The Pre-Match Hype
It is a rare occasion when developments in Indian cuisine pass the OCC by. And as the promise of Shanghai summer heralded the familiar slew of laowai-filled food festivals, murmurs of disruption and innovation in our field abounded. A well-connected Moments feed during late May’s Feast festival would likely have seen at least one particular Tandoori ‘Naanwich’ nestled amongst inane selfies and flat postings. The trending creation concocted by accomplished chef Hardeep Somal, of Bull & Claw fame.
But yet a fleeting spark of celebrity cannot sate a man of ambition, and with the OCC’s hawk-like study of movements in our industry, a natural arrangement was reached. One man, a full OCC contingent, and the most adventurous menu the OCC has seen to date. The scene was set, and the Bull & Claw’s serene balcony played host.
Round 1: Tuna Bhel, Naanwich & Amritsari Sardine Pakora
A showman always builds anticipation, and Hardeep’s menu build ensured we were locked-in from the outset. With eyes fixed on the second dish (Naanwich), the first dish could have easily been forgotten if not outstanding. But outstanding it was, with the fresh tuna / poppadum combo not only delivering on flavour, but providing a novel texture experience for the group.
Next up was the hero dish: the Naanwich. The picture tells the story, juicy tandoori chicken enjoying a smothering of cheese, yoghurt and bacon all while cradled in fresh naan torched and crisped before our eyes. Needless to say this was a winner with the group, and a consolidation of the hype preceding it.
The Amritsari Sardine Pakora was the embodiment of the intrepid nature of the dishes on display. And this is perhaps why it received mixed reviews from the group. At the end of the day, sardines are not a staple of the OCC diet, and so the effort in turning these oft-spurned fish into an experience was appreciated.
“I want to get back to my roots.”
All who call Shanghai their temporary home have dabbled with an internal gaze at identity and displacement. The push and pull of cultural traits in this melting pot are ever present. Hardeep Somal’s journey is not so dissimilar. However where most laowai in this city manifest their cultural blur by living inconsequentially and awkwardly yelling at waiters in their home countries, Hardeep is seeking to address his identity through his passion: food.
With an upbringing that would label him an Englishman but an ethnicity tied to India the OCC was proud to take part in what came to be a self-expression at the genesis of this internal journey. As can be ascertained from the dishes at hand, ‘fusion’ was at the core of the evening. As Hardeep prepares for a lengthy journey with his father throughout India later this year to learn and experience his familial roots, flavours, textures and smells, we can only look on with anticipation as the extension of Hardeep’s ‘fusion’ matures.
Round 2: Tikka Mac ‘n Cheese, Chilli Sour & Sweet Prawns, Kakori Lamb Roll
If we weren’t sold on the ‘fusion’ approach by now, the Tikka Mac ‘n Cheese confirmed it. A lovely concoction, and a favourite for several members of the group – perhaps given its sauciness made it the most curry-like item on the menu. The creamy, spiced mix adding a welcome element to the treasure comfort food staple.
The potential of the prawn dish was there to behold. The sour and sweet notes an intriguing detail and one that did stand out as unique in the menu. In this instance the sauce perhaps slightly overpowered the prawn, but could have potentially been remedied by a less vigorous application of sauce.
By this point the smaller statured, more fragile members of the group were starting to fill up – there were no complaints over volume of food. However this just appealed to the larger units amongst us as the Kakori Lamb Rolls were rolled out. To be fair, on the spectrum of British – Indian cuisine, this dish leaned heavily in the former. But the execution was immense, and the famed Kakori Kebab-like cacophony of spices did subtly shine through. Another winner.
Humility & Collaboration
When you hold the prestige of an OCC badge of your shirt, you are not want for sycophants. But it must be said that it was a pleasure being hosted by a man who truly wanted to provide a great experience, understand where he could learn and improve, and honestly share his journey with us. In this way, we came to understand the experiential nature of some dishes – some of which being a first outing.
In keeping with putting our experience first, Hardeep also introduced Piet Vandeputte to join him on the final round – the desserts. In this he recognized the high skillset of pastry chef, with accolades fitting an OCC occasion.
Round 3: Rasmalai Pistachio Cake and Créme Brulee with an Indian Twist
A lovely light finish to the evening, the desserts (not a tradition at OCC dinners outside of the odd mango lassi) encapsulated the special nature of the gathering. The Créme Brulee was the favourite amongst the group – another fusion of a classic dish given a dash of Indian flavor with a scattering of cardamom and pistachio.
Overall we paid 300 a head, plus happy hour prices for drinks. So not surprising that the value rating came out at 8.5, with the standard of the food at hand reflected in a 9.2 quality rating. The atmosphere, customer care, and service ratings garnered scores of 8.9, 8.9 and 8.8 respectively to round out a truly well-rounded performance from the Bull & Claw venue.
It was truly a night to remember for the OCC, and we look forward to watching the growth of a culinary talent who is unafraid to break boundaries and change lives through Indian cuisine – an ethos that the OCC knows well.