Sunday, May 18, 2008

Waiter, there’s a drop of soup in my plate!

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.


  1. You shouldn't be complaining. They actually served you more. This is what happened behind the scenes.

    Cook-less, this is pushy-waiter, Do you copy?
    Pushy-waiter, I copy.
    We have a level 3 emergency, the target has ordered 1/2, I repeat the target has ordered 1/2 soups.
    Roger that, pushy-waiter, is the target inebbriated.
    Negative Cook-Less. He can see how much we serve and taste how bad it usually is.
    Thats okay pushy-waiter, I have used the bigger dropper; I will drop 6 drops extra. 3 in each plate.

    Delhi, by and large serves really mediocre food. Most places in Dubai would get you much better (and more) and much cheaper Indian food.

  2. I had almost the exact opposite experience last weekend. We went to a Thai place and she wanted soup. What we didn't realize at the time of ordering a soup with two bowls and two other dishes is that the place is actually called 'Thai Noodle Soup' house.

    So yeah, the waiter maintained his Zen smile as we ordered the meal that could probably feed the whole of Pondicherry and we didn't suspect anything. And then he brought out a HUGE bowl of soup and our two other dishes. Thank God for to go boxes. She did eat Thai food every day till the middle of this week.

  3. "complementary magnifying glass."

    complimentary or complementary?

  4. Vikram: when was the last time you were in Delhi? Food has improved vastly in the last 2-3 years (though it isn't always value for money).

    ArSENik: I could live with that experience!

    Anon: I meant "complimentary" but I'll stick with this now - the magnifying glass would have completed the dish, after all!

  5. Roger that, pushy-waiter, is the target inebbriated.

    Vikram: actually I suspect that's how most of these bar-at-heart restaurants operate: they assume (correctly, in many cases) that the diners won't even notice what they're eating once they are a few drinks down.

  6. hey arjun,

    your blog is my recent discovery..

    good blogs! I m likin it..


  7. No Jai, I do frequent Delhi every 3-6 months but my foodventures have gone from bad to worse to tragic.

    Maybe I am visiting all the wrong places but thats what I am saying, if somebody doesn't know his way around in Delhi, he would end up at the wrong places. Dubai, most places serve decent food and quite a few, serve good food.

    And if then there are the waiting lines.
    "Hello Son, I made an investment today and got your name on the waiting list of the Chinese restaurant. It should mature in like 21 years"

    In any case there is this guy called Amit who sells the most delightfully delicious momos on a stand infront of SBI in NFC. He is amazing.

  8. Ha ha! Guess what? The most upscale restaurants usually serve soup in soup plates that meet your description. :)

  9. Shantanu: yes, we figured that it might be one of those snob things - the less there is of the soup, the more valuable it is! On, this same post drew a comment from someone who suggested that this was a case of "middle class meeting fancy restaurant". Unfortunately Smoke House isn't anywhere near as "fancy" as some of the other, more value-for-money places I've been to.

  10. Vikram: Delhi has mediocre food?!

    There might be a chance you could find a ghost of a justification for that statement, but only if you never eat at places that cost less than Rs. 500 a head.