Want to indulge in the sweet, sour and spicy? Or a fat steamy roll? Wok A Toque and Kati Roll Shop cook up a variety

We make reservations during the interval. The play is based on a Korean folk tale, about a tree spirit who gives an old couple a child. There is just one condition. The child must be brought up on dew, and never ever fed rice. “The tree spirit sounds like my gym trainer,” whispers a friend. We contemplate a life of dew for a few horrifying minutes. Then quickly dial Wok A Toque for reservations. Pork chops top our wish list. But rice is not far behind.

By the time we are finally seated, we’re so ravenous we fall upon the dim sum trolley in a scene that would have frightened even the tree spirit. There are pork buns, fluffy and yeast-scented, generously filled with chopped pork. Not completely authentic, but tasty enough. The chicken and vegetable dim sums are better, in their delicate translucent wraps.

We try three flavoured vegetable noodles, which are a balance of sweet, sour and spicy, and bright with julienned capsicum, carrots and onions. The pork ribs are disappointing: there’s more fat than meat and they are exasperatingly tough. We eat them with fluffy vegetable fried rice (har, har tree spirit!), a rich sautéed baby corn black bean sauce and oily crackling spinach.

Unlike most Chinese restaurants, which are usually content with ice cream and Darsaan, Wok A Toque has made an effort with their dessert menu. There are fun lychee pops, featuring the sweet frozen fruit wrapped in dark chocolate. The American-style cheesecake is solid and comforting, topped with strawberries. And there’s a ‘Coconut Grove’ which includes a coconut macaroon, a wobbly coconut jelly and a shot of tender coconut water.

Later in the week, I find myself at the newly opened Kati Roll Shop. Started by Arnav Bajoria (fashion designer-turned chef, who started the city’s first ‘private dining restaurant’ Soul Kitchen) this is a clever hawker food-in-chef’s aprons style outlet. My spirits lift the minute I see it: there’s a chatty paan seller standing beside four frightfully red chairs. Beside them, is a table posing as a cash register, behind which the rolls are being put together with factory line precision. It’s like watching a stage performance.

A Kolkata roll junkie, I have high standards. And those around the city are a poor substitute; the last one I ate was a soggy mess of cabbage, onions and a thoughtless sludge of salty sauces. So I poke my nose into the makeshift kitchen to watch the process, and I recommend you do too — unless oil terrifies you. (Let’s be practical, a street-style paratha that’s not been assiduously fried is like ice cream without a waffle cone. Pointlessly virtuous.)

The tiny kitchen makes up for a lack of space with careful organisation. A small shelf holds a tray filled with coiled paratha dough. Beside it there’s a pink bowl of sliced green chillies. Eggs are stacked beside the massive tava, where a chef sings as he flips six golden-brown parathas. Once they’re done, he throws them like flying discs onto a stainless steel table, where the second chef rapidly constructs the rolls.

You can have your roll with egg, chicken, mutton, paneer or ‘chatpata potato.’ Each of these can be doubled, or mixed. The menu is simple, which is a good thing. An ideal roll should have just a few ingredients, put together proportionately. All the chicken Chettinad, Schezwan paneer and pickled baby corn experiments tend to end up in drippy disaster.

We try the ‘anda double mutton roll,’ generously stuffed with chunks of mutton, and fluffy with egg. The paratha is substantial: flaky with crisp caramelised bits peeling off. The chicken roll is identical, except it’s filled with kebabs. The surprise is the vegetarian roll, which holds its own with spongy paneer, tender chaat-dusted potato and an unexpected dash of mustard. There’s no seating, unless you’re okay with sitting beside the road. But I’m happy to take my fat, steamy, substantial kati roll home and dive into while watching Trinny And Susannah do yet another disastrous Indian makeover on TV. Dupattas and dresses just don’t mix. Parathas and kebabs on the other hand: Yum.

Wok A Toque is at The Chariot Hotel, 4, Thirumalai Pillai Road, (Opp Vidyodaya School), T. Nagar. A meal for two is approximately Rs. 1,500. Call 2834 2677 for details.

The Kati Roll Shop is at 40/67, Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai, Mylapore. It’s open from 4p.m.-11 p.m. A meal for two is approximately Rs. 200. Call 72990 15444 for takeaway.


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