Misplaced attempts at molecular gastronomy and overblown presentation mute the potential of the culinary newcomer, Tuk Tuk Taxi, at City Centre Muscat. Team Y says, ‘Check, please!’
We’re not sure if it’s teething problems of the newly-opened or a culinary concept that’s fundamentally misguided – but something’s just not right about Tuk Tuk Taxi. As is the case with anything that becomes overhyped; nine times out of ten, reality fails to meet expectation. And, billing itself as ‘Contemporary Indian Fun Dining’ – whatever that means – word of mouth travels fast and anticipation was high for Tuk Tuk Taxi’s recent opening at City Centre Muscat.
Done right, Indian cuisine can work on highly-conceptualised planes of gastronomic elevation – but, we’re talking on the level of Sanjeev Kapoor for example. For a stand-alone mall franchise? Not so much. And, right at the outset, it’s clear the team behind Tuk Tuk Taxi has tried very hard to mould the brand around a concept of offerings that reflect a rather esoteric notion of ‘modern India’.
But in doing so they have overlooked the heart of what makes Indian cuisine so indelible – its homemade simplicity.
Simple ingredients prepared well mean big flavour. This formula is the culinary cornerstone in a nation of more than 1.2 billion people who hold the intrinsic belief that food cannot truly be tasted unless eaten with one’s hands. Leaving behind all the entrapment of utensils and implements that come between our connection to the food we eat, there’s something undeniably beautiful about that.
Tuk Tuk Taxi takes this notion and turns it on its head. Located on the ground floor of the mall the restaurant’s open-plan seating area is adorned in shades of black and yellow – an homage to the eponymous ‘tuk tuk’ (which is actually a Sri Lankan turn of phrase), the autorickshaw taxis that are the quintessential heart of the Indian streetscape. Look up and you’ll see a bisected one mounted to the wall of the restaurant.
We were greeted by the hostess who led us to a table towards the back. And after the waitress took our order, that was the last we saw of any staff until we chased them down for the bill. There was no follow-up or checking on us to see if all was okay during the meal. For a newly-opened outlet, there was just one other table occupied amid the after-work dinner rush. Something to note for those seeking a bit of seclusion while dining – the entire space is mostly open, with a fenced off perimeter separating diners from the congested throngs of the mall. We felt well, very conspicuous.
After perusing the menu, which is split into Veg and Non-Veg varieties of starters and mains, we settled on sharing a portion of their Kerala Beef Chili Fry and Golden Prawns with Sweet Chili Sauce. Both seemed like fail-safe options. For our main course we opted for a selection off their fusion section of the menu with a Malbari Prawns Pizzaan, and two lemon-mints to wash it down.
Oddly the main course arrived before the starters – and for a second, we got confused. Though, once they did finally arrive in all their peacockish presentation we realised that more effort went into the plating than it did in making sure our Pizzaan, which arrived first, was warm.
Expecting a piping-hot pie, what we pulled apart from the wooden slab were tough, under-heated slices that our teeth could barely tear through; the naan bread was so leathery. While decently seasoned with a masala rub, the cheese had gone unpleasantly rubbery and the prawns, instead of being juicy and plump, were miniscule and scantily scattered across the pie. We quickly pushed it aside after only one slice each.
The first starter to arrive was the Golden Prawns with Sweet Chili Sauce. It was served on a shovel. Cumbersome plating aside (the shovel rocked back and forth each time we plucked a prawn), this was the most palatable dish of the evening. Served with a dusting of quinoa crunch and a molecular ‘lemon air’, the prawns were large, plump and relatively hot while the flavour of the chili mayo was good. However, there was simply too much of it. Oversaturated with gobs of pinkish mayo, the batter surrounding the prawns quickly became soggy and seepy with oil.
Craving simplicity we simply removed the prawns from their overwrought cocoon and ate them separately. And the lemon air? You could get the same foamy effect from a good lather of citrus Pril.
Most disappointing of all was the Kerala Beef Chili Fry. Expecting morsels of crispy beef tossed in crunchy curry leaves and spices, what arrived were cold hunks of fatty stew meat that perhaps had been crispy an hour previously. Presented on a thin, half-moon contraption the functionality of the dish was lost. Like a piece of art, this starter was meant to be viewed, not eaten. Served on a bed of saffron upma that tasted not unlike a congealed polenta, not even the fried banana chips tossed in a mouth-puckering masala coating could redeem this dish.
The lemon-mint, however, was great.
This is one Tuk Tuk Taxi that needs a boost to jump-start it. Let’s hope that this restaurant can find its footing and go back to basics.
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