It’s not often that I’m struck dumb in a restaurant, but this happened at the Smoke House Grill in Greater Kailash a few days go. We had been warned by food-journo colleagues that the place is basically a bar that makes a very half-hearted effort at serving meals, but we were meeting friends on a short time-frame and our preferred haunt in the complex (Mainland China) had a long waiting queue, so we plodded across to Smoke House instead.
There were four of us. Since we weren’t hugely keen on the appetizers, we decided to order two soups and split them. All went well up to the moment we were placing the order and the phrase “1 into 2” was used. At this, the waiter smiled sadly and shook his head.
“Sorry sir,” he said, “Our soup portion is too small and it cannot be divided further.”
Coming from a member of the serving staff at a high-profile restaurant, this was a startling proclamation, but we recovered our poise. “Never mind how small it is,” said my wife, “We’ll make do. Just bring it in two bowls.”
“Ma’am, no!” he replied, with greater conviction, and the overall demeanor of a man who has fought these battles before and emerged triumphant each time, “It is very, very small. We don’t have bowls that are small enough.”
After he left we sat about muttering at each other, marveling at this conundrum of the indivisible soup. He was probably exaggerating, we decided, or maybe he was in a bad mood and taking it out on us; or this was a management ploy to get diners to order extra dishes (if so, we had foiled it by sticking to our original order). At any rate, the portions couldn’t be THAT small – we figured we could still pass the bowls around the table. But then the soup arrived and it turned out that the waiter knew his beat.
It was served in one of the most impressively designed pieces of crockery I have seen. Imagine a largish dinner plate – 14 or so inches in diameter – with a tiny bit in the centre hollowed out to make a circular cavity that can accommodate around 40 ml of liquid. Into this hollow was poured the soup, very carefully, so that not a drop would spill out onto the rest of the plate. One of the soups was tomato and it must in fairness be said that it was aesthetically pleasing: a blob of orange surrounded by acres and acres of white plate – like a fried egg with an exceptionally small yolk. But they should have given us a complementary magnifying glass.
Providing a visual break was a tiny piece of maida floating despondently in the middle of the thin, translucent liquid. They called this a dimsum, but that’s a bit like calling Frodo Baggins the Great Khali. We suspect that the only reason the chefs allowed this food item to be pried from their grasp was that it would displace the volume of the liquid and raise the soup level, thus giving the impression that it was three spoonfuls instead of two.
“You didn’t have to bother with the big plate,” one of my friends called out, “You could have served the soup in a ladle instead.” The waiter simply grinned and walked away – it was obvious that this wasn't the first time he was hearing this joke.
But the restaurant did make amends for the small soup in the end – the bill was a large one.
P.S. While on food, a recommendation for Delhiites interested in Malaysian cuisine. There’s this very promising new place called Kayalan (website here) – it’s based in Neb Sarai in extreme south Delhi but it does home-delivery far and wide (even up to central Delhi as far as I know). I’ve tried their Nasi Goreng (which is a staple order for me at an Oriental restaurant), Otak Otak (steamed fish fillet in banana leaves) and marinated Pandan chicken, and all of it has been very good. Abhilasha, who ordered from there with her office crowd a few days ago (the ball-and-chain routine has a few side-advantages!), also recommends the Char Kway Teow, which is a stir-fried preparation of rice noodles with prawn or crab. You’ll find the details on the Menu section of the website.