitters on Shanghai's Indian cuisine scene.
Atmosphere: Though the restaurant is in another one of those stale malls on Nanjing Xi Lu, the restaurant itself has a pleasant ambience. It's smaller than your typical Indian restaurant, but also boasts a see-through window that shows the chefs in action.
Food: King Khan (Bollywood star Amir Khan) has ruled the Chinese cinemas for several years. Can Khan Chacha, a new Indian restaurant with a touch of Persian fare, be the next King of Khans?
Recently opened on the fifth floor of Westgate Mall, I went during lunch to take advantage of their lunch specials available through DianPing. 58 RMB for a choice of curry or wrap, rice or naan, and nimbu paan or coke. I opted for the Achari Chicken Tikka Masala with Naan and nimbu paani, a refreshing drink made with freshly squeezed lemon. The first sip of the paani took me back to the scorching summers spent in New Delhi when there was no way to cool down than chugging ice cold, freshly squeezed nimbu paani.
The chicken is not your standard tikka masala. No creamy tomato sauce here. It’s served in a thicker, onion-tomato based gravy topped with sliced red peppers. A good rendition of the classic masala dish. The naan is standard issue, isn’t slathered in butter as in most places, and holds up well as a ladle to shovel the gravy into your salivating mouth. Though I came in for the lunch special, I had to tack on an order of daal. Here, the Daal Bukara, a rich and creamy lentil stew, is served with a dollop of butter. Simply satisfying.
No Indian meal is complete without a cup of masala chai. The chai here doesn’t disappoint, though I wish it was served in a bigger glass. The fennel and cardamom are the stars of the milky beverage as their aroma lingers throughout each sip.
I was intrigued by a few of the other dishes that the neighbouring diners were having: a beautifully presented Hyderbadi Briyani, steamed rice topped with dough, and a Persian fried phyllo dough stuffed with ricotta. This restaurant begs for a return.
Overall, it’s a pleasant addition, even if in a mall, to the ever growing Indian culinary scene. Dishes are presented with thought and well executed. Watch out Amir, cause a new Khan is threatening to take over the hearts of the Chinese.
Service: The service is as it should be: fast, friendly, quick on the refills.
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