Three Kingdoms extend the territory of taste with favourites from Chinese, Malay and Thai cuisines

I'm so over Saturday night. Too garish, too loud, too stressful. Hence there I was — settling down with a cup of green tea and a book. Early retirement, here I come.

Then, the phone rang.

Now the first rule of a quiet Saturday night is, never pick up your phone. One minute you have rollers in your hair and a cucumber face mask on, and the next minute you're en route to a party in Puducherry.

Yet, I picked up the phone.

Five minutes later I was pulling out my make-up bag. The plan: head out for a quiet evening of conversation and tea. I can do that, I thought. In fact it fits in with my quiet Saturday night resolution perfectly. And since I've already eaten a healthy roti-dal dinner at home, I can be stoic and healthy. Green tea is packed with anti-oxidants. In fact I'm probably doing myself a favour by going out, right?

So we headed to a cafe. Ordered tiramisu. Bumped into friends. Who ordered chocolate milk shakes. And cake. Lots of cake. And then, close to midnight the whole raucous bunch decided to head out for prawn-toast. Deep fried, unctuous, wicked prawn toast. So we toddled along to Three Kingdoms.

And that's how this review got started.

Three Kingdoms, which opened recently offers Chinese, Malay and Thai food. An irresistible combination, really, considering how seductive all three cuisines are with their colour, spice and sass. Despite being set on buzzing Khader Nawaz Khan Road, it's still rather low key.

No kitschy red paper lamps, golden waving cat statues and clichéd tinkly music. Instead, the space is stylish and restful, furnished with restrained elegance. However, since the tables are set rather close to each other it does have the potential to get chaotic when it fills up.

We ordered their classics — fried shrimp toast and black pepper chicken. The toast arrived in dainty triangles, topped with a heap of delicate chicken floss. The chicken's hot and juicy, draped in a powerful black pepper sauce.

Later in the week, I decide to go back for a proper review. My car is taken by a valet with no uniform or ID. A little uneasy, I ask the girls at the Three Kingdoms reception if he's legit. They giggle uncontrollably. I take it as a good sign.

The menu's enticingly extensive, offering tried and tested favourites as well as more exotic dishes for the days you're feeling adventurous. There's Tom Yum and sweet corn but also clear soup with glass noodles. Thai Pandan leaf chicken, as well as shrimpy chicken marinated with prawn paste, prawn cereal oats. Green and red curry, and Mongolian lamb. And for the vegetarians, fried wontons, spicy assorted vegetables, spring rolls… A little symbol beside each item indicates which country its from.

Our meal begins with Taichee chicken, thick with diced carrot, crunchy green bell peppers and roasted cashew nuts and fried rice. Or at least I think it's Taichee chicken. The rice is light, fluffy and aromatic. The chicken is a babel of confused flavours. We ask the girl serving it what it contains, and she gets a giggle attack. It's lovely that the staff here are so happy. But it would be nice if they were as informed as they are charming.

Next comes the street food staple: Mi goring, popular in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. It's supposed to be a powerful explosion of flavours and textures, all cunningly tumbled together. In the Three Kingdoms' version the soggy noodles are drowned in sauce, resulting in tasty but a single-flavoured dish.

Right now the restaurant's greatest challenge seems to be to define itself. Do they want to be authentic Malay/ Chinese/ Thai — an area they can be good at, judging by the prawn toast and pepper chicken. Or do they want to appeal to the mass market, also a possibility given their reasonable pricing and convenient location. Trying to do a bit of everything rarely works.

Worth trying? Sure. Especially if you manage to pick the winners.

Three Kingdoms is at No. 20B, Khader Nawaz Khan Road, Nungambakkam. Tel: 72999-23934, 98403-12821. A meal for two costs approximately Rs. 600.


Shonali MuthalalyMay 11, 2012