Since its launch in late 2015, Zorawar Kalra’s Pan Asian venture PaPaYa has been garnering rave reviews from the masses and classes alike, for their marvellous food and next-level presentation at prices that don’t break the bank. It has also received the rare distinction of getting these reviews from vegetarians and non vegetarians alike, with its incredibly detailed menu that has pages of starters, shareable tapas and mains aiming to offer a wide range of choices to anyone walking in.
We found ourselves there on a Saturday afternoon, having dropped in at the mall for a spot of shopping. We requested their front desk for a table for three during their lunch service and were seated immediately.
You walk in to a modest seating area, completely covered with dark, crimson walls, huge geometric lanterns with dim lights peeking out from within. The servers are friendly, helpful, and very busy, so you may have to wait a minute or two to grab their attention everytime you want to place an order.
And order, we did.
Laksa with Chicken
Laksa is tradionally a Chinese and Malay inspired noodle soup, with a tangy and coconutty broth filled with vegetables, thick noodles and a protein of your choosing. We went with chicken. The broth was light and not too creamy and overpowering, the flavour of the lemongrass really came through and the noodles and vegetables were cooked just right
Crispy Lotus Stem
Roundels of lotus stem, fried to a crisp and then tossed in a sweet, spicy and smoky glaze. The lotus stem is crunchy and satisfying and the glaze was definitely as promised. However, as much as I love smoked food, the flavour seemed so strong that I was reminded more of the liquid smoke seasoning that you use at home in the absence of a smoker than the strong yet subtle hickory or applewood smoke that comes from a real barbeque.
Barbeque Pork Bao
The slightly sweet and doughy bun housed a decent amount of tender barbecued pork in each bite. The sweet and savoury pairing in this dish isn’t for everyone but we found it enjoyable.
Pla Samrot with Mandarin cream:
Large, juicy prawns tossed in what they described as a spicy mix of three sauces and topped on a bed of sliced pineapples and a Mandarin infused cream.
While the prawns by themselves were great, both mom and I felt the sauce reminded us an awful lot of the crispy lotus stem, albeit without the smoke. And all the extra sauciness meant that the subtle flavour of the mandarin cream was completely overpowered and all you get is this spicy sweet sauce in every mouthful.
Smoked Eel and Roasted Asparagus Maki Roll
During our visit, they were having a smoked food festival with a bunch of starters and tapas on offer in addition to the menu. This particular one was delicious. The eel wasn’t overly done and retained the smoke well and the fresh roasted asparagus provided the occasional crunch in each bite.
The lamb was perfectly fall of the bone and the gravy was very delicately spiced. However a lighter hand with the coconut cream would have probably ensured we finished every last bit.
But what did stand out for us other than the almost melt in your mouth lamb was the Roti Prata served with it. Flaky and buttery with the South Indian parotta influence shining through every bite, these are perfect for mopping up the Rendang.
If only they both weren’t so rich in their own ways, the dish would have been much easier to get through.
Stir fried Chicken with Sichuan peppers
What a relief to actually have a place do Sichuan chicken and actually use Sichuan peppers. The chicken pieces, being mainly dark meat seemed to have retained their tenderness even through the stir frying process and were complemented by the mild yet favourfull Sichuan chillies and crunchy onions.
Khao Pad Thai
The plan was to originally order some plain jasmine rice for the chicken but we were recommended by our server to try this Thai version instead. And honestly, this one recommendation is probably what marked the difference in a 4/5 rating from us to a 3.5/5
The rice is fine, by itself. But again, and very surprisingly so, we found our taste buds assaulted by that all too familiar sweet, spicy and garlicky flavor profile.
To have two dishes that taste the same is still understandable. But three? A pretty major letdown.
Pa Pa Ya on the whole offers some great options with authentic sourced ingredients at decent prices. And I would probably want to visit again to try their sushi the next time.
However, the only area of concern if I have to state one, is to employ some caution in what’s being ordered, to ensure you aren’t faced with similar tasting dishes that put a damper to your experience there like it did ours.