Iconic restaurant Food

Baba Ling talks about the legendary Ling’s Pavilion in Mumbai

For over 70 years, Ling’s Pavilion has been serving simple, popular Cantonese fare in Mumbai. Try the Nanking fried prawns, chop suey and stewed pork

To anyone acquainted with Ling’s Pavilion Colaba, 70-year-old Baba Ling, christened Sem Tian Ling, in his signature safari suit, is a familiar face. Seated in his tiny chamber with an opening overlooking the restaurant, he gives instructions to his staff or through his trusted lieutenant, Georgie, who has been with him for over 30 years.

From Nanking to Ling’s

With the consolidation of the Communist regime in China, Yick Sen Ling came to Mumbai from the Canton province of China in 1938, to help his uncle with the family-run, Chinese emporium in Colaba. However, his heart lay in food, and when Nanking across the road was up for sale in 1945, he grabbed the opportunity and kick-started his restaurant business.

In 1990, when the Nanking building was being demolished owing to its decrepit state, Ling’s sons, Nini and Baba, who were by then at the helm, shifted to a new premises close-by. However, due to the address on the licences, were no longer able to call it Nanking. Thus, it was officially re-born, as Ling’s Pavilion, named after the family, this time.

Autopilot mode

Baba Ling talks about the legendary Ling’s Pavilion in Mumbai

Besides the name, everything remained the same, including the menu and staff. Their hard work paid off and Ling’s Pavilion has consistently enjoyed a reputation, as the epitome of authentic Cantonese food in Mumbai.

The duo, has been carrying forward the legacy of their father, who passed away in 1994. Simple, authentic Cantonese food, “sans any kotmir, mirchi and pudina, is what we serve and the restaurant is flocked by loyal patrons”, Baba Ling declares. He adds, “We pride ourselves for our honest flavours and good quality food which our guests have loved for decades. The recipes we follow, are mostly the ones created or researched by my father.”

Baba, the younger of the two sons, who stepped in to help in the then Nanking in 1968, still starts his day early at the restaurant, as he is a strong disciplinarian. A stickler for quality ingredients, he personally buys them on his way. “I still purchase everything from the same suppliers who have been around for 70 years, since my father’s time and the third generation is now serving us,” he explains.

His brother Nini, drops by each evening after Baba heads home around 8 pm. “We make sure that one of us is always here, if the other is travelling. Family supervision always helps,” he states matter-of-factly.

Giving due credit to his staff, he says, “We are blessed with a great team, many of whom have been with me for almost half my life. They know how we like to run the business ethically and help us in doing so.”

The signature dishes at Ling’s Pavilion are Nanking fried prawns, American chop suey, stewed pork, sweet-and-sour fish, for which people from abroad as well as India come here. “The taste and the flavours have not changed,” he quips.

“We have never felt the need to advertise or do marketing; we have grown only by word-of-mouth publicity, from loyal patrons. Families have been coming here for years, and now their children and grandchildren do so as well,” reveals Baba, beaming with pride.

From politicians to film stars and industrialists, Baba Ling has seen them all coming to Ling’s Pavilion, but is never awe-struck. “For us, every customer is equally important and must go out happy and satisfied,” he avers.

Growth and evolution

Baba Ling talks about the legendary Ling’s Pavilion in Mumbai

His current menu runs into several pages, offering over 350 dishes and has grown drastically from the original menu, which offered barely 50-60 dishes. “While the food is still affordably priced and the serving sizes generous, it is value-for-money. In my father’s time, a bowl of rice and a chicken or pork dish cost ₹45-50 each,” he reminisces.

Over the years, given the discerning palate of diners, the menu has evolved, and some dishes have been made spicier, he admits, but there has been no compromise on the flavours or quality. Recollecting his father’s time, he says, “The kitchen in those days used to be a tiny 350 square feet, and the entire restaurant was 1,100 square feet. Today, the kitchen itself is over 1,000 square feet.”

Yick Sen Ling had hired Chinese seamen who had docked at Bombay as cooks and staff, thus introducing Chinese delicacies like honey glazed pork spare ribs. “Over the years, they have trained our staff. In those days, live crabs were presented to diners at their tables, so they could pick the crustacean of their choice,” he recalls with a smile.

Lessons from father

“My father taught us that honesty, hard work and faith in God pays. We strictly adhere to these and it has always helped us. What I will not eat myself, I will never serve my customers,” he says candidly.

Suppliers play a pivotal role in ensuring food quality in a restaurant, according to him, and he is picky about them. “I prefer to stick to the same suppliers and give them that day’s price rather than have a fixed rate with them. This way, your suppliers are happy and give you the best, and in turn your customers are satisfied,” he says.

“My son Jason and the children in the family have shown an interest and are already running two restaurants successfully in Delhi and Ahmedabad. When the time comes, they will manage this too,” says Baba.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 2:21:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/baba-ling-lings-pavilion/article29100515.ece

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