[Khan Baba] Go West for a Spicy, Meaty Curry
On June 25th, the Shanghai chapter of the Oakham Curry Club (OCC) gathered for their monthly feast in search of a curry experience that is not only tasty, but also spicey and, hopefully, crispy. In anticipation of something a little different, we headed West, both physically, as the restaurant of choice was in Changning, but also culinarily, as this month we were to sample the spicey delights of India's Northwest neighbour, Pakistan.
Khan Baba was the destination. An authentic Pakistani curry restaurant concept that now boasts six restaurants with trans-Himalayan reach with sites in Shanghai, Beijing and Pakistan. Khan Baba has been enchanting curry lovers with their freshly cooked, spicy Pakistani curry since 2007. The menu is vast, the meat is halal, and the jiudan is, well, it's dry.
Any quick baidu search will tell you that the major difference between Indian and Pakistani food is all about the spices. The latter is expected to be spicier and meatier, with Pakistani cuisine concentrating more on lamb and beef.
Even as the day's programme began, the anticipation was palpable. Not dissimilar to the last seconds of extra time prior to penalties in a major tournament, tonight would be defined by substitutes. The tea instead of beer, the spicier, meatier Pakistani curry instead of the usual Indian, and the Dave instead of the Ian, in the critical master of chilli role. How would they all cope with the pressure?
Proceedings began with the usual formalities of announcements, apologies for absences, social updates and an eloquent speech from the Chairman that reminded the team that this was, in fact, the second time the OCC has reviewed Khan Baba. The first was back in September 2019 when they received an overall score of 6.1, not an OCC approval, but scoring very well on value. We were all eager to see how they would fare in this new location.
Khan Baba is now situated in the basement of a shopping mall on Xianxia Road in Changning District and is surrounded by restaurants of all varieties of Chinese and Asian cuisine. The surrounding environment is lively and fun and has the hustle and the bustle of a South Asian food hall. It's important to note that the neighbours are more than happy to oblige any diners craving an aperitif or, indeed, the odd prandial hydration. Although finding the place was a little tricky, all but one of us managed to arrive on time, and once inside, there is a clean, wholesome, family-friendly ambience and a warm welcome from the kind and attentive staff.
It's clear when you arrive that here the focus is indeed the food. Compared to the previous location, it's light, bright and modern, and the menu features a broader selection of appetisers, curries, vegetable dishes, bread and rice dishes, and pizza.
The feast began somewhat predictably with 'Samosa', and this time, stuffed with lamb. These freshly fried pastry triangles were crisp, flaky, and packed full of chewy goodness. Some commented that they were perhaps a tad chewier than expected, but nevertheless, a great way to kick off the meal—especially when brushed with the light and spicy mint and tamarind sauces served on the side. A somewhat suspect broccoli dish accompanied these. The less said about that, the better.
On to the mains, and things were starting to heat up. The 'Sag Gosht', a slow-cooked beef and spinach dish, was tasty, tender, and well-balanced with spices. The two standout dishes for the OCC members were the sensational 'Matar Keema', a pan-fried minced beef cooked with green peas, and the delightful one-kilo-wok-cooked 'Chicken Karahai'. This dish was a huge hit and a must-try when you visit. It's spicy, tomatoey, and garlicky, hot and rich in flavour and texture, and paired perfectly with the freshly baked 'Paratha' or 'Chapati' bread on offer. The lentil dish 'Chana masala' was also packed with plenty of spicy punch and flavour.
Dave did very well, delighting the team with his gamified variation on the chilli challenge, piling the pressure on the returning incumbent, perhaps. Congrats to him for winning member of the month for June. And a shout should also go out to Sammy, who is always the unsung hero of the night. Keep up the good work.
On this occasion, Khan Baba scored an incredible 8.5 for value and an average 6.6 for service, customer care, quality and atmosphere, giving them an overall score of 6.9. Although this is an improvement on the previous review, it is a very near-miss of the required score for approval of 7. But don't let that put you off. OCC standards are high, and it's not easy to reach to approval mark, let alone contention for CHOTY. Khan Baba is a perfectly serviceable curry with a different flair and vibe to the usual. Nothing fancy, but good, unpretentious food at unbeatable prices with a wonderfully warm reception and family vibe. They will no doubt continue to get better and better with every visit.
Khan Baba 2021
Customer care 6.7
Not OCC approved
In Elephant (May) 7.8
Masala Art (Feb) 7.5
Khan Baba (June) 6.9
Ganesha (April) 6.6
Promise (March) 6.5