A shophouse is a pretty common sight in many cities of South East Asia. Today, these restored townhouses from colonial times serve mostly as heritage homes, trendy boutiques and hipster bar addresses, set in narrow, deep, 2-storey brick buildings with typical louvred shutters and sloping roofs. Occasionally, you will find some old weathered ones languishing in their original avatars with quaint ground floor shops selling stuff from building supplies to Chinese medicines to steaming noodle bowls to aroma oils, with the owner living above in the comfort of lime plastered walls and terracotta floors.
While walking past a cluster of these shophouses in a quiet, tree-lined lane off Orchard Road in Singapore, I remember marvelling at the diversity of people living in such homes. On one side was a traditional house, modest in its ornate Chinese woodwork, with a shiny bright red floor and dark interiors, from which had emerged a very old bare-chested and toothless Chinese Grandpa, quite cross with my curious stares at his beloved home. Directly opposite was one with a large carpeted porch, lit up with soft-glowing lanterns, leading into what looked like a plush minimalist anteroom. No grandpa here, but the two huge ‘Shi’s (Imperial lion statues) sternly guarding the tall gates, looked down with equal disdain at my trespassing eyes.
But my experience at our very own shophouse in Mumbai was quite the opposite of trespassing. Shizusan, the Asian Shophouse Bar and Restaurant that has recently opened at High Street Phoenix was warm and welcoming from the word go. From the subdued diner-style restaurant on the ground floor, to the oakwood and abacus stairwell, to the burst of colours and relaxed airiness of the bar and lounge upstairs, to the towering collapsible gates behind the bright red bar thrown open to reveal bits and bobs from an Asian household, to finally the bulky menu with helpful and very tempting pictures of the dishes…. there is a definite inclusiveness and large-heartedness to the whole thing, as if you are a favoured guest at a well-loved, well-travelled Chinese merchant’s lively living room 🙂
We realised exactly how inclusive, when our group of three – Teddy, Di and I – were seated and Dee Dee (Deepti Dadlani) gave us a mouth-watering rundown of the must-try dishes, a happy mix of Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Burmese, Malaysian and even Filipino. And we realised exactly how large-hearted when the heaped dishes arrived in quick succession, the big portions clearly meant to make the hungry soul rub HIS tummy in glee – girls don’t rub tummies, just saying…
Friendly chef Paul Kinny and bar magician Tanai Shirali‘s frequent anecdote-filled visits to our table made sure we and our tummies had nowhere to hide. There were colourful Sashimi Platters, chunky Maki Rolls, delicate Dim Sums (21 different types, I kid you not!), pillowy Baos, crisp Tempuras, a plethora of delicious Asian Tapas along with on-point cocktails like Piss Alley Cat, Cucu and Mao’s Negroni which we had to hungrily and delightfully wade through before we could even reach the distant shores of the main course dishes. But some favourites that emerged out of the sea of beautifully-plated, flavour-punched, cleverly-textured dishes were –
Fish and Chips Maki Rolls
Goi Cuon Summer Rolls
Pork and Jalapeno Gua Bao
Lobster Moneybags and Korean Mandoos
Black Pepper Lobster
Buri Bop, and, the knock-out-of-the-park,
Mussels with Coconut Cream.
After demolishing all of that, it’s difficult to tell if it was a case of my taste buddies giving up on me, or the merit of the desserts themselves, but the 5-Spice Creme Brulee and the Tub Tim Grob both just about missed the mark for me… a tiny sin that then got washed away by the aromatic Mogo Mogo Hot Tea that ended our royal feast with a bang!
After all the indulgence, our family of foodies felt like well-fed, well-satiated Laughing Buddhas. And since Chinese tradition says rubbing the the tummy of the Laughing Buddha brings wealth, luck and prosperity, we all gave our tummies a nice gleeful rub, girls included! Only because tradition demands it, you see! 😉